Sales Leadership in The Age of Anxiety

By Adrian Davis

Sales leaders are conducting business in a unique environment of rapid change and immense risk. We face complex national and international challenges.

Predictability provides peace of mind, whereas uncertainty creates anxiety – and ours is an uncertain age. The Information Age is behind us. We are now in The Age of Anxiety.

We are the most educated and well-informed people in the history of mankind. Yet, in some ways, it feels as if sales leadership is being asked to solve insurmountable problems based on events over which they have little control.

What are the top challenges facing sales leadership today? Here are three to consider.

1. Employee Engagement

As our world continues to change, your customers will face more complex problems. You need engaged employees to bring their best thinking to client problems. Otherwise, the spark of creativity will seep out of your business, you won’t be able to inspire your clients, and your business will decline.

Your salespeople are dealing with more stress in their lives than previous generations. This mounting stress is leading to unprecedented levels of depression.

Everyone is trying to find ways to cope. Use of antidepressant medication and alcohol is increasing, and many are turning to extreme forms of entertainment.

Employees struggle to balance their work and personal priorities. People shut down when they feel overwhelmed, and depression is one of the ways that happens. Employers must now also take part in their struggle. That’s why one of our clients specializes in helping large corporations spot depression in employees. Sales leaders must now take an interest in this balancing act.

Another of our clients has an incredible, high-performance work culture. What is different about their high-performance culture is how much they care for each other. They have built a culture that is productive and supportive – and that support extends beyond the work environment. They have developed personal friendships. People feel needed and appreciated. They derive great satisfaction from their work.

Employee engagement will continue to be a key challenge in our changing world. How are you doing connecting your employees to the core purpose of your business?

2. Customer Loyalty

Getting attention is hard enough. Once you’ve gotten it, keeping it is even harder. As your clients’ world changes, their priorities change. As their world and priorities change, they face increasing anxiety – and doing business with you may no longer be one of their top priorities. Commoditizing your services may give them a sense of control and security. Finding a cheaper alternative may give them a false sense of accomplishment. This is especially true if your employees have not been as engaged as they once were.

You must earn your customers’ loyalty. That means your loyalty to your customers has to come before their loyalty to you. Win-win means you win after your customers win – not before. The more successful you can make your customers, the better customers they will be. Take the risk with your right-fit customers. Invest in them. Help them address their current priorities. Grow your business by helping them grow their business.

Remaining relevant to your customers will be one of the greatest challenges your business will face in a rapidly changing world.

3. Effective Leadership

In the simple world of the Industrial Age, leadership was about command and control. We broke work down into discrete units and we employed arms and legs to perform the work.

As the world has grown in complexity, we have realized we need people’s heads and hearts as well. We needed to put the discrete work units back together. We now ask our employees to own their work and we gave them the autonomy to make appropriate decisions. As the pace of change accelerates, we need employees who care about their work. We are now asking employees to bring their heart to work – and not just their arms, legs, and mind. We need arms, legs, head, and heart – we need entire human beings to show up.

We humans are complex creatures, aren’t we? Managing complex people in a complex, fast-changing world requires a different leadership style. The command-and-control style of the Industrial Age no longer works. People check out when they feel exploited or undervalued. Command and control ignores the internal lives of employees. It used to be about getting the job done. Period. Today, it’s about outcomes and results. You need people who commit to outcomes. People who commit to outcomes need a leader they can respect. You need to be humble but decisive. You need to be calm, cool, and collected as you navigate your company in a sea of anxiety. Your people need to see your heart. You need to be transparent and humble but not soft or weak.

Your leadership needs to extend out to your clients and suppliers. Personal development must be a key priority for you. As the pace of change and increasing complexity heats up, character flaws will show up. When character flaws show up in leaders, followers can be unforgiving. You must commit to personal growth in The Age of Anxiety. As those who depend on you see you grow, they will also grow.

Three Key Sales Leadership Challenges

Our key challenges are:

  1. Keeping our employees engaged
  2. Keeping our clients loyal
  3. Providing leadership

If you’d like to explore a program to address these challenges with your team, reach out to me for a complimentary consultation.

Adrian Davis is president of Whetstone, Inc, where he has worked with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Motorola, PwC, Phonak, Aviva, and DuPont. His highly talented team has developed a reputation for leading organizations to innovative and practical solutions that enhance customer value and dramatically increase sales. Adrian is the author of Human to Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a certified professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP).