April 30, 2020

Here’s How to Lead Your Sales Ops Teams in a Pandemic

By Dave Egloff, Vice President Analyst, Gartner Sales

Many sales operations leaders have been asking how to lead their teams during a pandemic. You should start by remembering something obvious: Your people are human beings. 

Many are forced into a remote working situation without much notice. Many are feeling isolated. Many are caring for others, or coexisting with others  and competing for network bandwidth, silence, and workspace. These are difficult times; and your people are going through a lot right now.

Make Sure Basic Needs Are Met
When you think about your sales ops team’s ability to stay focused or motivated, remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

  1. Physiological 
  2. Safety
  3. Social belonging 
  4. Self-esteem
  5. Self-actualization

The first two represent basic needs. When these needs aren’t met, they become major distractions. 

Seeing the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 increase daily as well as the local impacts of stay-at-home orders and panic shopping, it’s fair to say our sense of safety has been impacted. In terms of social belonging, physical distance is a good mandate, but it may make people feel isolated or depressed. 

Based on these new realities, here are the sales ops leadership steps you should take. 

Keep Sales Ops Running Smoothly
Validate feelings. Stress and distraction are normal and expected. Don’t push your sales ops team into a position of defending or hiding these issues. Put their concerns first and connect them to available resources to manage their stress.

Promote available tools to sustain productivity, collaboration, and team camaraderie. This is not just about doing more work faster. This is about mitigating feelings of loneliness and affirming that you are all in it together. You are a team. A great example of helping people stay connected is to host virtual happy hours. Another example is to encourage video conferencing as opposed to audio-only options. Seeing people is important.

Provide your teams with some flexibility (wherever possible). Remember that your team is remote and potentially dealing with kids home from school, a spouse also attempting to work remotely, dogs barking, deliveries, etc. In some cases, people may need to run certain reports at night since the data volume consumes the home network’s bandwidth. These are new working conditions for many of us. We are all learning what works and what doesn’t work. Certainly, there will be a shift back to the purpose and function of sales operations. The next three steps are about driving value despite these new realities.

Be ready for reduced operations and support capacity. Develop a list of things you may need to start, stop and continue to do. To prioritize capacity, consider postponing non-essential projects and tasks.

Be proactive with your finance business partners. Co-develop pre-approved terms and conditions that sellers can offer to their customers to provide some extra financial flexibility and liquidity. This saves your team from having to scramble later.

Revisit reporting and forecasting. What worked yesterday may not work today. Also, your customers may be impacted differently so examine if forecasting processes need to change for specific customer segments or verticals. Eventually, depending on the duration and lingering impacts of the pandemic, you should consider some proactive steps. Inventory sales cost optimization plans. If you wait until cost reduction becomes a mandate, your options will be limited. Develop customer “health” monitors to detect emerging issues. Proactively assisting your customers to work through issues improves relationships, planning and forecasting.

Monitor seller engagement and develop a list of cost-effective means to boost engagement should it become an issue. If you are unsure of how to develop a feedback loop, engage frontline sales managers to provide a “voice of the seller.” Compensation and quota setting are common topics during periods of uncertainty. Be ready.

As a final note, it’s important to find reasons to rally together. Stay calm and lead by example.

Dave Egloff is a vice president analyst in Gartner’s Sales practice.