How to lead sales with compassion during times of change

May 12, 2020

How to be the coach your customers and sales teams need

This is an extraordinary and disorientating time for everyone in business. And that’s certainly true for those of us working in sales. There’s a lot that all of us are trying to learn. We’re finding new ways of working, new ways of staying connected, and new ways of navigating the sales process itself. Sales leaders are learning these things alongside their teams. And we’re all learning them at the same time as our prospects and our customers. All of us are carefully trying to figure out the right way to engage and support one another.

In LinkedIn’s recent State of Sales survey, 70% of sales managers said that a manager’s ability to lead through change is more important than it was 5 years ago. And that was before coronavirus. In our current environment, effectively navigating teams through change is more important than ever. 

When the world shifts under our feet this way, one role becomes especially important within any sales organisation: the coach. For sales leaders, being the coach means giving your team clear direction and helping them work out how to get there; it involves being there to provide hands-on advice and support that’s rooted in an understanding of what each individual is going through. It means modelling the behaviours that you want to encourage in others. 

We’ve asked sales leaders and coaches at LinkedIn to share some of the lessons they’ve learned trying to support their teams through this intense adjustment period. We’re sharing short videos with ideas for how you can approach the task. We’ve also pulled together a range of other advice, tips and insight on building trusted relationships within your sale organisation and beyond.


Modelling compassion for your team

Hear from Mark Furlong, UK/I Sales Manager 

Managing with compassion has rarely been more important– and it starts with the smallest details like making a point of checking how each member of your team is feeling. Not everyone signals when they’re struggling and not everyone will open up about it in the same way. Being proactive in checking below the surface can make a big difference.

Emphasising empathy in how your team interacts can also act as a model for how you reach out to customers during this time. If your team are making time to check in on one another’s wellbeing, it can feel easier to do the same with clients.


Replicating formal and informal support structures

Hear from Stephan Lücke, DACH Sales Manager

Sales professionals thrive on contact – with customers, prospects and other members of the team. That can make working in isolation a psychological challenge. It’s not just the regular team meetings that people miss. It’s also the opportunity to grab a quick coffee or stop you in the corridor for a chat about how things are going. At LinkedIn, our sales managers have been trying different approaches to re-creating these formal and informal support structures.

Here are some we’ve found working well:

  • Sticking to regular team meeting slots with a virtual format (it helps to keep to a clear structure and minimise presentation lengths)
  • Scheduling more frequent one-to-ones with sales reps to check in proactively on individual wellbeing
  • Holding daily virtual stand-up hours, when any member of the team can join you online to ask questions and get support
  • Virtual lunches, coffees and after-work drinks – they’re a valuable form of human contact that your reps may want to try with clients as well
  • Moving away from rigid office hours, to relieve unnecessary pressure and help maintain a work-life balance.


Permission to put relationships first

Hear from Scott van Deinse, BeNeLux Sales Manager

Sales teams run on targets – but there are times when sellers need permission to put those targets to one side. This is one of them. Even the best seller can’t generate demand from buyers who aren’t in a situation or a mindset to buy. In these circumstances, it’s important to focus on the value-engagement aspects of your buyer relationships.

Checking in on how contacts are doing, asking genuinely open questions that enable them to share, aiming to always be helping rather than trying to push a deal forward: these are all examples of leading with compassion and authenticity that you can demonstrate for your team.

You can back up permission to put relationships first with resources to help your team members build the skills they need. LinkedIn Learning has unlocked a range of free courses to help teams with selling in these difficult times. They include courses focusing on compassion, asking better questions and digital body language.


Taking time for transparency

Transparency plays a huge role in building trust. That makes this a good time to check over LinkedIn profiles and company pages and ask whether they’re sharing the information buyers will be looking for. You might encourage your reps to raise their profile organically through posts or video content. It could be advice for their sector – it could just be a case of opening up about how they’re feeling.


Committing to customer understanding

Data and insight play a valuable role in building sales relationships – and that remains true in today’s environment. However, the way that you use data and insights may need to adapt. Genuine signals of buying intent will enable your team to focus outreach where it’s appreciated. Just as important are signals of what your target accounts and clients are going through, how their strategies are changing – and how your contacts are likely feeling. You may not discover opportunities to sell. But you’ll almost certainly discover opportunities to support.


Focus on what you can control

These are unprecedented times and while there might be a lot that we cannot control right now, there is great value in focussing on what we can actually control. Sometimes, holding off for now rather than distracting people who are busy and stressed can be just the right action to take.

Compassion is powerful. When you exercise it with others, may it be a customer, a member of your team or a stakeholder from a different department, they’re more likely to exercise it in their own interactions. And through this we all become more connected.


For more resources on navigating the current environment, visit our coronavirus resource hub.