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Salesforce Management: Tangible Solutions to Face an Invisible Enemy

Understanding the concerns of the sales force and encouraging salesforce to suggest alternate pathways for sales are vital for the creation of a highly effective sales force.

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COVID 19 has revealed multiple inadequacies in the global health system. Governments across the globe have launched a counter-attack against the virus with lockdowns and social distancing being two primary weapons. While these measures may be effective in “flattening the curve” of infection, it created new challenges for salesforce management. Most important among them is motivating salesforce to perform in a scenario that is completely alien to them. Especially, in emerging markets where most sales still face to face and customers have inherent distrust towards telemarketing and other methods of selling remotely, most salespersons are feeling how to overcome these tough times. Many salespersons are also worried about their future. No one is sure whether their present skillsets are adequate and whether they will have a job tomorrow. Managing such a salesforce which is inherently demotivated presents incredible challenges for marketing managers. While many have tried providing words of consolation, these are rarely enough. We propose a three-pronged strategy to motivate salesforce in a COVID world. Our strategy is based on increasingly popular research on Positive Psychological capital (Psycap) popularized by American Professor Fred Luthans.

Psychological capital focuses on four distinct positive emotions. Optimism (individual’s expectation of a positive outcome), Self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to control outcomes and become successful), Hope (motivation to succeed in a task and identify pathways to complete a task), and Resilience (ability to bounce back). Any individual with high levels of Psycap is able to carve out different paths by adapting constantly. In a world that poses so many challenges for salespeople, an organization’s ability to generate these positive emotions may make a difference that organizations can make the most from their salesforce and emerge as winners. However, creating Psycap requires effort from multiple levels of the organization.

At a strategic level, the organization's policies are shown to the greatest impact on an individuals’ Psycap. First, the organization needs to ensure that their employees develop self-efficacy. The best way to develop it is by actually experiencing success and mastery of the task at hand. Earning success and gradually increasing the level of task complexity in hands-on type training can enhance self-efficacy. Second, organizations need to focus on managing hope. This is done through effective goal setting, it is important to ensure that goal setting is bundled with goal framing, communicating the process and illuminating pathways for goal achievement. Again, in order to develop optimism organizations, need to follow a three-step process which is leniency for the past, appreciation for the present and opportunity-seeking for the future. Finally, in order to develop resilience, organizations need to focus on developing assets such as technological, human and social. This can be achieved through learning and development.

While strategic level policies are important, marketing leaders also have a role to play. Developing Psycap requires marketing leaders to be highly transformational rather than transactional. Sales managers have the most vital job in this case. Understanding the concerns of the sales force and encouraging salesforce to suggest alternate pathways for sales are vital for the creation of a highly effective sales force. Key elements of transformational leadership are providing individualized attention and articulating a clear vision for the salesforce. Salespeople may be battling different challenges. Therefore, sales targets may also need to revise and recalibrated based on where in the sales process the specific salesperson is struggling. Also, providing intangible rewards such as appreciations for even small success may lead to the creation of an effective salesforce. It is also important the marketing managers show greater empathy to the sales team. Rigidity on the part of the marketing leaders may prove lethal in the construction of Psycap.

Finally, while external organizational and managerial support is vital, developing internal immunity among the salesforce is most vital in times of crisis. Multiple resources have become scarce for salespeople during the lockdown. Not only tangible resources (such as money) have become scarce but also there is a dearth of intangible resources. Lack of interaction with customers and other fellow salespeople implies that there is a severe depletion in psychological resources. Such scarcity reduces Psycap significantly. To, mitigate these challenges a manager must provide adequate support such that we can manage such depletions. One easy way to do it is to create platforms and activities around which employees can unite and converse. Another way is to engage salesforce and customers in activities that require teamwork. This may mitigate some challenges arising because of a scarcity of resources. Such activities also may create enduring customer engagement which may yield higher long term wellbeing for employees.

Whether we like it or not, COVID is here to stay for some time. Even the most optimistic view is at least a year when we get a vaccine. However, the economy needs to restart and salespeople should start doing what they do the best- Selling.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sourav Bikash Borah

Assistant Professor, Marketing, IIM Ahmedabad Designation and Bio: Professor Company name: IIM Ahmedabad

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Prof. Professor Aditya Christopher Moses

Assistant Professor, Human Resource Management, IIM Ahmedabad Designation and Bio: Professor of Human Resource Management Company name: IIM Ahmedabad

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