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Sales Leader Interview Series – Anita Absey

With the current pandemic, we’ve heard from many sales managers who are adjusting to entirely remote teams. For this edition of the Sales Leader Interview series, we sought the advice of veteran Chief Revenue Officer Anita Absey.

Anita is currently the CRO at Softbank-backed LRN. Previously, she was boss of BuyerSight co-founder and your humble interviewer Scott Lichtenstein as CRO at Voxy, a VC-based SaaS startup in New York City. Before that, she led sales at Return Path and helped them scale from $2m to $70m in revenue.

Anita shared with us some of her thoughts on leading remote teams and managing through a crisis.

What are some of the important differences between managing sales reps in the office and managing remote sales reps?

I think what you lose when you’re managing a remote team is obviously the day-to-day human interaction, but also the feedback in the moment and the opportunity to celebrate wins and mourn losses together. When you’re dealing with remote teams, that’s all still important, but you have to get it in different ways.

People want to have a sense of purpose and contribution, especially in a sales environment where prospects may not be returning calls. I think it’s important to find ways to engage with people so that they can feel connected and like they’re making a contribution, even if it’s not being directly transferred into bookings right now. This can include specific sales tactics, prospecting techniques, what’s worked before, what they’ve learned from mistakes. You want people feeling like they’re contributing in a way that’s valuable, and not feeling adrift.

What management tactics do you recommend for someone now dealing with an entirely remote sales team, possibly for the first time?

What I suggest, and this has worked well for me in the past, is to set up a very deliberate operating system for each sales team. I have actually found daily stand-ups with the full sales team can be very useful. I make them really quick, just a 15-min check in: what’s your day, anything blocking your success, what do we need to get things done, etc.

I think a difficult thing when managing a team remotely, especially in this time, is ensuring a sense of accountability. I would suggest that, instead of a one-hour one-on-one once a week, you get on someone’s calendar for a half-hour twice a week. Again, just to try to ensure that level of connectivity and link to performance and accountability, regardless of the environment.

What are some best practices for sales coaching you’d like to share?

I think that sales coaching at any time has to be real. And I think the most effective coaching is leading into someone with empathy. Even though I believe coaching and feedback is a gift, people don’t always want it, so it has to be done in a way that’s empathetic and intended to truly help and not criticize. Let them know that everything you are saying, good and bad, is in service of them and their performance. And, of course, tied to very, very specific examples.

Oftentimes, when giving sales coaching, it’s important to invite the salesperson to self-evaluate first, and then offer additional guidance on top of that. This helps bring the salesperson into the conversation as a participant in their own development. I think that’s very critical in coaching, because unless it truly is collaborative and a two-way street, it’s going to be too much noise.

In general, how do you think this crisis might change the role of the sales manager going forward? What will be some short term and long term implications for managers?

I think I didn’t do a very good job the first week. It was like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe we’re inside. I can’t believe we’re inside.” Enough, we’re inside. How can we do this successfully? What do we need to do? What do your customers need? How can we communicate with them? And so, it even made us more customer-centric, thinking not about ourselves and how we deal with it, but how we can pivot and focus on what prospects and customers need.

We have to be able to manage regardless of environment. And right now, we can’t use proximity and an easy hallway conversation as a means of ensuring performance and being able to coach. I think we’re going to have to be much more deliberate, with very planned, specific communications with set objectives and agendas. Manage to the world the way it is, not the way we want it to be.

This conversation took me back to the year and a half I spent reporting to Anita–some great advice for managers! She cuts right through the noise.

More interviews with sales thought leaders are coming soon. In the meantime, find additional practical tips for sales managers and food for thought on the BuyerSight blog.

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