It’s an understatement to say that it’s an interesting time to be in business and sales. During difficult economic times, a sales leader has the opportunity to step up and lead or fall down and fail. A few sales managers will fall into the second category, and it’s not because they are bad people.
It’s because they haven’t been taught the physiology and psychology of sales leadership.
Uncertainty is at an all-time high. Many of us lived through the dot-com crash of 2000, the horror of 9-11 and the 2008 financial crisis. But the coronavirus is hitting at an even deeper level of fear because basic safety and physiological needs are in question.
Abraham Maslow is an American psychologist who was best-known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His model covers the five needs of human beings, and the first two are:
- Physiological – Air, food, water, shelter and sleep
- Safety – Personal security, employment and health
Maslow’s theory is that basic, innate human needs must be met before a person can evolve to the next
level. And for many sellers, meeting basic needs is in question, which makes it hard for them to focus on their work.
“Do I have enough supplies and food on hand in case my city gets quarantined?
“Who has this virus? Where am I safe?
“Do I have enough money to pay my rent or mortgage?”
“How are my children going to fare in this crisis? My parents?”
“Will I have a job? And am I going to take a big cut in pay?”
The psychological reaction is fear and stress, which dramatically affects a salesperson’s ability to think clearly and creatively, and take action. Under stress, the body reacts by producing elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Prolonged stress leads to sleep deprivation, compromised immune systems and hypertension, to name a few conditions.
Obviously not a winning formula for sales success.
But here is the sales leadership challenge: How many sales managers have taken a course that provided them with the appropriate training and coaching tools to help their sales team thrive in tough times? Deal with fear and stress?
Probably too few.
Traditional sales management training focuses on how to set quotas, establish sales activity metrics, review sales pipelines, and pre-brief and debrief sales calls. All are very important skills; equally important is learning the skills to help your sales team deal with adversity.
Sales management is stress management.
Effective sales leaders teach their salespeople how to deal with stress and setbacks. These important skills allow a salesperson to bring peak performance to a selling situation, regardless of external circumstances. A salesperson that effectively manages stress still can execute the hard-selling behaviors you are teaching and coaching.
During turbulent times like this, it’s easy for human beings to focus on the bad and what could go wrong. It’s Physiology 101. The reptilian brain moves into survival mode, working overtime telling your logical brain, “Danger ahead. Your physiological and safety needs are not going to be met.”
A proven stress-management tool for dealing with the reptilian brain is teaching your team to take control. Because the origination of stress and fear often stem from feeling out of control.
These emotions trigger the survival fight-or-flight response, releasing negative chemicals into your seller’s body.
It’s important to teach your sales team that it’s the response to the circumstance, rather than the actual circumstance itself that creates stress. Continue to coach your sales team members to focus on what they can control, rather than what is out of their control.
During your next group sales meeting, have your sales team members put together a list of things they can control, even in these tough times. Here are a few to start with.
Sellers can control:
- The beginning of their day. They can carve out quiet time and check in with themselves before checking the latest bad news on social media sites. Avoid having your sales team members start their day with a fear and cortisol jolt!
- Incorporating gratitude into their morning or evening routine. When a salesperson practices gratitude, the brain releases the feel-good hormone of dopamine, rather than the feel-bad stress hormones and chemicals.
- Reaching out to clients and asking how they are doing personally and professionally. Now is one of the best times to make a deposit in the relationship account.
- Crafting empathetic messages to prospects, ones that demonstrate that they feel their pain and may have a solution. This takes time, but it will help your sellers look like true partners instead of ambulance chasers. (And believe me, I am receiving some really bad, non-empathetic emails right now.)
- Writing a note of thanks to clients for their past business, even if they’re not in a position to invest dollars right now. It’s how you act in the tough times that makes the difference in the good times.
- Scheduling virtual coffee meetings with referral partners and brainstorming on creative ways to acquire business, or simply showing exceptional service and support to clients at this time.
- Reading books about people that have overcome insurmountable circumstances. These stories provide perspective and hope. One that I always recommend is Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
We’ve all heard the phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Now more than ever is the time to help your team acquire the skills to get tough and keep going.