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The pandemic may be over. While Omicrons wave keeps receding, emotional demands are still huge and unlikely to decrease. Especially in sales. We have already detailed why sales management and field sales management, oscillating wildly between strategy and tactics, thinking and execution, coaching and analysis, were extremely tough (5 Sales management mistakes easy to fix). The pandemic has required to double down on empathy, but it has taken a toll. So much so that some sales leaders are struggling with chronic stress, anxiety and sometimes depression.
All of us are not born equal when facing anxiety. If you are familiar with HBR anxious achievers, you know that it may take different forms. Overthinking is one of them, expecting the worst is another. On a more positive note, anxious achievers display extreme competitive mindset. Unfortunately, when their acute self-awareness turns into self-criticism, they may be stuck in regrets and rumination, and no longer display the ultimate competitor’s attitude that helped them stand out from the pack.
Melody Wilding provides an even more comprehensive definition with Sensitive Strivers. Well, they STRIVE . They can process complex information faster (Sensitivity), they can think deeply and leverage intuition for better decision making (Thoughtfulness), they maintain high personal standards of excellence you can rely on (Responsibility), they are goals oriented and crave for self-fulfillment through continuous learning ( Inner drive), they read people and situations (Vigilance), and are highly attuned to their feeling (Emotionality).
In sales, their result driven and goals-oriented attitude is a core asset, either in strategic sales or in a pipeline business. They bring into the workplace 150% dedication, reliability, and ambition. You can expect them to rise quickly in their careers. You can rely on them to be on top of things: they will make a point of forecasting with a 98% accuracy and have a plan A and plan B for every single opportunity. They are paranoid about their deals and leave no stoned unturned on key deals, which often means resorting to multiple sales methodologies to triple check nothing may fall through the cracks. Everything is under control.
Expect deep and creative thinking, options and alternatives when asking them for feedback on your strategy and tactics. At the top of their game, Sensitive Strivers easily leverage their intuition and see things nobody noticed, whether this is the risk that may lead to the worst-case scenario in your strategic planning or the weird body language of your customer confirming approval on your 7 figures deals is a matter of days.
Whatever expectations they try to live up too, you can see drive and outstanding execution in every action they take. Sensitive Strivers are anxious by nature. They take up any project to keep on learning to gain confidence, avoid being caught off guard or not admitting they don’t know #growthmindset
So, can Sensitive Strivers succeed in sales?
Definitely. Just like Introverts can thrive too. As long as they are not overwhelmed by a fast and furious culture, too much pressure or lack of purpose.
This is where things may go wrong. Isn’t the world of sales all about pressure? What other culture than a fast and furious one may prevail when the name of the game is to get every deal across the line by the end of the quarter, every quarter without exception? This is exactly our point and this precisely why we first touched on the pandemic impact.
First, Sensitive Strivers are unlikely to survive in a noxious fast-paced – cutthroat – aggressive management style culture. They will either quit or implode. Second, the pandemic and the over communication, over empathetic shift prescribed by top management and various consulting boutiques may have altered your culture, enough for Sensitive Strivers to lose control.
Mrs. or Mr. Perfect responds to the surge in anxiety by working harder. They lose the daily battle they fight with stress and self-doubts. They work harder and harder just to prove themselves they are not a fraud. Overworking is fueled by overthinking: they lose time and energy in details and invest a lot of mental efforts on ridiculously low value tasks. Making simple decisions becomes a challenge and any setback can send them in downward spirals. Their Emotional intelligence is stifled by negative emotions and energy roller coasters.
When things get worse, Sensitive Strivers may lose their dealmaker talent and become blind. Their emotional gauge is in the red, their social engine stalls. they avoid networking or public speaking. Compassion and ability to detect other’s feelings disappear and they may hit the roof, no matter you are a direct report, a manager, or a customer. Instead of the reliable structure they used to leverage to stay on track and execute like beasts, they indulge in over thinking even on minor situations. They lose their genuine out the box thinking and creativity. They feel safer in excel spreadsheets and are likely to ask for extra time to complete the task and projects they used to deliver in no time.
Immediate achievement may not suffer. Collaboration would, which might endanger midterm collective performance. So, it is time to act. While you may not be able to change your sales culture, you may be able to change the environment they are exposed to.
- Pull them out from repetitive and boring activities. Finding diversity and excitement in sales daily activities may be a challenge. Help them find a way either to better delegate or find purpose in their daily routine. It may be refocusing their attention and involvement on strategic deals only and committing to letting their team deliver on transactional business. Review the list of ongoing initiatives and consider removing them from any project where they are not directly responsible or accountable. The point is to free up some time for them to recharge their emotional batteries and refocus.
- Sensitive Strivers hold themselves to high standards: they are ambitious and crave for fulfilment. It might be that holding them back by from action and influence is perceived as a personal setback. Investigate a project which is not merely about sales but rather includes talent management or organizational impact. Anything from scenario thinking, design planning to adaptative learning initiatives will help them reconnect with creativity and the world around them.
- Adapt your management style: under stress, sensitive strivers are likely to overreact to a command-and-control management style. This approach is a breach to their core values. A mentor and coach-like manager approach will be a better fit to implement the non-directive and open communication environment they thrive in. This kind of management also helps restore trust and confidence. It will be particularly helpful if you combine it with coaching sessions to help them understand where they stretch themselves so hard that they inevitably burn themselves out and reinforce their unique strengths.
- Investigate lateral moves. Sales may not provide them the meaning and the self-realization they search for anymore and expose them to too much pressure. Set up and open discussion about industry expert or product specialist roles for individual contributors. A farmer role in key accounts rather than a hunter role may a good fit too. For managers, sales operations, sales enablement or heading an overlay business unit may be valid options to consider.
Think. Good selling.