Nobody needs telling that business is tough at the moment. In the UK, GDP fell by 2% quarter-on-quarter for the first time since the last financial crash in 2008 and the next quarterly report is likely to be far, far worse. The government furlough scheme in which the state pays 80% of an employee’s wages now has more than 1 in 5 of all workers enrolled and has recently been extended to October.
There is no doubt that trying to sell in this environment is not easy. And yet we know from previous experience that some salespeople continue to sell effectively in a downturn. Our own data has shown that there are certain capabilities that high-performing salespeople exhibit more than the rest of their colleagues. Simply put, salespeople who exhibit these capabilities when selling sell more than those who don’t.
The good news is that as a Sales Leader you can support your team to develop or enhance these capabilities. Here are three areas in which you can most impact upon the sales performance of your team:
1. Give them knowledge
Absolutely critical is to ensure that your salespeople know what is going on in the industry that they are selling into. They need to be aware of key trends and economic drivers that may impact upon their clients. They have to be more informed than the customers they are selling into so that they can add value to the sales process. Buyers often face contradictory information and the best salespeople will help buyers to deconflict this and to identify what information is most critical to them.
The Sales Leader needs to ensure that their team has access to the most relevant and up-to-date data and market insights and that they know what to do with it. There are many ways to ensure that salespeople have what they need from formal market reports provided by the business (often the responsibility of the marketing department), to sharing your own knowledge more openly, to encouraging greater collaboration and knowledge-sharing within the team.
2. Allow them to innovate
A recent Salesforce survey of buyers found that nearly 80% expect the rate of innovation from companies to increase whilst 70% will pay more for differentiated products. Customers are increasingly looking for solutions that are bespoke to their needs and yet too often the sales process is overly rigid and inflexible.
Here the role of the sales leader is to give their team the ‘air cover’ to be creative. We know from our own research that the best salespeople push their own leaders and add value by feeding fresh insight back into their organisation. You will need to encourage and proactively support salespeople’s ability to innovate. This may be done one-to-one or in group sessions where individuals are encouraged to discuss current issues and to be creative in finding solutions.
3. Help them to navigate internally
One key frustration of buyers is the difficulty of making a purchase. Research from Gartner suggests that 77% of buyers find the purchasing process to be too complex. They expect a consistent experience when interacting with different representatives from different functions yet this is not what they encounter, with two-thirds reporting that they often have to repeat or explain their requirements to each contact.
The Sales Leader’s role is to support the salesperson in navigating the internal barriers that they will face in trying to do things differently. This may require you to share your network in order to connect them with key decision-makers and help them to get things done. It could involve advocating on their behalf or even seeking to change existing processes and procedures in order for them to be able to respond to the needs of the customer.
If there is a unifying theme to the three areas above, it is one of support for the salespeople in your team. Of course, at any time it is important to support your team. Psychological research describes this as ‘Servant Leadership’ and there are many studies out there from many areas of business that suggest that leaders who adopt the characteristics of a servant leader build higher levels of trust and engagement within their teams, and drive greater sales performance.
In times of uncertainty it can be tempting to try to be more hands on and involved, to show that you are ‘in the trenches’ but you will have a far more positive impact if you offer your team the support described above.
Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.