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5 Ways Small and Medium Business Sales Teams Can Lead With Compassion

Small or medium business (SMB) leaders should consider how their sales teams can show care and compassion for customers.

Your small or medium business (SMB) has been in uncharted waters for some time now. But as a business leader, it’s important to consider what you and your sales teams can do for customers by being there for them. 

Here are five simple and effective ways your SMB can lead with compassion now and in the future:

1. Reframe responsibilities from selling to helping

Many of your customers are still in a resiliency phase, so it’s more important than ever to lead with trust, empathy, and flexibility in areas that may not come up during a typical sales cycle. Consider more personal check-ins or providing an extra compassionate ear to just listen for a few minutes as they share what they’re facing. If a customer has an urgent business need that translates to a sale, that’s great. Use it as an opportunity to guide with value and align with customers’ needs and interests.

The ultimate priority is to be there for your customer in a time of need and help them navigate through these challenging times, with the intent to build and strengthen long term relationships.

Our sales team speaks to our customers about balancing the current circumstances by looking at future risk mitigation and technology strategies. The ultimate priority is to be there for your customer in a time of need and help them navigate through these challenging times, with the intent to build and strengthen long term relationships.

2. Take a pulse of your customers’ situations, then serve appropriately

Ask questions about your customers’ priorities to help you get a better sense of where your customers are at — stabilization mode, or are they ready for the next step? Once you understand their situation, take a two-prong approach:

  1. If your customer is still stabilizing, you’ll want to spread positivity. There’s a fine line between acknowledging a situation and constantly reminding people of it. The more skillfully you can walk that line, the better. In our latest Small & Medium Business Trends Report, we found out that 72% of SMBs are optimistic about the future of their business. And we’ve also noted how experts have advised small businesses to spread optimism using their online presence, mainly because the current news cycle isn’t necessarily calming people down. Extend that philosophy of optimism to your daily conversations with customers and colleagues. Share what you can that’s positive — whether that’s how organizations are helping the situation, how you’re personally supporting fellow small businesses, or even personal highlights from your day. This is a time for all of us to support each other.
  2. If your customer is ready to go into the growth phase, help them reach their full potential. In your customer conversations, respectfully challenge your already-stabilized customers by helping them overcome fear and doubt. Crisis is often a catalyst for change. For example, our research finds that growing SMBs are 65% more likely than their respective counterparts to report acceleration in technology investments during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that 77% of customers see this crisis as a catalyst for change. Help your customers realize that this is an opportunity to be better than before — even if that’s through practicing new safety protocols and using technology more often. You can also start pointing them to online training resources, share best practices, or help them develop new business ideas and strategies. This, in turn, can expand your sales playbook to use your broader expertise to help however you can.

3. Keep your team grounded as you respond to ever-changing circumstances

Helping others can be a powerful form of self-care, but be sure to take care of yourself, and your team, too. Your customers are facing sudden uncertainty in the wake of shutdowns and revenue declines. The people on your sales teams feel this same uncertainty. 

Internally, we remain focused on communication, transparency, and controlling what we can. We’re working to improve as individuals and as a team. From setting aside a budget for fun activities like virtual happy hours to company-wide mindfulness activities, it’s important to keep your team grounded and continue to communicate as circumstances change. Our team has started podcast-style interviews in a series we call, Growing Together. It’s a place where our sales leaders share personal stories to connect, learn, and inspire the team. We’ve also been encouraging time off. Just because we are at home doesn’t mean we can’t step away from the screen for a few days.

Consider these points as you think about how to lead and care for the people you work with every day:

  • How are you staying in touch with the needs and challenges of your sales team? 
  • Are you plugged into areas where a team member may need help? Is there a gap you and your leadership team need to assess?
  • Make sure you have processes and check-ins in place to keep your team supported and plugged in. Remember that structure and routine can be powerful tools for helping people navigate crises. Consider adding daily huddles, extra one-on-one check-ins, and organization-wide all-hands calls.
  • How can you ensure everyone is taking some time off? Consider enacting an organization-wide day off, or requiring employees to take a certain amount of days off every quarter.

4. Reimagine how you get in front of customers

During the pandemic, customers want experiences that make them feel like they’re outside of their homes. What’s missing from our homes that we took for granted in our everyday life? A sense of community.

Flexibility — the ability to bend without breaking — can go a long way with customers right now. In fact, 49% of growing SMBs have admitted they’ve offered more flexibility to customers since the pandemic began.

Sell compassionately to your customers by helping foster community at the same time. Partner closely with your marketing team to see if you can host online events that enable creative business conversations and thought-provoking discussions between your customers. For example, we’ve been setting up virtual mixology or wine tasting events for groups of customers, and even roundtable discussions for them to collaborate, share the state of their business, help each other move forward during this time, and foster space for tangible connections with others.

5. Be open-minded and flexible with customers’ finances

Flexibility — the ability to bend without breaking — can go a long way with customers right now. In fact, 49% of growing SMBs have admitted they’ve offered more flexibility to customers since the pandemic began. What can you do to make things easier for customers without jeopardizing your operations?

We’ve adopted a two-step process to build more flexibility into our playbook right now:

  1. Arm our sales reps with the confidence to listen to their customers and seek to understand their financial challenges.
  2. Partner closely with our sales operations (SOPS) and billing partners to create more lenient options within our business practices.

Step one is pretty universal: talk with your reps and ask them to just listen. Help them help their clients by gaining an understanding of their financial situation. Gather real-time data on what your customers are facing right now. Then look at what organization-wide steps you can take to support them.

Being flexible with payment plans and helping your customers manage their expenses can go a long way right now. And, of course, you can offer to brainstorm pricing strategies with clients to help give their businesses a needed boost.

We’re in a new normal that might continue to change, and customers want salespeople to be more engaged. They want positivity — or even to be respectfully challenged — and they want you to create more experiences that take them out of their home. Compassionate selling is one way to help them get there.

Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can grow faster than ever. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.


Tony is vice president of SMB Sales at Salesforce. In his 10+ years at the company, he has climbed the ranks through a variety of sales individual contributor and sales leadership roles. He has primarily focused on the Small and Medium business segments, with a passion for helping growing companies achieve their goals to disrupt and scale. During this time, salesforce has grown from $500M to over $17B in annual revenue. Tony holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Communications from the University of California, Davis. One of Tony’s Leadership principles is “Make an Impact” by helping individuals and companies challenge their potential and achieve results beyond their expectations. Tony is a proud dad, husband and enjoys spending time outdoors whenever possible (playing sports like golf and basketball, as well as hiking and running).

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