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Dealing with Change & Uncertainty in Sales

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 6/4/20 7:00 AM

Random Conversations- Sara Gupta-2

Dealing with change and uncertainty is difficult. Check out this video or read along to discover: 

  • Why having a strong foundation of trust is key & how now is a great time to exercise that and illustrate to your team how much you trust them.

  • The benefits of cutting out the watercooler conversations for more purposeful conversations with the whole team. 

  • Why leadership needs to be confident and clear with their messaging now more than ever. 

  • How finding a daily practice that grounds you can help make sure you’re being creative with change rather than reactive. 

  • Why humanizing yourself as a leader can be more impactful now more than ever before.

Dealing with Change & Uncertainty in Sales with Carole Mahoney and Sara Gupta



Carole Mahoney: Change is hard regardless, never mind when you're trying to make all of these changes in the midst of uncertainty. I mean, they tend to go hand in hand. I know when you you've been working with a lot of different startups where changes like breakfast every day and I have as well. What are some of the things that you've been advising or what you've seen works successfully for those that are trying to manage this change especially now?

Sara Gupta: Yeah, I think that's a great question and it's a really important aspect of leadership that people need to be thinking about right now. It's, you know, before we started we were talking a bit about how everybody are kind of I think kind of coming up for air at the moment. And part of that sort of initial deep breath needs to be leaders grounding themselves. And you know, what is the lay of the land right now? What is this is the strategy? And then really being very clear around communication with their team and empowerment of their team, and giving them a North Star. That's what I think is very critical in one managing remote teams as well as managing teams through change. I've seen it over and over again and being very very purposeful about what that North Star is and what the role each individual person plays in that in that strategy.

So I think take the net of that is to really lean in on over communication in a way that may feel almost unnatural at first and potentially even feel like micromanagement but it needs to be something that is part of their daily existence and then that will start to feel natural.

Carole Mahoney: I mean, especially when you're not in the office was them necessarily right now because before you could just walk by their desk, you know have a five-minute conversation or the water cooler conversation that we’re all so very used to. Now, you have to make a conscious effort to have those water cooler conversations and it's difficult to make it not feel like you're micromanaging or that you don't trust them to do work from home and that they're going to be off, you know looking at things.

I think I saw one post or article on LinkedIn where someone was talking about, if you're randomly going to see what your employees are doing on their desktop or randomly calling them just to check in, what does that say to the person who's trying to focus, trying to get work done about how much you actually trust them? If you don't trust your team to work from home or you don't trust your team to say certain things to your customers, then there's an underlying issue going on there to begin with I think.

Sara Gupta: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I think that you and I have talked about this a lot in the past. I'm a big believer in having a strong foundation of trust as part of this sort of EQ portion of leadership. If you have a strong foundation of trust, ultimately you're going to drive, you know exponential more results out of your team than a team where that that is not present and this is a great opportunity to really exercise that. It really illustrates to your team how much you trust them so really making sure that you're checking in with yourself as a leader and saying, hey if I do a check in with my team, let's make sure I'm really truly checking in and I'm seeing how they are and I'm being purposeful and thoughtful around what they may need out of that conversation versus using the guise of a check-in. And in fact it is, digging in recovers and what are you doing.

And I wanted to go back to what you said about the water cooler conversation because I actually think that this is a really important opportunity because as someone who's led a distributed team, you know over time where some people were in a office and then there's other sort of spread out throughout the country. Those water cooler conversations can actually break down team communication because you think you've communicated to your team something because you caught the few people that are in the office that you get a chance to see on a regular basis, but you've left out, you know a portion of that conversation which only exasperates that distance between those who were in an office and those who are out.

So it's actually think this is a really great opportunity to level the playing field in terms of communication across all members of the team and make sure that you're having purposeful time with everyone, morning stand-ups, team meetings where there's more opportunity to just share and communicate or are what people are doing and how they're spending their time, what they're saying working and whatnot holistically because oftentimes distributed teams have real breakdowns in communication. So I think this is a fantastic opportunitie for leaders to shift away from that disjointed communication.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, I wear this t-shirt every day. I think I need to make a version of it for sales leaders and leaders in general as well. I say to sales people all the time. But sometimes I think the difference between leadership and supervising is that leaders make the person feel that they're important. Whereas a supervisor makes them feel that I'm the one that's important. And I think that is so important in leadership in the EQ of leadership to be other focused first. If you were to think about the things that they're going through the uncertainties, am I going to keep my job am I going to lose my job? Am I going to be able to make my quota? Is my family going to be or sick? And that's why that over communication is, as you say, so important because you can't assume that they've understood what you say at any one time because of all of the other different things that are coming at them and the negative states of mind that they might be in.

You know neuroscience and psychology tells us that the state of mind of the person who you're talking to is a lot to do with how they're going to receive or even hear the message that you're trying to answer everything.

Sara Gupta: That's right. And that's where the role of leadership right now is so, so important because that is going to be the sort of grounding presence and in all of this. So if your leader shows up and has a clear message, has a clear strategy, they show alignment with their peers in other parts of the business around that strategy all the way up to the c-suite and CEO, and then they communicate what your role is in that that strategy, that's going to give your team so much confidence that they can go and execute.

If their leader is kind of seeming ungrounded, not certain around what's going on, illustrating fear about their role or their place in the business long term, any of those cracks are going to really, really impact morale. And people may not say it, but underneath they’re living in a state of fear, and when you live in a state of fear, you're not doing your best work. We're not serving our clients with clarity and focus you are not coming into the field with confidence whether you're a seller who you know needs to show up with confidence. My company is sturdy and steadfast. We are closing business, we are operating with this from a strong foundation, and we have a bright future.

Or a client success manager or account manager who's trying to renew business and is trying to save every dollar possible again, they need to come confidently to their clients with a renewal strategy that they feel empowered to execute. They also need to show up that they’re with that same level of confidence.

The leader right now is so critical.

Carole Mahoney: It's reminds me a lot of the conversations that I've had over the past year when we did the first season of What Sales Can Learn From. I talked with Navy Seals, and firefighters, and EMTs, and even teachers, and one of the things that I learned from all of those conversations is that when you're faced with an emergency, a crisis, turmoil, a situation, as a leader, you're feeling the same things that your team is feeling but it's absolutely critical. And this is what makes a leader a leader in a lot of ways I think, is that you know that these are the things that you're feeling but you push it aside because you know that in the service of those that you're working with, you can’t afford to wallow in that. You have to be able to push forward.

You know, it's kind of like if you were hiking a mountain and you've got lines attached to you and everybody else has got a line attached to them when you waver at the top it gets felt literally all the way down the line which is why the leader has to be confident, has to be has to be sure in what they're talking about and what they're sharing with their team.

So let's talk a little bit about elephants because had this conversation before, you were talking about the elephant and the rider, and the path and the psychological research that was done there and was popularized by the books Switch by Chip and Dan Heath- How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

So let's talk about the elephant first. So when leaders are dealing with people's, even their own elephants or the elephants of their team, that emotional aspect around change, what are some actionable things that you've done as a leader, or coached leaders, or seen leaders do that one, helps them to manage their own emotions around change, but then how that then translates into recognizing and helping their team with their elephant emotions?

Sara Gupta: Yeah. I love that question and I love this analogy.

One of the things that always comes to mind for me is the the airplane analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first. I think about this a lot because in order for you to show up as a steadfast leader to your team who is grounded and has a strong strategy, you need to kind of get your head right first, you need to get yourself out of this world. You need to sort of check in and make sure that you are grounded that you are, feeling comfortable, and you need to make sure you have resources to do that. Whether it be your own leadership, external like a coach or someone of that nature, but making sure that you are going to first checking in and saying, okay, I am good. I have taken care of me so I can show up for my team in the way that I need to show up for my team. So that's sort of first and foremost- put your oxygen mask on first.

Then the second piece is a lot of what we've already covered which is making sure you're showing up as a leader who has a plan and has communicated that well to your team.

Sort of expanding upon what we've talked about already is aligning with your peers as a leader to make sure that they are in support of you and that you're all aligned on the metrics are going to measure, what the expectations are, have those expectations shifted in any way from two three months ago to now, and how are you communicating that to the team? So they are really empowered around what their role is in all of this. Has it changed? Are quotas going to be lowered? Or has the churn percentage changed at all? Are we going to do a new MPS survey to check in on customer health?

So making sure that it's really clear around what the business is going to do and then taking it the next layer down which is to say and here's what your specific role in this is. Here's the levers that you can pull to be empowered in the field.

Because one of the things I think is a real danger in all of this is the panic causes for fast decision-making that isn't being translated down to the field and we're therefore not empowering our teams to take action in the field whether they’re selling or client success, and they sit idle or they sit paralyzed. Rather than saying okay either nothing's changed keep doing what you were doing or here's the two things that have changed, here's how it impacts your role, and here's the levers you can now pull in the field to accelerate business. So I think that's that's one of the things I think are you know, just making sure that all of those layers are addressed.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, and I would add one thing to that and that's- having that clear communication also is probably going to mean having a heart-to-heart one-to-ones with each member of your team on a regular basis, checking in where are they emotionally and making sure that they feel like whatever they're feeling emotionally is completely normal. That it's completely acceptable because you have to be able to validate wherever people are at. Like we all go through this kind of cycle, we were talking about before, of like there's the grief, there's the shock of it, there is the denial of it. Then there's the anger like why is this happening again?

You know, if any of us have lived through 2007 to 2009 we kind of know what we're in for at this point, and why is this happening again, or if they've never been through it before they might not understand how to feel or how to react in all of that. So I think that's a very important aspect in helping them manage their emotional elephants as well as ours.

And even things like like having a good morning routine everyday like you're working from home, but put pants on and you know for the sake that you don't end up on some YouTube channel somewhere as a blooper because it's funny, but also because you want to give yourself that normalcy that you still can have control over things. So get up in the morning, just as if you were going to go into the office and put your pants on, and take a shower, and go do some meditation or yoga.

That's one of the things that I found is interesting, is that when you talked about like making fast decisions, we all feel pressured to do that right now, but that doesn't mean that we have to rush into a decision and that we can't make those decisions in a way that is healthy and intelligent, you know, 15 minutes of meditation can totally change how we see our decisions that puts us in that present moment. So absolutely those are things that we can do.

Sara Gupta: That's where I think it circles back so that put your oxygen mask on first and that mean really grounding yourself, being mindful. I love your recommendation around meditation and just finding a practice that grounds you each day because there is a lot of pressure to make quick decisions. Oh my gosh, we're hemorrhaging dollars. We need to stop the bleeding. And that can often lead to really drastic measures that you know are not well thought out so that's the other advice I would offer is to really, as a leadership team come together, think creatively, think outside the box rather than potentially laying off sales people how might you adjust their compensation plans? Many of them may be willing to remain employed while having a much lower base rate and putting a lot more risk on the variable piece that only comes when they sell something but at least they're employed and at least they have dollars coming in. And at least you have a sales engine that's still working for you.

So there's a lot of different ways in which we can get creative but that comes from being grounded and being mindful and not being reactive.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, and I think that having those creative strategies like that kind of leads us into talking about the rider a little bit as well, so there's the managing of the emotions and all of the change that that is happening and then there's, and you touched on that a little bit already the how do we communicate what the strategy is, what the plan is, so that we can then start taking that first step in path?

And I think that one of the things that I've seen some leaders do very very well, is that they're coming up with these, I want to call them micro strategies, but it's almost all right. So when you're feeling this way, or you're encountering this, you know, what is something that you can fall back on and do? What's a strategy that you can do in situational specific areas so that you have a way through it almost, right? Because if you're not guiding that elephant then it's just going to trampease through the forest willy-nilly and you know, suddenly we have a lot of spammy LinkedIn messages everywhere and nobody wants more of that.

Sara Gupta: That's right. I think that what you're bringing up here is a really important thing that once I connected with it personally, I felt a great sense of peace, so to speak, this idea of controlling what you can control. I'm really focusing on what are the things that I can actually impact? And what are the things that I need to let go?

Like none of us can control the state of the global economy. None of us can control the state of Public Health, but what we can control is how we show up for our clients each day. Understanding there are metrics in the true health of our business. Controlling and checking in with our emotions. So there are you know a variety of levers that we can pull, whether they be tactics or whether they be emotional skill sets that will give us a lot of peace of mind and focus, and ultimately, probably the skills to survive this and thrive in it rather than just sort of muddling through. 

Carole Mahoney: So let's talk about the path a little bit because a lot of the reports that are coming out now are talking that, maybe there's going to be a resurgence of the COVID virus in the Fall, or we're not going to see a vaccine for it until 2021. So in a lot of ways and we're looking at the next six months and to the end of this year before we even start to see any kind of a bounce back or rebound.

So what's the path that leaders need to layout and in order to get there? I think it's very important that we talked about envisioning the future and not just envisioning the future and how he wanted to be but also envisioning each of the steps to get there. What are some of the things that you see that leaders need to be doing to help make that future clear.

Sara Gupta: Yeah. It's a great question. One of the things is, you know, like always this conversation is a representation of that which is there's always this sort of emotional and then the tactical, right? And those things have to come together and move in alignment. And when I start to think about the future, those things become increasingly important. From a tactical standpoint, it's really getting clear on the metrics and what we're going to measure, resetting expectations with leadership, making sure that you understand that with those reset expectations, how much of the team can you continue to carry? What results need to happen in order to parry the majority of the team? Let the team know that in advance.

You know, it's funny like, often times, those are the types of conversations that leaders will avoid because they are, afraid of scaring the team but actually some great peace of mind can come from, Hey, we're in this together. We as a team are doing everything we can to save everyone and keep everyone in the boat, but here's what has to happen to do that and we are collectively on the hook to make that happen and if we don't, then I'm telling you now like here that we will be forced to make some of these decisions.

That can be very comforting to people actually that kind of like straightforward and clear communication because it illustrates you have a plan but it's an empathetic plan that is putting the the team and the employees first and allowing them to have a role in sort of collectively keeping everyone on board. I think that that's one of those pieces is just really being very clear on what needs to happen in order to meet changing expectations over time.

And then the communication piece continues to be really critical. Communicating the key milestones, keeping the team up to date. I think that one of the dangers of the situation is that everyone sort of scrambled, they put a bunch of energy into the last few months, let's say. There's been a ton of content coming out. There's been a ton of you know, like that momentum and adrenaline that comes from initial fear and shock, and then that's starting to dissipate people are moving into a more new, natural rhythm.

We can't fall back to old habits. You need to keep really making sure that the long-term plan keeps a lot of this consistent and that there is this North Star, that there is this frequent communication, that there is you know, as the plan evolves that the team has brought along in that and just making sure that there's consistency over time and that the happy hours the virtual happy hours don't fall off the calendar, that the check-ins are, it's just the hey, how are you doing? What's going on with you? Are you happy? Are you healthy? Conversations continue to happen.

Because what the danger is over time is that people actually start to disconnect because they just kind of get into their little tunnel load and fall away from some of these, new found important habits.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, and as a sort of outsourced leader for a lot of smaller and midsize businesses one of the things that I find myself repeating both the leaders and managers and to sales people, is that this is our time to show what we're really made of. And that can be a rally cry for those that are on your team. Like yes, everything is in chaos right now or some sort of measured controlled chaos as we start to get through this, but this is our opportunity to gain market share. This is our opportunity to show customers how we differentiate and can help them to get through this. This is our time to shine just like if you look up your own history and you know the greatest generation and all of the tribulations that they went through. This is our opportunity to really showcase that, I think.

So sharing that kind of news with your team is so empowering for them because that really makes them feel like we are actually all in this together and if we do this, right, if we take this step, and then this step, and then this step, and we have strategies in place for whenever we start to plateau or slide back to keep us moving forward. If that path is clear, like you described with that communication, this is an actual opportunity.

I've said this so many times already and I'll keep saying it is that if you think back in the Great Depression and the business empire, and in the innovations that happened as a result. If you think the Great Recession and the airbnb's ans Squares of the world now that completely taken a process that sucked before and made it better. It comes back to; we can make this better. I think that there's going to be a lot of good that comes from this as well as a lot of lessons learned for leaders as far as how they do communicate with their teams and how they manage their own emotions and the emotions of their team. And again, we can make this work.

So any last parting thoughts for leaders and how to manage change with their teams right now that they need to take this into consideration?

Sara Gupta: Yeah, I think like I said, I keep going back to putting your oxygen mask on first, making sure that you're checking in with yourself daily, that you have resources around you that it will allow you to channel your emotions, channel your fear and get right with your strategy, whether it be internal or external resources, and then making sure that you are really showing up from your team both empathetically and as a human and vulnerable, while also being tighter than you've ever been from a strategy and communication standpoint. And those two things together will be really powerful.

Carole Mahoney: I think that this is an opportunity for leaders to get a lot closer with their teams. Like I've heard stories from leaders that you know, they've had the virtual calls and you know you that the little kid comes in because everybody's home with their kids right now and I had this one story of a leader who was in the middle of kind of like this, you know huddle meeting with his team and his daughter comes in and she's just sitting there at his desk coloring away. And you know, he's talking to her like she's just one of the team and how that humanizes that leader with his team that even after he had to make the hard decisions and you know, letting some people go and working with others that they still look to that leader as someone who's on their side and I think that's probably one of the good things that's going to happen from all of this as well.

Sara Gupta: I think that of the great point and I love that as a sort of closing thought is that thing there's you know, we've been hiding a lot of ourselves at work over the years. I think that that's become increasingly a common thing to hide the world outside of work to everyone else and you know, this has really put those lives everyone's lives front and center, you know, the good the bad the ugly and the challenging, and the beautiful. And if we all continue to kind of lean in that we're going to come out just a much more human work that is so much more fulfilling and pleasant.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, and that's really a hard balance too as leader. Like there's that balance of, you know, you need to be strong for your team so that they feel like they have a strong support system underneath them, but then balancing that with being your human self. It's like, okay, so like where's the line? And how do we do that? I don't think as a leader that you deny the fact that you know, this impacts you but you don't let it stop you. I think that's the difference.

Sara Gupta: That's right. And it's a really about that it kind of leading by example, right? Which is to illustrate, yeah, like we're worried too. We have our kids home. We're trying to balance out how to work from home and get the job done. We are also have friends or relatives that we’re more worried about from a health standpoint, whatever may be. But then still showing up and doing the work. And still showing up pleasant and easy to be around and that just having that balance of yeah, I'm with you, we’re experiencing so much of the same things and I too am going to dig deep and show up for you and I hope that you'll dig deep and show up for me and you'll dig deep and show up for our clients.

Carole Mahoney: Yeah, and I think that's an important point because if you think about the fact that how you show up for your team is how your team is going to show up for your customer. And if we're all focused on how we can better serve the customer and you see how that kind of backs up to that, then it just makes logical sense that that's something we need to all focus on.

Sara Gupta: That's right.

Carole Mahoney: Thank you so much for this Sara. I'm hoping that leaders can take this as a rally cry and some examples that they can take back to work with their teams. I'm excited for what the future holds. I know that you as well. You've got some great things going on there. So thank you so much, from the West Coast to the East Coast!

Sara Gupta: Awesome. Carole was great talking to you again. I always love it.


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Topics: sales conversations