If empathy is the ability to experience some of the feelings of pain that another person is feeling, then compassion is the ability to translate that feeling into action. Empathy and compassion are two qualities that can fundamentally transform the growth trajectory of your sales organization.
Dear Sales Leader, For the sake of your people: Read. Digest. Apply.
1. Get to know your people. They are human beings. They have lives outside the office. Respect that. If they have small kids, perhaps they’d appreciate a little flexibility on that Monday 9am or Friday 3pm sales meeting. Particularly during the summer months. Assume the best at all times. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Provide some breathing room, and you’ll receive their support 10x in return. A salesperson is not a number. Don’t treat her like that. Get to know each individually and as a group. What gets each of them out of bed every morning? What role does each of them play on the team? Trust me, they all play a role.
2. Be vulnerable. Especially if you have just started a leadership role at a new company. Sure, you’ve worked in many great companies and been super successful at those companies. But you haven’t done beans at this company yet. Sure, you have years and years of experience. You’ll have the opportunity to apply what’s relevant down the road. Right now, accept and publicly share that you need their help getting up to speed. You need their help understanding the business, the market, the product, the challenges, what’s been tried before and what has not. Be super-inquisitive. Don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way if something doesn’t make sense at first glance. But remember, maybe there is a valid reason for it. Once you have absorbed it all, only then can you add real value. While you are doing this, continue getting to know your people.
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3. Walk in their shoes. Don’t just say: “I wouldn’t make you do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” Actually go do it. You might learn a few things. Assign yourself a few accounts. Do some prospecting. Book some meetings. Take the call from that frustrated client. Take the feedback to the cross-functional partners. Close a deal. More importantly, close it out in Salesforce (or whatever CRM you use). Is it an easy process for your pepole? Experience a typical day walking in their shoes. Only then can you be truly emphatic. Titles don’t make leaders. Actions do.
4. Be there for them. Listen. This is important. Genuinely be there for them. If you have done 1), 2) and 3), then they will come to you as their leader. They will look for your guidance, help and support. If you have done 1), 2) and 3) well, you may find that your role as a sales leader morphs into somewhat of a counselor. That’s okay. Our role as sales leaders is to spend 90% of our time watching and listening. It is in these moments that you can apply your years of experience. Apply it. Share it. Leverage it. There will be times when your people are frustrated, and they just need to talk. Be there for them. There will be times when things are happening outside of work, things that they are dealing with. Apply empathy, give them some space, some flexibility, some breathing room. Nine times out of 10 they will thank you for it. Nine times out of 10 they will share with you what’s happening in their lives. You may even be given the priceless opportunity to provide advice that will genuinely affect that person’s life. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning. Too often we underestimate the power of a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
5. Earn the right to coach. If you have done 1), 2), 3) and 4) well, then you’ll earn the right. Your role as a sales leader is to make your people more productive and successful (in my opinion, both personally and professionally). Get out in the field with them. How else can you provide in-the-moment coaching? Newsflash: It’s often the tiny tweaks that you suggest after a client call or meeting that can translate into game-changing performance. Let people leverage your professional network. You’ve been in business for many years and worked for all those amazing companies, remember. Why have them struggle to find a way into the decision makers at their target companies, if someone in your network could provide a warm introduction? Be compassionate.
6. Celebrate success. Whether big, or small, celebrate it. And remember, it’s not just about the numbers. What are the biggest challenges facing each of your people? Celebrate their success. Recognize them. Salespeople are human beings. Sure, they get paid commission on those big deals but what if that’s not what motivates them? Maybe they are motivated by other things. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what was expected.
7. Let them fly. There is no greater feeling than seeing your people embrace everything you have given them, all the time you have invested and watching them fly. Hearing them use some of your suggestions, seeing them get the expected reaction from the client, seeing them grow in confidence and seeing them pay it forward to those around them. This is why you chose a career in sales leadership, right? Back off slowly and let them fly.
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Empathy and compassion are two qualities that can fundamentally transform the growth trajectory of any sales organization. For the sake of your people, if it doesn’t come naturally, please keep trying. They will respect you for it.
Thanks for reading.