The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly impacted the way we work. Organizations have adopted remote working practices at a rapid speed. How has this affected the wellbeing and productivity of staff? How can you, as a leader, respond to this health crisis?
Now more than ever, your staff needs leadership and effective communication. Reps are looking for support and reassurance on both a personal and professional level.
In this article, we’ll help you lead your team during times of uncertainty and provide guidance and policies to outline clear expectations.
Taking care of your team’s wellbeing
A health crisis can be a tough time for even the most hardened sales reps. If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s how quickly things can change.
As you adjust to new ways of working and continue with revenue-generating activity, you must also look after the wellness of your sales reps. This means helping them to look after themselves both physically and mentally and encouraging them to follow the governmental policies on social distancing, hand washing and sanitation practices.
Reassuring your teams with compassionate, transparent messaging must be your top priority. Reach out early to relay how your company is responding to the crisis and send continuous follow-ups. Keep your team informed of any policy shifts or updated action plans so that everybody stays in the loop.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to innumerable layoffs across many industries and employees are feeling nervous. As a sales leader, it’s your job to address these fears head-on. Take a bottom-up management approach. Communicate concerns with the boardroom, and ask for information on how these changes will affect the entire organization. This way, you can honestly and openly communicate with your reps as you navigate a crisis.
Your organization should provide guidance around maintaining team wellbeing. Here are a few ways you can be proactive and check-in on your reps:
- Conduct regular huddles: Salespeople are social creatures. When working remotely, use video conferencing to replace face-to-face huddles and team meetings.
- Check-in with one-to-one’s: Everyone responds to a crisis differently. For example, some people manage social distancing with ease, while others struggle with the lack of human connection. Make it clear that you’re available for support if reps need it, and check-in on them in your one-to-one calls.
- Social events: As it’s not possible to go for after-work drinks, use video conferencing to hold a “virtual happy hour”. Use this time for a social chat with your team and allow them to decompress at the end of the week.
- Flexible working hours: This new way of working may take some time to adjust to. Allowing your team to adopt flexible working hours will give them a chance to address other unexpected changes in their lives. For example, as schools close during a health crisis, flexible working will allow reps to find time for both work and childminding.
As well as these proactive steps, provide resources that empower staff to help themselves. These resources might include:
- Guidance on physical health: Many fitness routines involve going to the gym or leaving the house. Looking after our physical health in quarantine can quickly become a low priority. Provide resources and guidance on how reps can look after their physical health from home. This can include links to free workouts and yoga classes on YouTube, and perhaps even a wellness stipend for online classes.
- Remote working environments: Provide information and resources on creating a productive setup at home. This includes guidance on equipment and suggestions on where to create this environment in the home.
- Work-life balance: Those who work from home for the first time may struggle to create boundaries between their work and personal lives. Provide guidance on how best to do this. For example, new morning and evening routines can create distance usually provided by a daily commute. As well as implementing a “virtual happy hour”, a “virtual coffee break” one morning a week could help reps break up their day.
Looking after employee mental health is critical during a health crisis. This should be your first priority as a leader. Provide guidance and support, be empathic and give them the resources to establish and support a healthy mindset as they adjust to remote working.
Create a work from home policy
As people are forced to work from home, they may be confused about what this means. A clear work from home policy provides guidelines on what is expected from them as they carry on remotely.
Creating a work from home policy should be an organization-wide effort. While certain processes will apply only to salespeople, a company-wide work from home policy should cover the following elements:
- Who is eligible: In ordinary times, remote working isn’t always suitable for everyone. However, during times of crisis where people are encouraged (or required) to stay at home, you’ll need to find a way for everyone to do their job from home.
- Gear and equipment: Make sure everyone has the equipment they need to complete their duties. Identify those who can work from their personal computers and invest in equipment for those who need it.
- Performance & KPIs: It’s important you trust your reps to do the work. As long as they’re producing outputs, whether through sales activity or results, then that’s all that matters. Make sure you have the tools in place to measure them against the KPIs you normally would.
- Security: Ensure that confidential information is protected. Be clear with how information should be shared across the organization, and which tools can and cannot be used.
- Team wellness: As discussed previously, provide guidance on how reps can build new routines, maintain physical wellness and look after their mental health. Collect resources and offer support that your teams can rely on when they need it the most.
Make this information available in your policy document. This should act as a single source of truth that staff should refer to when making the shift to remote work. Include an FAQ section and update it in response to common questions.
A well-defined technology stack should also be included. As you flesh out your policy, be absolutely clear on which tools are allowed and when they should be used. Teams across the entire organization must adopt the same tools for the same purpose.
For day-to-day communication, consider platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Skype. For video conferencing, Zoom and Google Hangouts are popular options.
You may also wish to encourage your teams to use tools like Krisp to help keep them focused, and Time Out to remind them to get away from their computer.
However you structure your policy, the language should be definitive and crystal clear. Make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them, along with the tools and resources that help them get the job done.
Adopt an inside sales methodology
The shift to remote working can be even more challenging if you rely on face-to-face meetings. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many sales organizations to quickly adopt an inside sales approach.
Inside sales is a method of handling sales activity remotely. Reps use phone calls, email and video conferencing to build and maintain relationships with their leads. It is especially popular for those offering high-ticket or complex products and services.
The biggest difference between inside and outside sales is in how reps communicate with their leads. Therefore, you must be clear in your processes and which tools you use for particular parts of the job.
Find the time to map your current processes, then adjust them for an inside sales approach. For example, if you use a consultative selling approach in face-to-face scenarios, how can you apply them to a Zoom call?
For sales pitches, use the same decks you’d use in-person. All you need to do is use screen sharing features (like those found in video conferencing software) and run through the pitch as usual.
Finally, pilot these new processes ASAP and create training around each step. Run remote workshops via video conferencing and use screen recording to allow reps to see what these new processes look like in the field.
How to help reps affected by a health crisis
Depending on how quickly you react to a health crisis, you may find that several of your reps need time off simultaneously. This might be due to illness or bereavement.
These scenarios are unprecedented, so consider temporarily adopting a more generous leave policy. If your business can afford it, extend your sick and bereavement pay beyond its current allowance. Not only will this give reps the time they need to recover and get back to work, but it will also provide the reassurance they need.
If you do find several reps need time off all at once, the best thing to do is prioritize. Here’s how:
- Identify the highest priority sales opportunities that your absent reps are working on. Use your CRM to segment “hot” leads from low impact activity (e.g. following up on leads who have gone cold).
- Distribute the workload among reps. Encourage feedback on the volume they’ve been allocated. If it’s too much to manage, they must communicate early and often.
- Adjust your messaging. It will seem strange if a lead receives an email from another rep. Create a template that explains why leads are hearing from a new contact.
- Be fair with your commission structure. If the new owner closes someone else’s deal, ensure that the commission is split between both reps fairly.
Most importantly, communicate that these are the steps you’ll take if this scenario does happen.
On the other hand, reps may be reluctant to take a vacation as they can’t leave their neighborhoods. Encourage reps to take days off, as it will help them avoid burning out or feeling as though their work and home life have become blurred. If your vacation policy doesn’t allow employees to carry days over to the new year, consider updating it. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you communicate it clearly.
Keep your reps safe and productive
It’s important to prioritize your team’s health and wellbeing above revenue-generating activity. Lead with compassion first and focus on results second.
Realize the playing field is not even, and offer extra support to reps who are having difficulty adjusting to working from home. Distribute clearly defined policies on working from home and keep supportive lines of communication open.
Adopt an inside sales methodology and train your reps on how to adjust their messaging and outreach from a virtual setting. Distribute the workload evenly but create a safe environment for your reps to communicate their challenges. Be prepared to redistribute leads based on your team’s varying capacities and step in yourself if necessary—in fact, getting involved as a manager can help to reassure customers.
Staying safe and being productive do not need to be mutually exclusive endeavors. With open and honest communication and support, your team can achieve success throughout this health crisis.