The pandemic has piled pressure on all business leaders, but none more so than field sales leaders. While normalcy has changed for everyone, field sales is entirely unrecognizable from what it was before the crisis. It’s what some have called a “landscape-scale” crisis, one that delivers disruption with enormous scale and speed. Uncertainty, confusion, and disorientation become the norm.
Faced with wholesale disruption, field sellers are looking to their managers and leaders for guidance. Yet these leaders are experiencing the same crisis and they don’t hold all the answers.
But here’s the thing: no one can predict how a crisis will unfold — and that’s a problem. When Gartner polled sales leaders, seven in 10 expressed “low confidence in their ability to translate strategy into action.”
When it’s business as normal, it’s simple to predict the future. You look at past performance and assume trends will continue. If you grew your average deal size by 10% last year, you’ll likely grow it by 10% this year.
But during crises, a fog descends and obscures our view of the rapidly changing future. Faced with an uncertain future, attempting to lead alone is a fool’s game.
To stay nimble and responsive, sales executive-turned-investor Carl Eschenbach recommends sales leaders lean into this insight and adopt a servant leader mentality.
While traditional leaders wield power from the top of the pyramid, servant leaders share authority and empower people at the base.
“It’s not leading, it’s following,” Eschenbach said during a recent fireside chat with Gong.
During a crisis, this leadership model is effective because leaders don’t necessarily know what support and guidance each employee needs. Even the most attentive manager will miss people struggling, overlook their challenges, and misunderstand their problems. But the servant leader empowers employees to be the leader’s guide. Employees ask for help and direct support.
The servant leader also shares authority and decision-making responsibility. Instead of one person making all the calls, these leaders distribute decisions to those best placed to make them.
Again, this is the ideal model for crises. Organizations that distribute power during crises tend to perform better. When the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed decision-making trends, they discovered that those with decentralized authority weathered crises much more successfully.
That’s because each member of your team looks at the crisis differently. They hold different knowledge, extract different insights, and identify different opportunities. If a leader can harness everyone’s perspective, they can understand the crisis far better than on their own.