No matter what industry you are in, if you are a sales leader, you’re looking for a competitive edge for your team.
I would argue that one of the biggest competitive edges you can gain does not involve a new tool or a new selling method- in fact, it costs nothing and you already have it in your tool box.
Developing and utilizing your ability to connect with and emotionally support your frontline salespeople will dramatically enhance your team’s performance. I have seen it for myself.
At the beginning of my sales career almost ten years ago- one of my first jobs was working in wireless retail sales. I was just beginning to find my voice as a salesperson, but was still struggling to hit my stride- and my teammates were feeling the same way. For one of the busiest stores in the district, our numbers were not where they needed to be. Things needed to change. Soon.
My manager at the time had just started, after a few less than effective leaders had been unable to improve our team’s performance. She was brought in due to her experience in leadership, and we were all ready for a real leader.
Within the first few days, our new manager did something that I had never seen before. She took the time to sit down with each of us and get to know us. Not on a superficial, “My boss told me to do this so let’s get this over with” level either. She sat across from me, looked me in the eye and had a genuine conversation with me. She asked me what was important to me, what motivated me, and most importantly, she made it clear that she was there to support me. Even if it had nothing to do with what happened on the sales floor, I knew that I could come to her to talk.
Over the course of the next few weeks, things changed. Morale in the store skyrocketed. Reps that weren’t getting along before were suddenly helping each other. Sales reps that were previously disengaged were showing up 15 minutes early for their shift. Before long, we were the number one store in the district.
That initial conversation our new leader had with us set a tone for the entire team. The emotional support that was shown to each of us transformed into each team member feeling confident in their abilities, focused on their goals and willing to go the extra mile to make things happen. Saturday morning meetings went from being a pain in the neck to an opportunity to celebrate our successes, offer support to those that were struggling, and remain clear on the reasons why we were working so hard. It was truly a great place to work.
This was my first experience working in an environment where I felt emotionally supported by leadership. Sure, I had been given the proper tools and training at my previous jobs and with previous leaders, but I never felt understood. Nobody had ever bothered to ask me what truly motivated me or what my aspirations were in a genuine way. Once I knew I had that support, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions or make mistakes which are huge levers of growth for a new salesperson (or any salesperson for that matter). I felt empowered to use my talents and was encouraged to go the extra mile. That resulted in quota crushing, bigger paychecks, and an improved mindset.
Years later, when I was leading my own inside sales team I made sure that I had a strong foundation of emotional support built from the get-go. Each and every one of my reps knew that I was there to help propel them towards success, and it started with them knowing they had my true support.
The reason that this approach to leadership is so effective is because salespeople are typically very emotionally intelligent. A good salesperson is in touch with the feelings of others, which allows them to navigate conversations and uncover the needs of their customers. A good salesperson is also aware of the feelings of their peers as well. They realize that having good rapport with their teammates creates a synergy that is conducive to success. Good salespeople can develop strong relationships with their leaders as well, if they feel like that door is open. Too often, that door is either closed or superficially cracked open.
Missing the opportunity to cultivate a sales team that is built on the emotional support of one another is a huge loss.
In 2013 a study was conducted on the impact that sales manager support has on the emotional well-being of sales reps. Elyria Kemp with the Department of Marketing & Logistics at the University of New Orleans conducted an assessment of 154 sales professionals across several industries to produce a model that correlated leadership support to positive and negative emotional well-being in sales reps. The results were not surprising. According to the study, sales manager support is “negatively related to emotional exhaustion and rumination, but positively associated with fostering positive working environments and future expectations. Salesperson motivation is positively related to positive working environments and customer‐oriented selling and negatively related to emotional exhaustion.”
Let’s work backwards here. Higher revenue comes from better performance. Better performance comes from positive work environments. Positive work environments are created by leadership. Leaders need to foster positive work environments, and a huge component of that is built on the support given to frontline salespeople. It all seems so obvious doesn’t it?
In my career I have found this to be much easier said than done. Sales leaders are forgetting that “support” means more than giving someone a desk and a phone, or an email address and a lead list. The kind of support that drives positive results for sales teams is born out of genuine desire to know your sales reps for the humans that they are, instead of quota carrying figures in a spreadsheet.
To be fair, I understand that getting to this level of support and connection doesn’t come easily for everyone. I have come across sales leaders that simply aren’t tuned into it. They themselves may have never experienced the benefits of being emotionally supported by their leaders, or they simply haven’t thought about it.
There aren’t a specific set of steps that can be taken to get the ball rolling on providing emotional support in my opinion, because it all starts with intention. The act of providing emotional support to another person has to be genuine and executed in a natural way.
What I can provide is the certainty that your front line salespeople will appreciate the support, and their performance will be a reflection of that appreciation.
Being a sales leader is all about tapping into what makes each one of your team member’s special, creating a relationship that fosters their gifts, and harnessing their abilities to produce positive results. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest, shiny object that will provide a competitive edge for your sales team. Don’t forget that one the most powerful tools to driving performance is one you already own.
James Bawden is an inside sales professional and frontline salesforce advocate at Evalueserve. He has over a decade of experience across industries, spanning from wireless retail sales to complex B2B sales. His unique mixture of full cycle sales, sales development, enablement and leadership experience has resulted in real world views on what works for sales teams. He is fiercely passionate about all things sales, especially providing a voice for salespeople who are just beginning their careers.