Freddie Marryat, Marketing Manager, EngageIQ

09 April 2020

It’s no secret that sales is a stressful career. In a survey by PayScale, “Sales Account Managers” was named the second most stressful job with almost three-quarters of respondents ranked it “highly stressful”. 

If you’re serious about looking after your employees’ health while keeping them in the right frame of mind to sell successfully, managing their mental health should be high on your agenda. 

It is especially important given the current situation, where isolation and fear make for nasty bedmates. In fact, how well your sales team perform during lockdown will be determined, in part, by their mental well being. As Forward Focus president Beth Williams says, “mental health is your most effective sales tool.” 

So what can you do? Here’s how we’ve been keeping our SDRs sane and in the right headspace while working remotely.

To Reduce, or Not to Reduce Targets, That’s the Question

Let’s address the target-shaped elephant in the room straight away. Is it wise to reduce sales targets to boost morale and keep SDRs motivated? Short answer: we think so.

Unless your SDRs prospect into a few particular sectors — like eCommerce and logistics — they’re unlikely to be as successful as they once were. Even the best reps are going to fail when the people they are calling have had their budgets slashed or, worse, are fearing for their jobs. 

SDRs naturally get deflated when they don’t hit targets. Even though their lack of success isn’t their fault, it can still get to them. As Mark Sumner, founder and CEO of Robertson Sumner, said on a recent webinar that keeping targets high in the current climate is a great way to negatively impact your team’s mental health.

Targets should incentivize reps, not deflate them. If there’s no way your team is going to get near them, there’s no point keeping them in place. What’s the point of a target you can’t hit? A more manageable target is much more effective. After all, a few booked appointments are better than no booked appointments — and your reps should be compensated fairly for their efforts regardless of what was possible before lockdown.

Check-in With Staff Personally

Personal interaction is essential to keeping your sanity. While it happens naturally in an office environment, you have to create it artificially when working remotely.

What’s weird is that employees are actually welcoming these kinds of interactions more now than they otherwise would in the office. When we’re all together, team meetings can be a distraction. Now they are a welcome relief. 

You get a lot of facetime in the office without meaning to, points out JotForm founder Aytekin Tank. “Connecting in-person is empowering for staff, ensuring they are both seen and heard,” he says. “Without those ordinary prompts for interaction, however, remote workers can easily feel adrift.” In place of serendipitous interaction, you need to make near-daily drop-ins a feature of your management.

As a sales manager, you probably already have regular one-to-one meetings with reps to talk through problems. Make sure you also use these meetings to ask reps how they are coping with the new world order. 

Use this time as a chance to keep them updated on the state of the company, too. Your sales team isn’t naive. They know your company is probably struggling. So it’s important to communicate honestly if this is the case. You’ll want to reassure them about the security of their role, naturally. But blatant outright lies will only decrease morale further.

“Connecting in-person is empowering for staff, ensuring they are both seen and heard”

Keep Connected Through Video

All of your communication should happen through video conferencing, where possible. Yes, it might be easier to pick up the phone. But it won’t be nearly as impactful. 

Video can be a great source of comfort when people are anxious, writes Allego’s Laurie Long. “There is something reassuring about seeing a human face versus reading an email. Checking in with a short video can be a source of comfort and a great way to let your far-flung colleagues know that you care about them, personally and professionally.”

Video also helps manage the disconnection employees may be feeling right now, adds Uberall’s Greg Sterling. “People will want to connect to overcome the social isolation they may feel at home or in being cut off from normal work routines.” Connecting via video offers visual proof that you are all in the same situation together.

If you talk via video instead of the phone or email, you’ll also improve the quality of your conversations with employees, adds Jeff Riseley, the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance. Research has shown that as much as 80% of all communication is no-verbal. That means neither you or your SDR is getting the whole story when you communicate on Slack or over the phone.

You don’t even need to talk directly to one another when using video. For instance, our SDRs have taken it upon themselves to set up virtual prospecting sessions where they all dial into a Zoom room and leave the camera running while making calls. It’s been a massive boost to morale and a much better alternative to making calls on your own.

Be On the Lookout For Issues

It’s your responsibility as a manager to start talking about mental health, adds Riseley. It may help to talk about your own challenges with mental health if relevant. While mental health issues are no longer taboo, reps can still feel embarrassed about talking about their struggles, he adds. By starting the conversation and talking about your personal experiences, you can make it easier for SDRs to speak openly, too.

Make it clear that it’s your job to help them, advises social selling expert Lindsey Boggs. When she realised this about her managers, it made opening up a lot easier. “I realized I’m letting her do her job by opening up earlier when something’s bothering me,” she writes. “This also helps me remove obstacles to my sales success in a more expedient manner.”

Mental Health First Aid England’s director of people, Sarah McIntosh, recommends that you should replicate the support you would provide in person if you’re concerned about a colleague’s mental state. That is to “set enough time aside, minimise distractions around you (you may need to move to another room), and give the person your full focus by turning off your notifications and other devices.”

Schedule time Away From Work

Normally, it’s essential companies respect the work-life balance and refrain from organizing too many out-of-office activities that eat into employees’ free time. But these aren’t normal times. There is a complete dearth of social and leisure activities for your employees to take part in right now. You need to step in and fill that void. 

At EngageTech, we’ve formed a book club to make sure we’re spending our time wisely and not wasting all of it playing Fortnite or Call of Duty. We also host regular non-work catch-ups, such as company drinks and quizzes. 

We aren’t alone in our efforts. Advertising group Publicis has created ‘Publicis Plug-in’’, which offers a schedule of online activities that include yoga, mindfulness sessions and coffee mornings. 

Remember, your SDRs are some of your most valuable assets as a business. Without them, contracts dry up and revenue dwindles. Keep them in a frame of mind to sell successfully and you’ll be giving your company the best chance of surviving the pandemic. 

Images by: Fabian Møller, visuals, Gabriel Benois