Happy employees sell your company and its products or services without even trying.
- When employees complain to each other and to friends and family, they are "selling" a negative impression about your company to potential customers.
- Small business owners and managers can identify common struggles among teleworkers and furloughed employees and suggest ways to avoid blaming the business.
- The personal touch (in the form of an empathetic ear) helps owners learn what workers are struggling with and helps employees vent to someone who can help.
It has never been more important than now to convince your employees that every one of them is a salesperson for your company. Even those whose titles or position descriptions have nothing to do with sales are either selling your company or turning people away from it every day.
Employees who are furloughed or are working very few hours or are telecommuting from home are either selling your company or convincing people not to buy from it. They sell by projecting an attitude of hopefulness and appreciation for the company. They kill sales by complaining about it.
Employees need to know that every job is a sales job during a time when they might feel depressed, angry, unhappy or resigned about their situations.
They might be happy to still have their jobs but are anxious about working from home. They might be bitter about a furlough, even though you have every intention of hiring them back. They might resent having to take a pay cut, even if they agreed to it so nobody would be let go. They might be unable to pay their bills or socialize or celebrate milestones and they need someone to blame, so they blame you.
And then they talk about it.
Everyone who listens to that talk gets a bad impression of your company, even if the employee ordinarily would be singing its praises. So business owners and managers have a sales job of their own to do. Without delay, start training employees on how to sell your company and how to avoid killing sales. The employees most likely aren't hurting your business on purpose. They probably don't even know that's what they're doing. But when they bad-mouth a company to friends, family and even co-workers, the people on the other side of those conversations will believe what they say.
Encourage them to say something different
Here are five ways to sell your employees on selling the right thing during these troubled times.
1. Tread lightly.
First, do no more harm; that is, don't berate or criticize your employees for spreading bad news about your business, because they'll talk about that, too. Don't assume employees are bad-mouthing the business or that one person is doing it more than others. Don't single people out.
Instead, ask all employees – both those who are active and those who are furloughed but expected to eventually return to work – to participate in a new, virtual training. Even though money is tight, offer to pay them something for their time.
2. Explain the problem.
Plan a virtual training session to encourage employees to talk positively about your company, and convince them that they should.
Your meeting should:
- Outline the potential problem and acknowledges the natural temptation to complain to empathetic listeners about the unfortunate circumstances the pandemic has created for them.
- Demonstrate how including the business in those complaints can create a bad impression of the company and inadvertently convince potential customers to avoid it in the future.
- Explain the relationship between what an employee says about the business and the company's sales. Tell your team that a "sale" doesn't happen only when an employee asks a potential customer to buy something. Sales often happen because potential customers get a good feeling about the company from its employees. Likewise, sales often are lost because potential customers get a bad impression from the employees.
- Connect the dots. Every potential customer your business loses pushes it closer to not being able to reopen or to not being able to rehire everyone. Sales mean money. Money makes the business viable.
- Sell the employees on the fact that they will benefit, too, if they help you keep your business in good standing – reputation-wise – even if it isn't up to speed yet. The more positive chatter customers hear about the business, the more likely it will be to get everyone back to work once things settle down.
3. Suggest positive language.
Compile a list of complaints your employees might be talking over with friends, family and even the clients they're keeping in touch with. Then, come up with a positive angle for employees to consider as they're having those conversations.
Here are a few examples:
- "I'm really struggling right now because I had to take a pay cut. But I know it was for the greater good because it means my company doesn't have to lay off as many people, and I didn't get laid off. I'm grateful for that."
- "My company is closed and I'm not getting paid, and my manager says the business will have to reopen in phases. I really need to work. I hope the laws change soon so we'll be able to get back to work. I know the owner of my company is hoping for that, too."
- "I really don't like working from home. My kids interrupt me a lot, and I can't focus. I can't wait to get back to my office. I really like it there."
Point out to employees that there are ways to commiserate about their circumstances without blaming the business for them. Once they realize the harm they could cause, it's a good bet they will change their narratives.
4. Issue regular updates.
Sometimes, hard feelings result from a lack of information. If you haven't been keeping your employees in the loop about what's happening and what's likely to happen next, they're filling in the blanks for themselves – possibly with the worst-case scenario.
Information eases uncertainty, which causes anxiety. So announcing decisions that will affect employees as soon as you make them allows your staff to set reasonable expectations. In fact, clueing them in that you are considering a change and asking for their input is a good way to let them know you value them, even though you're not working side by side with them at the moment.
Sharing information could make your employees more hopeful, more realistic and less likely to engage in gossip or discuss worst-case scenarios among themselves and with friends and acquaintances who could be potential customers.
Even better, explaining your reasons for making each decision will help employees understand that you're trying to do what's best for them and for the future of their business—which can translate into their continued employment.
5. Offer to listen.
If your employees need someone to listen to them vent, how about offering your own empathetic ear? That could result in a few positive outcomes:
- Instead of spreading their dissatisfaction to potential customers, the negative talk might stop with you. You'll have to be willing to react neutrally if their complaints are about you or the company. And you'll have to invite criticism and complaints if you really want them to feel free to unburden themselves.
- You will have an opportunity to set employees straight if they are assuming facts that are not true. For example, if an employee heard through the grapevine that your business has filed for bankruptcy—and that's not true—you can nip the rumor in the bud and quell a lot of employee fears.
- You might discover that some employees have problems that you can help them with, and they didn't know that was possible. For example, if a frustrated teleworker's computer is running painfully slow or if the employee's home has spotty internet service, you may be able to have your IT tech solve the problem or send the employee a hotspot, a device that plugs into a laptop or tablet and delivers wireless internet access.
- Because you are suffering from the woes of the same business that employs your worker, you can listen with genuine empathy. That could make the employee feel understood, grateful, and even closer and more loyal to you. It can also humanize you and the business, a good feeling that the employee might be happy to tell friends and potential customers about
- The conversation will give you the opportunity to remind the employee that working for your company hasn't always involved telework, reduced hours, furloughs and pay cuts. You can talk about the good times behind you and express hope for good times to come.
Selling for tomorrow
Happy employees sell your company and its products or services without even trying. Unless they're members of your official sales staff, they're selling without even knowing that's what they're doing.
As you wait for the return of business as usual, do what you can to make your employees happy. Often, that simply means listening to them and acknowledging the struggle that telework, reduced pay and lost jobs have created for them. It can simply mean sharing your hopefulness that they eventually will be back at work.
Just make sure they know that until that time comes, they play a huge role in making sure people hear from them what's good about your business and why they should patronize it.
By the time everyone gets back to work, even your most disgruntled, furloughed employees will understand that the impression they give others about your company can boost sales or lose them – because each of them is selling something about your business – good or bad. How you interact with those employees in the meantime can determine which message they are putting out there.