Mike, a regional salesperson, had always sold face to face. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, he was forced to sell over the phone. Understandably, this shift caused some discomfort, because it felt like a big change. As his coach asked Mike how his sales interactions were going, it occurred to her that he was actually doing a great job of selling over the phone; he was using many of the same skills he had used in the past. The difference was that he didn’t like it as much as in-person selling, and he was less comfortable.

After listening for a while, the coach said, “Mike, it sounds like you are being very successful with selling over the phone, but it just isn’t as comfortable for you. Is that a fair statement?”

He paused for a long moment and then said, “Yes. I guess it is. And, it’s a good distinction: Am I comfortable versus am I effective?”

It’s a very important distinction that many seasoned, effective salespeople miss. They are mistaking discomfort for ineffectiveness.

During another recent coaching session, Cheryl, also a regional salesperson, said something similar. Her coach has been working with Cheryl for a few years now, so she knows her pretty well. When Cheryl finished telling the coach how uncomfortable she was selling over the phone, the coach asked her, “Cheryl, when you first started selling face to face, how comfortable were you?”

She immediately replied, “I hated it. I was so uncomfortable. It probably took me a year to feel comfortable.” This answer was the one the coach expected, yet for some reason, Cheryl expected to be comfortable with virtual selling right away.

If your sales team is experiencing the same difficulties, here are five tactics you can use to help them through this transition:

1. Help Them See That They Are Using the Same Skills — Just Differently

For example, Mike’s coach asked him to walk her through the specific steps that he was using when calling on customers and to tell her which of those steps were similar to what he would have done in person. For Mike, about 75% of those skills were the same.

This conversation helps salespeople feel a strong foundation under their feet, which makes taking action feel less risky. They do have skills they can rely on — not everything has changed.

2. Brainstorm New Approaches

As coaches, we have to help reps be creative. For example, Cheryl felt like her strength was her ability to walk into someone’s office and build instant rapport. Doing so can be harder over the phone — but not impossible. She and her coach brainstormed some new ways to build rapport, and one idea that she landed on was to use LinkedIn as a way to learn about the person she would be calling on.

3. Help Them See Their Progress

When someone is learning something new, seeing their progress is key to staying motivated and moving in the right direction. In fact, in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Dan Pink says it is one of the keys to intrinsic motivation.

4. Help Them to Continue to Adapt

When someone is trying something new, they often need to make some adjustments. A simple approach to help is to help them reflect on when it’s working and when, if at all, it isn’t. If there are times when it isn’t working as expected, help them explore where the breakdown is happening and why. This conversation will help you both discover where and how a course correction could occur. Remember, if you don’t help them adapt, they may give up.

5. Help Them Think About the Impact of the Change

People want to know that they are working on something that matters. To keep them motivated, it’s important to help them see that their hard work is paying off. The simplest way to do so is to ask, “How is this helping you in this new environment?” or, “How is this helping you to achieve your goals or better serve your customers right now?” Remember, if they don’t see the benefit, they are at risk of back sliding into old habits.

While coaching virtually may be a change for many sales managers, it’s not only possible but often even more effective. In the face of COVID-19, salespeople are taking two diverging paths:

    • Waiting for the way it used to be to come back.
    • Recognizing that it may never be like it used to be or that it won’t be that way for some time.

The five tips included in this article can help you move your team members to a new level of comfort with the second path, so that they are willing to put the effort in and try. Nothing new will happen if they are not willing to try — which can be fatal for business. The bottom line is that we can’t wait for things to return to the way they once were. If that is our approach, we will undoubtedly be passed by our competition.

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