how to motivate your sales team in uncertain times

Posted on December 2019 by Natasha Thomas, UK Sales Director


Faced with a period of political turmoil (an impending recession and Brexit to name but a few), it is no surprise that labour productivity amongst British workers is so low. Many feel unnerved in the current climate and fall into a trap of focusing solely on the short-term problem instead of looking at the bigger picture.

Case in point: when we as humans feel low, we tend to reach for something to make ourselves feel better (there’s nothing like a big bar of chocolate or a new lipstick to pick yourself up – it’s not hard to see why the confectionary and cosmetic industries tend to experience a boom when a recession hits!)

It’s a quick fix to try and resolve immediate problems with instant gratification; however, in business this could be a recipe for disaster. Instead, it’s important to have a long-term strategy in place, clearly setting out how to overcome difficult periods whilst supporting and motivating your people.

Create the strategy

As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day ‘urgent’ tasks, but it would be wise not to spend your entire day putting out fires – especially when your sales team are perfectly capable of ensuring things run smoothly in the background, leaving you to focus on high-level strategy. You can then communicate this with your team so that they can make sure you have buy-in from customers, especially when times are tough.

Feeling demotivated? The book ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ by Dr Spencer Johnson could offer some inspiration, or at least point you in the right direction. It tells the tale of a group of mice and humans who live in a maze, and need to find cheese to survive – cheese representing our successes in life, and the maze acting as the metaphor for where you will find it. The characters are faced with unexpected changes in their quest for cheese, with ultimately only one of them dealing with the changes successfully. Without giving my age away, I’ve lived through two recessions in my career and this book really resonated with me.

Keep it real

Keep your sales team motivated by making sure they feel involved and appreciated. When re-evaluating and planning your team goals, perhaps you could ask them for ideas so they know their opinion matters.

While it’s certainly no secret that many sales people are driven by money, the added pressure of a possible recession could impact their motivators. To make sure they stay inspired, you could evaluate working hours, offer flexi-time or revise their job roles.

Embrace the energisers (and zap the zappers!)

Are your team members energisers or zappers? Do they embrace whatever is thrown their way, or do they simply struggle to look on the bright side of life?

Sales people tend to have a natural energy about them and will easily be able to see the good in any situation and act on that accordingly. They’re the type of people who can turn any pitch on its head and will unsurprisingly thrive in a sales environment – some might call us naïve, or even foolish, but it’s not hard to see why good sales people are hardwired to be positive. As a manager it’s integral to the team that you differentiate between the zappers and the energisers, as ultimately a zapper has no longevity as a salesperson.

Address issues head on and keep your team motivated

Whilst we all deal with the pressures of modern-day life differently, it is important to identify those who are just experiencing a drought and those who don’t perform well due to their personality.

If you do suspect that a team member is feeling under pressure - it’s possible they aren’t accomplishing as much as they usually do, or they may seem despondent or uninterested - it might be an idea to have an informal chat with them to address the issue; after all, you don’t want anything to affect team morale. Maybe it’s the reality of the current market and they just can’t seem to see through the fog, or perhaps they have financial difficulties or problems at home. Whatever the issue, consider all avenues before making any rash decisions. A simple solution such as a new role offering stable, basic pay could be essential in ensuring things gets back on track without affecting the entire team.

At the same time, make sure you consider everyone else in your remit – it can be easy to forget about those who seem to take everything in their stride. Small gestures might be all it takes to show your thanks for their hard work. How about a team lunch or a little coffee and cake? Try not to focus all your energy on those who are not rising to the challenge. A little morale boost can go a long way.

Be honest and drive open communication lines

Take the time to listen and be honest with your sales team. If your priorities change, explain why and what it means for them. People fear the unknown; it’s often so much worse than the reality, leading to unnecessary panic. As a manager, if you are as honest as you can possibly be, your team will feel valued and motivated as a result.

Navigating the current climate can often feel like a minefield. And whilst the above might not be a fail-safe way to success within your sales team, hopefully it has given some food for thought and offered a few insightful tips – goodness knows we all need a little help at the moment!