5 Best Practices – Coaching During Times of Uncertainty

By Tony Ennis, Vice President of Business Development & Principal, IMPAX Sales Performance
A man stands at a fork in the woods where one path is bright and the other path is dark.

Uncertainty creates anxiety, and 2023 has brought plenty of it. People have faced uncertainty in the economy, geopolitical instability, uncertainty regarding new technologies, and maybe even uncertainty at what the future will hold in terms of individual employment, company performance, and ongoing change.

Enter the sales manager. Sales leadership has two fundamental responsibilities:

  1. Achieve the business results expected by the company;
  2. Help each member of the team reach their full potential.

A role that can be challenging even when times are good, the job of a sales manager becomes exponentially more difficult during times of uncertainty. Numerous studies point to the significance of coaching and support in sales leadership’s responsibilities. The more coaching a sales representative or account manager receives, the more likely they are to achieve or exceed plan. The statistics speak for themselves.

  • According to Aberdeen Research, companies that provide real-time, deal-specific sales coaching increased revenue by 8.4% year-over-year – a 95% improvement over companies that don’t provide that level of coaching.
  • A Harvard Business Review report illustrates that top-quality coaching will improve the results of the middle 60% of a workforce by up to 19%.
  • 11% higher revenue was realized for companies that focused 3+ hours a month managing their sales reps’ pipelines (Harvard Business Review).

The importance of coaching – particularly during challenging times – cannot be overstated. However, a significant number of sales managers lead and coach intuitively. In the face of competing priorities, they often simply react to the situation before them. Leading a sales team – especially through times of adversity – requires a thoughtful and purposeful approach based on intent.

This article will share five best practices to support your ability to intentionally lead and coach through times of uncertainty, and ultimately, drive strong performance.

Best Practice #1: Drive Consistency & Cadence

If uncertainty creates anxiety, one essential tactic for sales leaders is to remove uncertainty to the greatest extent possible. In times of uncertainty, people crave consistency and predictability.

Implementation of a consistent communication cadence is essential. Consistency in communication and coaching improves morale and performance. So often, sales leaders share they are “always available” and will “address needs of the team as they arise”. While on-the-fly coaching and off-the-cuff interactions are fine as supplemental communication, they cannot be your primary approach.

Especially in times of adversity, representatives may experience uncertainty about many elements of their work – when they’ll next speak with their manager, what the content of that conversation will be, how their manager is thinking and feeling, and what is happening in the company overall.

Uncertainty creates anxiety; implementing a regular communication cadence for team calls and 1:1 conversations creates predictability and consistency. As a sales leader, you should focus your attention and prioritize quality communication at known, scheduled, and predictable times.

Best Practice #2: Flex Your Style

We all have a default leadership/coaching style. Some use an authoritarian style, some are collaborative, others are servant leaders, and some apply a hands-off approach.

There are numerous styles, and it is essential to know your default style – as well as the style that best supports the individual success of each team member.

As a sales leader, it is imperative you show up for each member of your team with the style that best supports them (rather than subconsciously applying your default style to every member of the team).

During times of adversity, there is one style that is never effective – the hands-off style. This style breeds uncertainty, and amidst uncertain times the sales manager cannot simply leave members of their team to face the situation alone.

Best Practice #3: Prioritize What Matters Most

Remember, times of uncertainty and anxiety also take a toll on your team members’ personal lives. Since the pandemic, people have been forced to adjust (and re-adjust) to different work realities, but they may have also faced uncertainty regarding their employment, their spouse’s employment, their kids’ education, and the health and safety of their family and communities.

Show compassion for the personal hurdles your team may be facing, and be clear about priorities. Asking people to focus on unimportant or irrelevant tasks is detrimental to overall performance. Drive focus toward the few things that matter most to the business.

Best Practice #4: Double Down on Development

Challenging times often bring a tightening of budgets; however, improving or accelerating performance is really the only way out of them. As the saying goes, “You cannot cut your way to prosperity.” Performance optimization requires the business development team to operate at peak ability.

By increasing their skill, capability, or knowledge through development, your investment helps equip the team to navigate challenging times and demonstrates commitment to them.

Additionally, if things in the economy get tough and members of the team need to be down-sized, you have improved their desirability in the employment market.

As a sales leader, the darkest days are those that require a termination of employment. Knowing that you invested in your team and made each member more marketable can ease the difficult emotions in letting a team member go.

Best Practice #5: Continue Performance Management

Active performance management must continue through uncertain times. Normal and customary business processes bring consistency and certainty, so they must be continued.

However, it may be necessary to adjust expectations or goals through challenging times. Doing so demonstrates you are connected to the reality of the situation and care about the success of your team members. If goals or objectives are adjusted, it should be done using the company’s formal documentation for doing so.

Beyond the formal performance management practices, it is important for sales leaders to chart their team and reflect on some key questions.

In conclusion, leading through good times is simple; leading through challenging times is when sales leaders earn their merit. Uncertainty creates anxiety and it’s important to do anything possible to minimize it with clarity.

The value of coaching cannot be overstated. In terms of sales leadership priorities, coaching is one of the most critical ways to support achievement of expected results and help team members achieve their potential. Focusing on quality coaching and removing uncertainty will create the best possible path forward.

To learn more, visit our website at www.impaxcorp.com.

Tony Ennis is Vice President of Business Development & Principal at IMPAX Sales Performance.