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Software Sales Teams Picking up the Pieces after COVID-19 Layoffs

If you’ve recently faced layoffs, you’ll notice the atmosphere of the organization has changed. According to a study by Charlie Trevor (University of Wisconsin) and Madison and Anthony Nyberg (University of South Carolina), for every 1% of your staff, that’s laid off, there’s a 31% increase in voluntary turnover over the next twelve months.

Retained salespeople, commonly known as “survivors,” are both angry and scared because the illusion of “the work-family” has been shattered.

Faith in executive leadership wanes after layoffs, and existing employees become fearful of losing their jobs overnight. In many cases, employees begin to doubt the company’s path forward, and trust erodes exponentially.

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Bleak Futures and High Anxiety Levels Don’t Drive Sales

Anyone who’s been in sales for a while knows selling in fear is bad for business. Fear drives businesses away and causes customers to pack-up and find alternatives. Fearful sales teams negatively affect a company’s competitiveness. If your sales team worries about another restructuring, it will be challenging for them to keep the positive mindset needed to win new business.

How Do You Help Your Sales Team Move Forward After COVID-19 Layoffs?

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#1—Encourage Your Sales Team to Help Former Colleagues Displaced by COVID-19 Layoffs

Encourage your sales team to pitch in and help former teammates. Start by offering previous employees introductions to your network connections, serve as a reference, make introductions to those who may be hiring.

Ask your team to do whatever they can to help former colleagues take the next step forward. Finding a new sales role during the pandemic will prove challenging, and any help provided will make both the giver and receiver better off.

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#2—Refuse to Earn One Star Glassdoor Reviews

What will laid-off employees post about your company on Glassdoor? Will they speak well of your organization? Or will they describe in detail how they were laid-off via email? Hopefully, layoffs were a tool of last resort. But if they were performed in an unsympathetic way, expect scathing Glassdoor reviews.

Even if you offer unlimited PTO, awesome free snacks, and happy hour Fridays, all perks are quickly forgotten if layoffs are poorly executed. If the layoff process was heartless, expect one-star reviews.

As Raymond Reddington said in The Blacklist, “You can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can by its first few chapters, and certainly by its last.

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#3—Deal with Any Residual Guilt

According to Diana Raab’s article, What Everybody Should Know about Survivor’s Guilt, survivors’ guilt is a real phenomenon. People feel different levels of guilt, and guilt can emerge from all kinds of decisions, even ones that aren’t our own.

When you’re left with a good sales job, and your colleagues aren’t, you can start to feel survivors’ guilt. This can cause rumination, insomnia, lethargy, and even an overall sense of dread.

To subdue guilty feelings that are caused by things you can’t control, let negative emotions out.

Releasing negativity is always better than repressing it. Engage in productive emotional outlets include journaling, talking to others, and even meditating.

Employees can lean on bosses, coaches, friends, and even therapists. Both time and self-compassion will help during these times.

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#4 –Practice Putting Yesterday Behind You

Layoffs are stress-inducing for everyone. But at some point, we put the bloodshed behind us and march forward. It must be done. Healthline’s article on How to Let Go of Things from the Past recommends creating a positive mantra to combat negative thoughts.

For example, if you’re thinking, “Ugh, I can’t deal with all this stress. I hate my life! Why is this happening?!” Author Sara Lindberg’s advice is to try saying something more positive. She suggests saying something like, “I am grateful for the new path I am on.”

If you can’t think of anything to say to yourself, memorize a movie line that inspires you. Remembering a powerful movie quote can take you out of the present moment and put you into a different state of mind. It may even help you feel more resilient.

For example, in Law Abiding Citizen, “We can’t retract the decisions we’ve made. We can only affect the decisions we’re going to make from here.”

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#5—Communicate Like it’s Oxygen

Layoffs have side effects. These side effects are not pleasant, and so they tend to be brushed under the rug.

After all, it’s easier to encourage employees not to talk about IT. It’s like the dirty family secret that everyone keeps about Uncle Ryan’s drinking problem.

When you go to the family reunion and see Uncle Ryan, you don’t say, “Hi Uncle Ryan, get any new DUIs lately? My friend told me the third one costs you around 7K-10K and some jail time.”

No, no, nooo!! You pretend you know absolutely nothing about Uncle Ryan’s problems unless he brings up the subject.

Are you expecting employees to do the same? Employees should be able to talk about layoffs openly. Right?

The answer is yes.

Because constant communication helps leaders rebuild trust.

Because constant communication helps leaders rebuild trust.

Encouraging conversations about layoffs will strengthen bonds and give employees the chance to feel heard.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn at Skillshare said, “No amount of over-communication is too much when alignment is at stake.” (Why You Need to Over-communicate, March 24, 2015) It was just as true five years ago as it is today. Communication, especially two-way communication, promotes a workplace culture of engagement.

The normal advice might be to assure workers who are still with your organization that they aren’t at risk. But do you know if that’s true? Are these decisions under your control?

An alternative to what sounds good at the moment is open communication and transparency.

It takes true leadership to pull it off. Employees can openly discuss layoffs and the potential of future layoffs without being silenced.

Of course, it’s much easier to ignore uncomfortable topics like layoffs or paint an overly rosy picture of the future. But if layoffs aren’t under your complete control, you can’t make that promise.

However, you can promise to support everyone who’s retained in every way imaginable. You can commit to giving your personal best to see your team through this pandemic as it unfolds. And that level of honesty and transparency builds trust.

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#6—Lead with Empathy During Uncertainty

COVID-19 may be one of the biggest leadership challenges you’ll face in your career. Unlike purely economic uncertainty, there’s an element of this slowdown that’s high stakes.

And that’s prolonged sickness and even potential death. The pandemic is a time for us to come together, meet employees where they are, and provide leadership from the front lines.

Leaders will need to balance surviving economically with caring for employees.

Leaders should encourage employees to practice self-care.

Getting rest, eating right, and keeping the immune system strong is more important than ever. Promote and discuss these habits regularly.

Mental health resources and healthcare benefits information should be widely circulated. Unfortunately, no one knows how long the pandemic will last.

We all have a lens through which we view this pandemic, and it affects our reality of what’s happening. For some, COVID-19 is hype; for others, it’s apocalyptic.

No matter how your employees view the pandemic, help them navigate through uncertain times by making action plans, giving guidance, and providing resources to manage through this crisis.

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#7—Proactively Bring in Optimism and Gratitude

Working in an environment that lacks excitement and fun is real drudgery. Having a team full of negativity is defeating. How do you keep your team’s resilience levels up and anxiety levels down?

First, challenge yourself to bring your sales team good news. In a shortage of certainty, security, and optimism, it can be hard to see the bright side. But, as with all downturns, there are positives. Challenge yourself to bring your team one piece of positive news. Do this weekly, and you’ll lift your team’s spirits.

Secondly, make it a point to celebrate small daily wins.

Small wins aren’t things we usually celebrate during the good times. They aren’t as impressive as new revenue in the door or big signed contracts.

But, celebrating small wins brings micro accomplishments into focus. These micro wins are the ones that bring us one step closer to where we’re trying to go. After all, every new client win starts with a phone call, a meeting, or an email.

Small wins like setting up conference calls with new prospects, reaching partners who will connect you with potential leads, or getting positive replies from people who’ve been contacted, can be celebrated.

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#8—Humans Love Certainty

Part of stress management is letting go of the need for certainty. The best way to do this is to focus on things you can control. Especially in sales, there are easy answers for what we can control and what we can’t. Executing daily activity is controllable in any market, no matter the economic cycle.

The most significant, effective, and controllable lever we have in sales is activity.

In fact, some of the best companies have always focused on activity, no matter the economic environment. These organizations tend to have strong sales cultures and eventually surpass their competitors, even if they don’t have the best solutions.

When operating in overwhelm, it can be easy to forget there are things you can control and things you can’t. So, move all your attention to valuing the controllable and letting go of everything else.

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The Economic Business Cycle

It can be easy to get lost in the current COVID-19 chaos. But it’s helpful to keep in mind all bull and bear markets come to an end. Layoffs always come with side effects, which include a lowering of employee morale.

Maneuvering with empathy through the aftershocks of layoffs can help you start moving towards the future. The COVID-19 pandemic will change the landscape of business in the future.

How will it change? No one really knows. But we do know today will be gone tomorrow. The present and the future are all we have.

There hasn’t been a recession that’s lasted more than one to two years, and together, we’ll survive the present while also planning to seize opportunities to create a brighter future.

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