Unlike most of my peers, I started my career as a retail store manager. I loved the energy of being on the floor while at the same time motivating the sales team to provide the best customer experience possible.
Being a floor manager laid the groundwork for my management style, which I’ve crafted and refined over the years. Leading a non-commission-based team that was inspired, not by monetary incentives, but by just feeling a sense of pride by providing an excellent customer experience was an instrumental part of my learning. It taught me how to inspire my team to greatness, inspire them to be better, and inspire them to do it as a collective team.
This type of experience is especially helpful in today’s competitive startup market. Companies rely now more than ever on their sales teams to always exceed revenue targets, while at the same time being brand advocates. Given the increased demands, sales leaders need to prioritize both productivity and work-life balance, all while pushing their company towards hyper-growth in order to be the next unicorn. How can sales teams maintain this delicate balance?
In my career, I’ve used the following three tips to successfully — and empathetically — lead and operate sales teams.
1. Look beyond performance and metrics
Mental health, self-esteem, and staying positive are non-negotiables for any professional. That being said, we’re living in fraught times. As leaders, how can we still focus on people achieving results while remaining empathetic? In the workplace, empathy means understanding people are leading a peripheral life that is influencing their ability to perform.
Leaders should focus on transparency and foster a trusting relationship in order to truly understand where someone is at. This will create a space where transparency is valued. Secondly, managers and executives need to be willing to get their hands dirty and help when needed in order to create a collaborative environment. A very supportive atmosphere between managers and team members will lead to faster resolutions when issues arise.
Lastly, sales leaders can empower employees to continue to produce so that it doesn’t further impact their self-esteem, self-worth, and stress. Finding something to celebrate every day, through the easier and especially the more difficult times, can significantly boost morale across your team. With most teams remote, I celebrate any and all wins in Slack, with different emojis depending on the deal size, and encourage lots of comments and engagement across teams. I also take advantage of team meetings to give a “crushing it” to a team member who has really captured our brand’s values: customer obsession, trust & commitment, thrive together, dare to be bold, & excellence.
2. Foster a creative and productive culture
Historically, traditional industries have thrived in the face of adversity continuing to produce creative work and art through disruptions. In some of these moments, businesses have produced the most innovative projects as a means of expression or creating solutions. Let’s echo history in empowering our teams with knowledge around gaps and business insights that will foster them to build within an innovative culture.
To yield the best results from your teams, give them space to be autonomous and provide them with a platform where they can feel comfortable leading. This is especially important for the teams who have the most direct contact with customers. Over time, you’ll see your team working more effectively, taking the lead on creating better processes to drive more success. Otherwise, it becomes a top-down environment that not only feels oppressive but often creates short sightedness and limitations. Instead, let your customer-facing teams create the right solutions. This breeds a culture of community, building a sense of shared responsibility by elevating each other and the company. Now you have a team that is fueled by a leadership mindset. You will also be able to create a more diverse atmosphere, which expands your team’s frame of mind.
When you foster a creative and productive culture, you’ll produce stronger results, a more engaged and loyal team, and provide them with a sense of ownership.
3. Building a culture of encouragement and teamwork
Think back to the last time you had a good customer experience or an enjoyable conversation with a friend or colleague. I’m sure one of the biggest reasons that it was a positive experience is that you felt heard. When it comes to sales, this is the name of the game. The goal is to listen to your customers. As sales reps, we need to understand prospects’ problems, build trust by not just answering questions, but by also providing them with solutions and a strategy to improve whatever issues they came to you with in the first place.
However, when it comes to customer obsession, what often hinders progress is the fear of not being able to solve a problem. As humans, we tend to always want to be able to provide an answer. Unfortunately, the downside of this is some issues don’t get solved as well as they should because of stubbornness or a lack of an environment where teammates can rely on each other.
As a leader, it’s important to remove the stigma that your sales reps need to be able to solve the problem themselves. In fact, one of the best ways to build trust with your customers and prospects is to be forthright and honest. You may not always have the right answer, but getting the person you are talking to the right team or department, will go a long way into “wowing” your customers. Make sure your team feels comfortable asking for help. Provide them with the right support framework so that they still feel empowered and confident that they (and your product) will be the right solution for the person on the other end of the phone.
A long time ago the phrase “there’s no I in team” was coined and while it may be dramatically overused, it will forever hold true. When your team feels comfortable enough to ask for help, you are creating an environment where everyone feels like they have a hand in the success of a deal. Make sure to acknowledge the wins, no matter how small, even if it is just asking for help to provide the best possible answer. Celebrating along the way allows you to always remain in the present, instead of always thinking about future targets or quotas. A team that celebrates together will always be more connected, present, and happier. People aren’t a metric, they are a precious commodity. Make sure to value and appreciate them every step of the way.
My final advice is to always make sure you are listening and learning. Your team will always be your best asset and your best way to learn and elevate your and their performance. Allow your team to be part of the solution, this shows real value, not just from a results standpoint but, most importantly, by building stronger relationships and a sense of community. If you put numbers and metrics first, your team will take notice and the unfortunate byproduct is your team will feel transactional. If you focus on people first, strong numbers and targets are the beautiful byproducts.
Remember that hyper-growth you are trying to achieve to become the next unicorn? You will be able to achieve it if you invest in your people. Help them reach their potential. In return, you’ll help foster the growth and development of top performers. This increases retention, happiness, and results, compounding into exponential growth. Give them a sense of ownership, community and watch them reach their targets together. It’s truly magical.