Managing sales team morale when your reps have lost faith

by Steli Efti

Managing a sales team has its own set of challenges, one of them being sales reps who don’t believe in your sales strategy anymore.

This happens often when you develop a new sales approach or experiment with a new tactic. If it initially doesn’t work as well as you anticipated or if unexpected obstacles get in the way of closing deals, it can affect how your reps think and feel about this new idea in general.

Doubts creep in and spread.

Once your reps start telling the story of "This isn’t working, and it never will", they’ll start selling like a sorry bunch.

When they lose faith in a strategy, they will create the result that proves them right. What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.

What should you do in a situation like this?

Give a motivational pep talk?

Order your reps to keep on going, no matter what they think or believe?

Listen to the people who execute your idea in the field, chalk it up as a failure and move on to another new approach?

Discuss and argue with them about why they shouldn’t doubt your strategy?

I’ve tried all of these ways to manage sales reps who have lost their faith. And none of them worked. To succeed in sales, you need to believe, you need to be able to see the vision and be inspired by the potential. So you can’t just expect them to execute your strategy robotically. It has to come from the heart.

So how do you make them believe again?

Suspend their disbelief.

When they lose faith, show them a miracle.

Here are two examples of how to restore their faith.

Bring in new blood

Hire some temps who have some background in sales. They don’t need to be great salespeople. They should just have done some kind of selling in the past. When you bring them in, don’t let them get in contact with your actual sales reps. You want to put them in quarantine, because the virus of doubt is highly infectious.

Get the temps in a room and tell them:

  • Here’s the result we expect you to achieve. [an “unrealistically” high quota]
  • Here’s a step-by-step process on how you can achieve it. [the exact same process your sales reps failed with]
  • Here’s everything you need to get it done. [phone, script, leads, etc]
  • Now go do it.

Most of these temps will fail at this. That’s just how it works.

But every once in a while, you’ll have someone who just kills it. 

That’s all you need: one person who can make it work.

We once hired a temp who had a very unpromising resume. Nothing about her indicated that she’d pull it off—but for some reason she did.

When you have that one person, you let her work together with your regular sales reps. Have them witness how she’s making the magic work.

When they see how she’s getting results and closing deals, a funny thing happens: they’ll start seeing the potential again, their doubts wither away and new hope arises.

Then, miraculously, it starts to work.

In this video, I share the story of a startup that made use of the same principle to turn underperformers into serious producers:

Ultimately, it’s about getting rid of limiting beliefs, and exploring more of what’s possible.

Maybe you’ve heard this story before:

A young college student was working hard in an upper-level math course, for fear that he would be unable to pass. On the night before the final, he studied so long that he overslept the morning of the test.

When he ran into the classroom several minutes late, he found three equations written on the blackboard. The first two went rather easily, but the third one seemed impossible. He worked frantically on it until—just ten minutes short of the deadline—he found a method that worked, and he finished the problems just as time was called.

The student turned in his test paper and left.

That evening he received a phone call from his professor. "Do you realize what you did on the test today?" he shouted at the student. 

"Oh, no," thought the student. I must not have gotten the problems right after all. 

"You were only supposed to do the first two problems," the professor explained.

"That last one was an example of an equation that mathematicians since Einstein have been trying to solve without success. I discussed it with the class before starting the test. And you just solved it!"

Even though it didn’t happen exactly like this, it’s based on the true story of Georg Danzig who came late into the classroom, saw two formulas on the blackboard, jotted them down thinking they were his homework, and solved them—not knowing that these were examples of two “unsolvable” problems of statistics.

limitingbeliefs