Motivating Salespeople in a Hybrid Environment

17 Sep 21

These six elements provide a great road map for creating a team of passionate salespeople in these uncertain, hybrid times.

Many companies are wrestling with the question about what their future work environment looks like as they emerge from COVID-19 restrictions. Preferences are mixed, but many employees want to keep working from home at least part of the time. In one recent study, a whopping 83% of 9,000 workers surveyed preferred a hybrid model. Companies are seeing a hybrid work environment take shape – a combination of onsite, virtual and work-from-home – at least for the near future.

While companies have been flexible and adjusted in miraculous ways over the past 18 months, organizational structures and processes were typically not designed for this flexible, hybrid work environment. As a result, sales managers face the new challenge of motivating their teams within hybrid workplaces.

The shift to emphasizing potential over place

The talent landscape has fundamentally shifted, as the authors point out in a recent Microsoft report about hybrid work. CEO Satya Nadella calls employees’ competing desires for more flexible remote work options but also more in-person collaboration the “hybrid work paradox.”

One emerging trend is that workers and employers are placing less emphasis on place and more emphasis on potential. Many companies, Microsoft included, are digging into the question of what motivators can unleash a person’s potential while helping them to be more healthy and more productive in any location.

As I thought about this in the context of managing sales teams, it occurred to me that navigating this new normal will take a lot of flexibility and a good bit of grit – on the part of the manager and the employees.

Five years ago, psychologist Angela Duckworth released the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She addressed how grit can be a key element of success – fostered and developed within a team. I was fascinated by her research – that not only is grit a strong predictor of success, but you can take steps to build grit within your team. Grit can become contagious.

At the time, no one could have predicted the enormous amounts of grit that would be necessary to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. But the more I looked back on what it takes to create a “gritty” sales team, the more relevance I noted from the lessons in Duckworth’s book.

Expanding on these ideas, I think these six elements provide a great road map for managing in these uncertain, hybrid times.

1. Model the behavior you’re looking for.

Come to meetings on time, prepared and fully focused. Do your research. Practice active listening. Demonstrate your work ethic and passion to get things done, whether in person or in a virtual environment.

2. Have a vision and communicate it.

Make sure everyone is clear about the team’s objectives and the criteria for success. Connect this to their individual goals. People will dig deep if they believe in the vision and understand how their efforts directly contribute. Communicate this often and through different channels. Reinforce the “why?”

3. Set high (and clear) expectations.

Duckworth emphasizes that this creates an environment where people surpass what they thought was possible. Set stretch goals for your team that are possible to achieve. And make sure that motivation strategies are in place to support these expectations. Setting expectations is even more important in a situation where the manager might not be able to see activities and progress day-to-day. But understanding the desired outcomes and the activities that are required to produce the outcomes is key. Once expectations have been set and communicated, performance needs to be consistently monitored against the expectations. Performance gaps need to be addressed, and wins should be acknowledged and celebrated.

4. Create a competitive environment that fosters performance.

We have so many tools to help monitor and manage performance. Leaderboards. Sales contests. Publicity around accomplishments. Be thoughtful and conscious about how these can unite the team to match the Latin root of the word compete, which is “strive together.” Even if the team isn’t in the same office, we can have shared goals and visibility around progress and accomplishments. Creating healthy compensation and celebrating success can have a huge impact on motivation and performance.

5. Provide ongoing coaching.

Adults learn through acting and then reflecting on their actions. Provide plenty of opportunities for one-on-one interactions, even if it’s virtual or over the phone. With virtual meeting technology, call recordings and instant messaging, there’s no excuse for not coaching. Help individuals see their path to success and co-create a plan to get them there. It’s more important now than ever.

6. Have empathy.

Meet your employees where they are. Researchers have found that any change, even a good one like a promotion, is a stressor. Add the pandemic’s many twists and turns, and you have a salesforce that may be feeling a whole new set of emotional challenges. So be flexible and engage in active listening.

“Different regions of the world and different parts of our economy are all going to deal with what hybrid work is differently,” Nadella told CNBC in a recent interview. “When we think about hybrid work, there won’t be any standard. The key word is flexibility.”

No matter what your hybrid environment looks like, incorporating these six factors will create a team of more passionate and perseverant individuals who respond to your strategies for motivation, perform at peak levels and consistently reach their sales goals.


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