How to be a good sales manager in a crisis: 12 ways you can improve
Being a good sales manager involves developing a very specific set of skills. It’s more than just organizing a team and analyzing data: To be a good sales manager, you need to know how to motivate, empower, train, and communicate with your team.
All of this becomes infinitely more complicated during a crisis.
Although the world is starting to get back on its feet, we’re all still a bit wobbly in the knees and wondering when the next sucker punch will come.
What can a good sales manager do to lead their team successfully into this new normal?
How do you motivate a team that’s facing difficult circumstances at home and in the world? How do you train your reps and communicate with them when your offices are still closed? How can you empower reps when we all feel a little bit helpless?
Your ability to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever the world throws at you is what will make you a good sales manager. So, what specific steps can you take to improve your management skills and become a better sales manager during (and after) a time of crisis?
12 ways to be a good sales manager during a crisis
Ready to become a better sales manager? Learn 12 expert methods that sales managers are using right now to be the kind of leaders that can inspire their teams:
1. Turn 1:1s into a regular weekly routine
Communication is always important for sales teams, but communication during and after a crisis should be on another level.
With so many companies being forced to work remotely due to the crisis, many managers have left regular face-to-face communication on the back burner.
If you want to be a better sales manager, you need to do the opposite.
Tighten the cycle of your conversations with reps. Make 1:1s with each member of your team a weekly (if not daily) event in your calendar. You need to be 100% aware of how your team is doing, both in the work setting and as human beings.
2. Take time to ask about people as humans, not as workers
During the crisis, people were faced with unexpected challenges such as working from home for the first time, having to juggle taking care of their children with work meetings and calls, and the ever-present anxiety of a global pandemic.
Now, as the pandemic starts to wane, new worries and challenges will come to light. Your sales reps might be wondering whether or not it’s safe to send their children back to school, how they’ll handle any economic difficulties the virus has caused their families, alongside the normal stressors at work.
You can’t be a good sales manager if you aren’t aware of these struggles.
Here’s the point: Remember to check in with your reps as people. For example, start your sales meetings with a personal update for everyone on the team. We started doing this here at Close, and we’ve seen how it helps the team bond as they realize they’re not alone in the struggles they’re facing.
Offer the opportunity for deeper human connection, but give people the space they need.
3. Ask the right questions to make check-ins actionable
If you’ve already increased the frequency of your check-ins, how can you make sure those meetings are truly productive?
As a sales manager, it’s your job to ask the right questions and focus on what you can do to empower your team.
Avoid questions that could be misinterpreted as accusatory, such as:
- Why did you miss that deadline?
- What are you working on right now?
- Why is this project off track?
- What’s your pipeline look like?
These questions will either lead to defensive answers or vague answers that don’t give you a clear picture of what your reps need.
Instead, ask questions that put you in a position to help your reps accomplish their goals, such as:
- Do you need any support on this project?
- What’s the biggest roadblock you’re facing right now?
- I noticed this project is stuck. Can I remove any blockers?
(Learn what other questions you should ask in 1:1s in our latest book, Leading Sales Teams Through Crisis.)
Another important part of your 1:1s with reps is to proactively help them identify opportunities for improvement. As a sales manager, you have a wider perspective and are thus in a better position to spot opportunities that the rep might miss on their own.
To save time in your 1:1 and make it even more actionable for the rep, do a quick review of their pipeline in your CRM before you jump on the call. In Close, for example, you can dive into the Pipeline View and then filter by user, showing you a quick overview of exactly what is happening in each individual rep’s pipeline.
By asking the right questions, your 1:1s will become brainstorming sessions where both parties come away with clear action they need to take.
4. Create a safe space to discuss mental health
Mental health may not be a topic that is commonly discussed in the workplace, but it should not be a taboo subject for your sales team.
In this case, it’s essential to lead by example.
“Ultimately, whether we like it or not, we take our cues from the people at the top of the organization,” says Haley Lewis, a chartered occupational psychologist, “And it requires some bravery from people at the top to step forward.”
(Read more expert ideas on managing during a crisis in our free ebook, Leading Sales Teams Through Crisis.)
Team leaders who start clear, open conversations about their own mental health struggles are more likely to inspire their teams to do the same. By removing the stigma from the topic of mental health, team leaders are better prepared to be aware of and handle mental health struggles on their team.
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5. Work alongside your team to create adaptive sales plans
A sales plan is the who, what, why, where, and how for your team’s goals. It’s a roadmap that your reps can use to plot a course to hitting their quota consistently.
Hopefully, you already had such a plan in place. But now is the time to create a more adaptive version of that plan.
Generally, a sales plan should include these three sections:
- Sales forecasting and goal-setting
- Market and customer research
- Prospecting and partnerships
If you want to adapt your sales plan to the current situation, you need to reevaluate these three areas.
For example, what is the market doing right now? What are they concerned with? How can you adapt your messaging or your target market to fit the current needs?
Are your forecasts no longer accurate? What is the data telling you about where your sales are headed right now? How can you set reasonable sales goals for this year?
The best way to answer these questions and develop a sales plan based on what’s happening right now is to create this plan with your reps.
Don’t just set a rigid plan with high goals and expect them to follow it. By making the plan with your team, you’ll adapt your plan to what’s really happening in the field, and they’ll feel more motivated to follow it.
6. Change anxieties into action items
Author Walter Anderson once said:
Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.
As a sales manager, you can help motivate your team by turning their anxieties into specific actions.
Here’s how this works:
When you see that your team is in a bit of a slump, have each rep pinpoint a specific action they can take to start moving forward again.
It could be something simple, such as sending an email or making the first call on their list of leads.
By breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable items, you’ll help your team take their first steps towards progress and away from anxiety.
7. Build transparent communication
As we start to emerge from a global crisis, people are still scared. They’re worried about how the company they work for has held up under the pressure, and whether or not they’re going to have a job or a market to sell to next month or next year.
Niamh O’Keefe, a corporate leadership advisor, says this:
In a crisis, people want more reassurance and information than usual. Be more transparent than usual, communicate more than usual.
(Read more of O’Keefe’s ideas on managing during a crisis in our latest book, Leading Sales Teams Through Crisis.)
When your reps have a transparent view of what’s happening on their team and in their company, they’ll be empowered to make better individual decisions.
You, as a sales leader, need to build transparency for your team. When transparency starts from the top, your reps will be more likely to communicate transparently with you about what they’re accomplishing.
This cycle helps reps to make more informed decisions and to take ownership of their work as they move forward.
8. Use sales activity data to maintain a clear view of your reps’ current state
We mentioned above that it’s the responsibility of the sales manager to be aware of how their reps are.
But even when mental health is talked about openly and managers try to get a sense of the emotional state of their reps, there are some people who just don’t want to open up. That’s normal.
As a sales leader, though, you need to take it a step further to understand the current state of your sales team.
Using your CRM, analyze the data. How many calls are your reps making this quarter compared to last quarter? Is there a significant difference in the amount of work that a certain rep is doing? Or, maybe the results have changed: is a rep making the same number of calls with fewer deals moving forward in their pipeline?
In Close, for example, you can easily pull up activity reports for the whole team, or for each individual.
You can use sales activity data from your CRM to understand what’s happening with your team, even if they don’t reach out to you. When a rep says they’re fine but their productivity is plummeting, it might be a good time to reach out and offer to help or even just a listening ear.
When you’re aware of your reps’ current state, you can be there to provide them with the right resources and help before the problem grows into something much larger.
9. Keep your pipeline and lead lists squeaky clean
Organizing your CRM and building a successful sales process is an essential part of being a good sales manager.
In a crisis, however, this takes on another layer.
With so much going on in the world around them, it’s harder for all workers to concentrate. This is especially true for sales reps, who must constantly be in contact with people and project a certain level of enthusiasm for what they’re trying to sell.
It’s your job to make sure they’re focusing their energies and efforts on the right leads.
By setting aside time to clean your pipeline regularly, you and your reps can stop wasting time on old leads and focus on leads that are hot. In Close, this is easy: the Pipeline View automatically adjusts as you move leads from one stage to another.
You can even create multiple pipelines for different markets, territories, or types of leads. For example, instead of deleting old leads that have gone cold, move them to another pipeline where reps can follow up with them down the road. That way, they don’t clutter your reps’ current pipeline, but they’re not abandoned completely.
10. Enable your team with adjusted sales scripts and email templates
Part of empowering your team is making sure they have the minimum viable sales documentation.
This could include:
- Sales scripts
- Follow-up schedules
- Email templates
- Battle cards
- Comparison charts
- Shareable resources
This sales enablement content is essential for your sales reps to perform consistently. But all of these things will need to be adjusted to the current climate.
(Want to get a head start on creating sales enablement content? Download our free Sales Enablement Toolkit to get 8 customizable templates you can start using today.)
For example, are your sales scripts adapted to the current needs of the market? Are your cold email templates tone-deaf, or do they acknowledge the current crisis?
By updating these items with your sales team based on the feedback they’re receiving in the field, you’ll make sure that your reps are empowered to sell better.
11. Set up systems to fall back on when things don’t go as planned
The sales plans you made for 2020 have probably been thrown out the window by now. Things haven’t gone according to plan for pretty much anyone.
To help your reps continue to face new challenges and unexpected changes, build systems that you can fall back on. These systems act as a backbone for your sales plan that can guide your reps back to the right path.
For example, what if a prospect reacts badly to an email that was a bit tone-deaf? Have a system in place to follow up and smooth things over. Or, what if a deal falls through because the prospect’s budget has suddenly disappeared? Build a system that allows reps to maintain contact and build rapport, with the goal of getting the sale down the road.
These systems help reps react proactively when things don’t go as planned.
12. Find the right balance between competition and camaraderie for your team
Healthy competition with leaderboards and extra incentives is often a great way to motivate your team.
But especially as we come out of this crisis, it’s important to make sure that your team is working together effectively.
At the end of the day, it takes every person on your team to achieve results and hit your sales goals, as Brian Trautschold, cofounder of Ambition, stated. He added, “Sales should be a team sport, so find ways to encourage collaboration and nurture relationships.”
How can you do this?
Start by implementing team rituals to build culture. For example, have a daily sales huddle where each day, one rep shares his best and worst calls from the day before. Host virtual happy hours for remote teams, or Funny Hat Fridays.
Some sales teams have also encouraged peer learning by having reps team up to do sales calls via Zoom. With the right CRM, this can be even easier. Since Close integrates natively with Zoom, for example, meetings and calls are updated and held right from your CRM, and recordings are stored in the lead, where anyone can watch and learn.
The goal is to build up your team so they’re comfortable leaning on each other for help and support. This atmosphere of camaraderie will help them work together to reach the team’s sales goals.
Be a good sales manager during (and after) this crisis
Leading a team through any sort of crisis isn’t easy, but inspiring your team beyond the crisis is what will make you a truly successful sales manager.
Keep this list of methods to be a better sales manager in a crisis:
- Turn 1:1s into a regular weekly routine
- Take time to ask about people as humans, not as workers
- Ask the right questions to make check-ins actionable
- Create a safe space to discuss mental health
- Work alongside your team to create adaptive sales plans
- Change anxieties into action items
- Build transparent communication
- Use sales activity data to maintain a clear view of your reps’ current state
- Keep your pipeline and lead lists squeaky clean
- Enable your team with adjusted sales scripts and email templates
- Set up systems to fall back on when things don’t go as planned
- Find the right balance between competition and camaraderie for your team
Wondering what other methods sales leaders are using to lead and inspire their teams? Find out what 30+ sales experts have to say in our latest book, Leading Sales Teams Through Crisis.