How Lonely Salespeople are Costing Their Companies

From the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that we would experience loneliness, and that those feelings would eventually take their toll on our mental health. But it appears to be costing industries as well – the sales industry in particular. With more sellers working from home, isolated from colleagues and lacking in-person interactions, revenues and margins are decreasing. 

Dr. David Good of Harvard Business School recently conducted research on this very subject, gathering data from two studies that surveyed more than 250 B2B and B2C salespeople from across industries. The studies utilized qualitative interviews, observations of teams, and performance statistics. The study found three main culprits that were causing decreases in revenue:

Social Awkwardness 

Lack of social interaction causes people to lose their socializing skills. This might make for some funny, memorable conversations when you meet back up with people after two years, but for salespeople, the ability to read social cues can make or break a sale. Building a connection with a buyer is extremely important, and anything that makes that more difficult will undoubtedly hamper or even kill a sale. 

In addition, salespeople are going into calls one after the other, possibly with no time in between. With no one around to boost their confidence or put things in perspective after a rough call, this can easily affect performance. 

Not Prioritizing Customers’ Needs

Perhaps you’ve found yourself gushing to your barista about your brother’s surgery because you haven’t talked to anyone in SO LONG. This happens on sales calls as well. Salespeople, in their (now extra awkward) attempts to make connections with customers, may overstep the mark and become too casual with a prospect as they compensate for social interaction that’s missing in their daily lives. “I’m on with 20 customers a day, and every call feels the same,” one study participant told HBS. When all of the calls bleed together, it’s easy to forget key information about certain prospects and to treat them as just another box on your Zoom screen. This “impaired memory” prevents salespeople from tailoring their pitches to each customer and reduces the effectiveness of those pitches. 

Spending More on Customers 

Also known as “sweethearting,” this means salespeople are spending more on gifts and meals for customers, or even lowering prices in order to get a positive reaction. Dr. Good found that this increased spending produced no return on investment, as buyers did not in fact spend more money on the salespeople’s products in return. 

So What’s the Solution? 

There are concrete steps that both sales managers and employees can take to counteract how these effects play out. Here are some of the strategies the study suggests: 

For Managers

  • Foster connections between workers that are unrelated to work. When salespeople are given the opportunity to connect with their colleagues about fun stuff at the beginning of the week or day, they scratch that social connection itch and are less likely to seek that connection from their prospects. 
  • Ensure that everyone understands both how your products help people and what your value proposition is. This gives sellers a sense of purpose higher than themselves and reminds them that the work they do helps people. Similarly, when sellers are clear on the value of the product they are selling, they are less likely to cave and reduce prices. 

For Sellers

  • Take breaks. We’ve all done the three (or four or five) back-to-back Zoom call marathons – the ones that melt our brains. Take breaks and reset between calls, even if for just five minutes, and the difference will be noticeable. 
  • Make friends outside of work. There’s no substitute for good ol’-fashioned friendship. We’ve felt the weight of the pandemic on our shoulders for too long, and at times, it might feel like you are your job, but that’s not true, and life outside of work can remind us of that. Go make a new friend, or dust off an old one. You won’t regret it. 

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