Being a salesperson can bring great rewards: expense accounts, company cars and adulation from your colleagues. However, this can come at a price. This price includes the pressure of targets, frequent rejection, heavy travel schedules and remote working.
All of these factors can lead to feelings of “being alone” which in turn can foster low motivation, poor performance, absenteeism and even poor health (Shepherd et al 2011). These all have a proven impact on an organization’s bottom line, not to mention its duty of care for employees and colleagues.
So what are some of the causes?
The researchers talk about:
- The duality of the role: managing close relationships with customers and a responsibility to their employer. A kind of “Who am I?” dilemma; in extremis – a double agent position (Castleberry & Tanner, 2010).
- The lack of quality time with their line manager or their peers: this area still stands out as the major factor to employees who leave early or feel isolated (Challagalla et al, 2000).
- The expectations of the salesperson: “I didn’t sign up for this” – often salespeople experience emotional exhaustion, as well as role ambiguity (Babakus et al, 1999).
What can be done?
# Ensure quality communication and coaching
Many studies show that ongoing quality contact or coaching with your line manager can improve feelings of engagement and motivation. This ongoing focus on a salesperson’s development will, in most instances, further engage them and help them perform.
To further support this, we have written an earlier blog referencing John Donne’s immortal lines… “No man is an Island…” where we referenced the importance of regular communication with peers and managers alike. However, the realities of logistics are that some salespeople have to be out of the office for long periods of time which makes face to face meetings both difficult and costly.
# Set clear expectations
Being clear about what is expected of a salesperson can impact these factors. Setting clear lines of accountability from the outset is important as well as setting monthly, quarterly and yearly performance goals (HBR). In addition to this, managers or coaches should check on progress and how employees are getting on in achieving these.
# Make them feel part of a team
Often salespeople who spend a lot of time on the road feel excluded and separate from head office and their colleagues. Success or failure can sometimes feel as though it is exclusively their responsibility (Jones et al, 2007). It is important to make these team members feel connected to peers and subject matter experts through easy to use communication channels. This encourages the sharing and flow of expert knowledge, provides support and ultimately increased customer wins.
# Get personal and build trust
Trust in a supervisor and among co-workers has been shown to build motivation levels, commitment to the organization and increase job satisfaction (Aryee et al, 2002). In order to build familiarity with someone, you need to get to know them on a personal level. With remote employees this can sometimes be challenging. Try to ensure face to face meetings either in person or via video conferencing and use the first few minutes of your meetings to talk about weekend plans, kids or even last night’s big game (HBR).
These meetings don’t necessarily have to be frequent. Research shows that once the relationship has stabilized, having a predictable schedule is more important than a frequent one in order to build trust (HBR).
Following these principles will make your workers happier. Happy workers treat their customers better and are less likely to leave the organization (sales and service profit chain). However, with more salespeople working remotely, these are not always easy to follow.
How could technology assist you?
Along with our customers, we have found a new means for managers to address these challenges. We have leveraged mobile learning technologies to create programs which ensure salespeople understand what is expected of them and have regular check-ins with peers and managers. This way, they feel part of a team and get the coaching and support they need.
These are not ad hoc, but they are part of a guided set of activities which include practice, virtual observation and feedback. They are not “on your own” e-learning or webinars but they are experiential activities completed in the field which demand interaction and feedback.
For example, you could build programmes that include:
- “How do I feel?” surveys – pulse surveys every few months to see how salespeople feel about their role and achievement of their goals.
- Experiential learning activities – whereby a salesperson is required to show application of skills and submit evidence via their mobile app for virtual feedback. E.g. Ask your salespeople to record a video of how they would present a product to a customer for coaching from their manager.
- Action plans with ongoing touchpoints – to help salespeople set their targets and check-ins to monitor their progress.
- A Performance Hub – to connect a salesperson to their manager, as well as subject matter experts and mentors, for visibility of completed activities and the power to provide coaching and feedback. For example, a salesperson could be connected to a mentor, who can share their sales experiences and advice. Or a sales engineer could be connected to a technical product specialist to help them develop their product knowledge.
- A step by step curriculum of activities – which include predicted schedules of planned check-ins for video or face to face meetings.
So, it is well worth considering the value of a quality digital learning environment in terms of improving a salesperson’s feelings of connection with their colleagues and the organization. The more supported and included they feel, the more likely they are to deliver top results.
If this topic has piqued your interest and you would like to find out more, we will be holding a webinar on “Using digital learning to combat the feelings of loneliness in salespeople”.
Piqued your interest? Sign up for our webinar
“Using digital to combat the feelings of loneliness in salespeople”
11th April | 1pm
Babakus, E., Cravens, D. W., Johnston, M., & Moncrief, W. C. (1999). The role of emotional exhaustion in sales force attitude and behavior relationships. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, 27(1), 58-70.
Castleberry, S. B. & Tanner, J. F., Jr. (2010). Selling: building partnerships (8th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Challagalla, G., Shervani, T., & Huber, G. (2000). Supervisory orientations and salesperson work outcomes: the moderating effect of salesperson location. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, 20(3), 161-171.
Cicala, John, The Individual and Organizational Hazards of Loneliness on Salespeople (2014). Review of Business & Finance Studies, v. 5 (1) p. 27-36. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2324284
Jay Prakash Mulki, William B. Locander, Greg W. Marshall, Eric G. Harris and James Hensel (2008). Workplace Isolation, Salesperson Commitment, and Job Performance. The Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 67-78
Jones, E., Chonko, L., Rangarajan, D., & Roberts, J. (2007). The role of overload on job attitudes, turnover intentions, and salesperson performance. Journal of Business Research, 60(7), 663- 671.
Mark Mortensen and Michael O’Leary (2012). Managing a Virtual Team, HBR, Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/04/how-to-manage-a-virtual-team
Prosell Learning, How employee engagement drives profit, Available at: http://prosell.com/how-employee-engagement-drives-profit-ebook
Rebecca Knight (2015), How to Manage Remote Direct Reports, HBR, Available at: https://hbr.org/2015/02/how-to-manage-remote-direct-reports
Shepherd, C. D., Tashchian, A., & Ridnour, R. E. (2011). An investigation of the job burnout syndrome in personal selling. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, 31(4), 397-409.