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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Media Sales Report – Industry Outlook & Culture with Beth Sunshine

Improving Sales Performance Podcast - Ep. 56 - Culture and People with Beth SunshineThis season on Improving Sales Performance, we’re analyzing the findings from our latest Media Sales Report. With data collected from surveys conducted in Q4 of last year, the responses from sales managers and salespeople alike will help us chart a solid path forward through the media sales landscape.     

In each episode, Matt Sunshine is joined by a rolling roster of outstanding experts from our team here at The Center for Sales Strategy.   

Here, Matt is breaking down the Industry Outlook & Culture Section of the Media Sales Report with SVP/Partner at Up Your Culture by The Center for Sales Strategy, Beth Sunshine. 

Together, Matt and Beth give their take on some top questions that arise from the report, like: 

  • How can sales managers better communicate and express their optimistic industry outlook to engage and inspire their teams?   
  • What can sales managers do to turn a less-than-ideal company culture into one that their salespeople would evangelize about? 
  • What is causing such different perceptions of what the ideal hybrid model should be? 

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Sales Managers Are Optimistic About the Future. Salespeople Disagree. 

“We asked sales managers and salespeople about their optimism,” Matt says. “We asked, are you optimistic about the future? 87% of sales managers said ‘yes,’ but 41% of salespeople said ‘no’ or ‘we're not sure.’” 

“So, the follow-up question I have for you is, why do you think this discrepancy between salespeople and sales managers exists?” 

“It's human nature to want to understand what's happening around us,” Beth says. “Even during tough times, like a slowing economy or a bad year in business, when people have the full picture, when they feel like they know what's happening around them, they're likely to remain optimistic and engaged, even if the news is not good.” 

“Receiving news has very positive effects on people. And I think that this data shows that sales managers are probably not communicating as well as they could with their teams. People aren't receiving the news.” 

“And it could be for a couple of reasons. It could be that companies don't have a culture of transparency like they could. So maybe it's normal to not give sellers a peek behind the curtain. Or it could be that sales managers are just well-meaning and they want to protect their team from information that they think might worry them. Either way, I think that lack of transparency hurts engagement and eventually it hurts performance.” 

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Matt asks, “Is there anything specific that sales managers could do to communicate and express their optimistic outlook? How can they inspire teams?” 

“At Up Your Culture, we use the four engagement elevators to help organizations improve their culture and increase engagement,” Beth says. “And one of those four engagement elevators is called ‘Valued Voice,’ which is really what we're talking about here.” 

“So, related to Valued Voice, I would recommend a two-pronged approach. First, I would recommend gathering the team together for a town hall meeting. At our company, we call this a state of the state meeting, and we do it regularly throughout the year. In this case, it could be a single sales manager just gathering their team. It could be an organization's leader scheduling this for the entire organization. But either way, the meeting should have that ask me anything style approach."

"It should start with the leader sharing their vision for what's ahead, short term and long term. They should be honest, they should be transparent, or as transparent as possible, and then they should open it up for questions. Make sure that people are able to get their questions answered. I think it works really well to gather questions in advance so that employees can remain anonymous if they want. So that would be prong one.” 

“And then the second prong would involve maintaining that feeling of transparency moving forward after that town hall meeting. Regular updates should be provided, both good and bad. They should always be accompanied by an optimistic vision for the future, though. So, ‘Here's what's happening now. Where are we headed? What can we expect? What will be the reward for working so hard?’” 

How to Create Employees Who Evangelize About Their Workplace

“78% of salespeople say that they would recommend their company as a great place to work,” Matt says. “Flipping that around, 22% say that they would not recommend their company as a great place to work.” 

“So, two questions here. How can sales managers accurately gauge how their teams are feeling about their work environment? And what can a sales manager do to turn a less than ideal company culture into one that salespeople would evangelize about and be excited about?” 

“First of all,” Beth responds, “I think this is a really positive result. So yes, 22% of people said, ‘no.’ That's true. But, in the average workplace, only 57% of employees say that their company is a great place to work.” 

“So, I actually found 78% to be a really promising number. Companies with a thriving culture typically score well over 90. So even with that 78%, there's plenty of room to improve here."

“To answer your question, the best way for sales managers to know how their teams are feeling is to ask them. So, we use an engagement survey, which we do once a year at our company. And it includes this very question, ‘Would you recommend your company as a great place to work?’” 

“It's a key factor. It's important for us to know how people are feeling and adjust when necessary. This can also be a live conversation in the right situation if you have a strong relationship with your people.” 

“And then, your second question, was more about what sales managers can do. And I like the word ‘evangelize’ you used. So, what can they do to create salespeople who would evangelize about their culture? That's one of my favorite things to do. And, and that's the goal really.” 

“We want our people to come to work and want to be at work. We want them to be emotionally committed to the work they're doing and to reap the personal reward for that. We want them to come willing to do their best.” 

“Now, the 22% who said that their companies are not a great place to work, either they're going to leave their jobs entirely in the coming year or potentially, even worse, they're going to continue collecting a paycheck while giving only a minimal amount of energy or effort to their jobs.” 

“And, either way, it's an expensive disruption to the business. So, it's important to turn it around and even go so far as to create this evangelizing atmosphere.” 

“I mentioned the four engagement elevators earlier, so it’s probably not surprising that I'm going to tell you how to create this would be by using those engagement elevators.”

The Four Engagement Elevators:

  • Shared Mission: “The first engagement elevator is Shared Mission. I'd say that's where you want to start to create the environment you're talking about. Nail down your company's reason for being, your optimistic vision for the future, your core values, and then talk about those things all the time. Recognize behaviors that align with those values and create a strong sense of belonging so your people feel connected to what they're doing. Especially in an economic slowdown. People have to feel purposeful, they have to have meaning in their work.”
  • People Development: “The second engagement elevator is People Development. And we need to remember that stagnation is a killer. People want to learn, they want to grow, and they value managers and companies that invest in them.”
  • Valued Voice: “The third engagement elevator is the one we've talked about already, Valued Voice. It's about strengthening two-way communication so employees feel informed and they also recognize that their opinions and their insights are valued.”
  • Earned Trust: “The last one is Earned Trust, which is about creating a place where employees believe in their company vision and the integrity of their leaders.”

“So, if you get those four things right, you will have employees who are evangelists for your company.

Too Many Salespeople Don’t Feel Valued by Their Manager

“Many people might look at this next stat that I'm about to share and think, ‘that's not a big deal,’” Matt says. “But I look at it as a very big deal.” 

10% of salespeople rarely or never feel valued by their managers. And, I know 10 percent is not a very big number, but 10% rarely or never feel valued by their managers. How awful would that be? I mean, one out of 10.” 

“So how can managers ensure that they are meaningfully engaging with their team members on a regular basis?” 

Beth says, “I’m with you on this. I think that's a terrible thing. I can't imagine those people are showing up to work with their sleeves rolled up ready to go if they feel not valued, or not important to their managers or their company. They're dragging themselves into work.” 

Media Sales Report“As we've talked about, people don't want to be a cog in the wheel. They want to feel valued.” 

“The best leaders believe that you could take away their products, their processes, take everything away, but leave their people and they will come back potentially even stronger than before.” 

“Our people are the engine of our businesses, and they need to feel that way.” 

“So how do you get it right?” Matt asks.

“Oh my gosh, there are dozens of best practices. We could talk all day about that. But just to mention a few, I'd start with just understanding the unique qualities of the people who report to you. Treat them as individuals. I can't imagine anything that would make you feel more valued than your manager really getting you.” 

“For example, everyone needs feedback for sure, but not everyone likes it or responds to it in the same way. So, as a manager, if you understand your people, you're going to be able to give them feedback in a way that really resonates with them and therefore improves their performance.” 

“I'd say that's the best place to start. You could also learn what is important to each one of those people right now. What does success look like for them in 2023? Are they working towards a certain number on their paycheck? Do they want to win a specific sales contest or a company recognition?” 

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“Don't just focus on their budgets, but rather find out what their goals are right now so that you can also put your coaching and your feedback into that context, and cheer them on as they work to measure themselves.” 

“Also, to really demonstrate that you value your people, you end at the place that we started, you need to trust them enough to share information with them. Give them information on what's happening and where you're going as a company, and genuinely seek their input and ideas. That makes people feel valuable even if you don't take action on what you learn.” 

“A lot of times I hear managers say, ‘well, I don't want to ask for their input, because I may not go in that direction. And then, you know, it's going to make them feel worse.’ And I disagree with that. I think even if you don't take action on what you learn, it's important that you value their input. You make them feel heard. Just because you don't make a decision that aligns it, it still pays off in the end.”

Salespeople and Sales Managers Have Differing Views of “Hybrid”

Two-thirds of the salespeople are looking for a model that is 80% home, 20% office, or entirely remote altogether,” Matt says. “49% of managers prefer a model that is 50% home, 50% in the office. In your opinion, what's causing such different perceptions of whatever that ideal hybrid model should be?” 

“Yeah, this is a hot topic and I think it's going to be for a long time,” Beth says. "As a matter of fact, when the media sales report was published and I skimmed through it, this was the thing I was looking for. I was very curious to see what this report showed versus what I'm hearing just anecdotally from clients and also what I'm seeing in other reports.” 

“We're not going to be able to put the toothpaste back in the tube on this. People have discovered that they can be productive and successful without being physically in the office all day, five days a week. And there is an overwhelming employee demand for flexibility and candidate demand for flexibility. Flexibility in where they work and flexibility in when they work. People want to be trusted to do their jobs. So, that's kind of the employee, the salesperson side of things.” 

“At the same time, managers have really been steeped their whole careers on the belief that if they can't see the work getting done, it may not be happening. Even if they trust their sellers, they still feel more comfortable being able to see them busy at work at least half the time, which is where you're seeing that 50/50.” 

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“The problem is, salespeople are overwhelmingly finding that not only can they do their jobs not in the office, but they can often be more productive when working from a remote location some or most of the time. They just don't see the value in doing the same thing in the office that they can be doing from somewhere else.” 

“So, my advice on this is pretty consistent.” 

“It's whatever hybrid work model you come up with, and it can look different for different people. What I'm hearing the most is that people do not like the ‘Monday and Friday remote. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the office.’ It's just very prescriptive and inflexible.” 

“My advice is to make sure that whatever you come up with, when you bring your sellers into the office, you have a reason for it.” 

“Coming in for a sales meeting makes sense. If you're having a town hall meeting like we talked about, that makes sense. A creative brainstorming session, a meeting with another department, maybe a client's coming in, a speaker will be there, or a training session.” 

“All of those things make sense and I have not seen sellers push back hard on those, but making them come into the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to do the same thing that they're doing from another remote location Monday and Friday? That just doesn't make sense to people.” 

“And, especially right now, we have to be really cautious and really cognizant of that because it is becoming more common for salespeople, or employees, to have the flexibility, and they carry a lot of weight.” 

“The current job market is 90% candidate-driven right now. It is a candidate's market, which means job candidates are in the driver's seat and the vast majority of them also want flexibility in their work when they work and where they work.” 

“So, it's a real issue that we have to tackle. And I'd say it's about balancing the trust of our employees with some sort of processes or systems that allow us to still feel tuned-in without them having to be working in the cubicle right outside of our doors.” 

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Topics: sales performance podcasts media sales report employee engagement