How to get started
These days, many sales leaders are actively engaged with how to run an effective sales team with remote employees.
Particularly in B2B sales, though, many sales teams have always been remote. This was especially true when customers and prospects expected sales professionals to meet them at their office location. So the good news is that combined with the miracles of our current technologies, there are many best practices, processes, procedures and tools to support effective remote sales management.
But what if you manage a sales team that comes into an office every day, but one day everyone has to work remotely?
- What is the impact?
- How will you manage both day-to-day and long term activities?
- What can you do now to maximize effectiveness?
Here are the 5 main areas of focus you can address so you are well prepared, and minimize the impact to your team’s sales performance.
Inbound phone calls
How would inbound calls be handled? Can your system route calls externally?
With most phone systems these days, this should not be a problem. Consult the head of your IT department to get guidance.
If this does create a challenge, you can instruct your salespeople to call into their old school voicemail system and return the calls remotely. It’s not a long-term solution, but it will work if needed.
Another possibility for handling inbound calls—assuming the team is agreeable to it—is to transition to having them provide their mobile numbers accounts and prospects. If you go this route, though, you should also instruct your sales team to update their email signatures, as well as email all their key account contacts and prospects their updated number.
Outbound phone calls
The outbound phone call is a core sales activity. But now everyone needs to make calls from their home, and you might not want everyone’s personal phone number and caller ID showing up to clients and prospects.
Many business phone systems offer something called a “soft phone”. It’s basically a computer application that connects to your main company phone system, and allows for both outbound and inbound dialing. Just connect a headset to your computer and you can make and receive calls just like you were in the office! It will even show the company caller ID as well.
Another option to help veil everyone’s home or mobile number is to a service like Grasshopper. It’s easy to set up, and very cost-effective. For a free solution (though not as many features), you can set up a Google Phone for each salesperson.
We come into the office, sit at our PC with our coffee, and just start logging in and using a range of software applications. This could include your CRM, inventory tracking, company reporting, proposals, accounting systems, and more.
But are all these apps available outside the company network? It’s worth testing! Sometimes a VPN is a solution. Sometimes it requires updating of routers, security protocols, and more.
It’s worth having a discussion with your head of IT. Especially in this modern mobile world, there is an increased expectation that you can access everything, everywhere, at any time. It’s not only useful when the situation requires it, but it can be a great productivity enhancement as well.
While nothing matches an in-person meeting, a video conference is the next best thing. True, for in-house discussions you could just call someone, but if the team is remote then it can be an opportunity to engage at a higher level.
First, many business conversations these days center around something on a screen—such as a web page, a spreadsheet, or a presentation deck. Having the screenshare capabilities available is essential to ensure everyone is on the same page. Sometimes, if you’re having a 1:1 discussion about something on a screen, doing screenshare is even superior to in-person, because you avoid awkward “hovering”, while neither is able to really focus on what’s on the screen.
While dial-in phone bridges have been around for years for group conference calls, video is a relatively new phenomenon. You may soon discover that some people on your team are camera shy! They may need some coaching and assurance to get them participating. It’s worth the effort, though.
Multiple well-respected and accepted studies have proven that body language, including facial expressions, represents 55 percent of our human communication process. The remaining 45 percent of communicating is what is actually said and the tone used to say it. So make it a policy that everyone in the meeting should have their webcam on. It may take getting used to, but eventually everyone will get more comfortable with it. Encourage everyone to be well-groomed and dressed as if they were at the office.
Remind your team, especially if they are on video calls with clients, that when their webcam is showing them, it's also showing what is behind them. They should make sure whatever is seen is appropriate. For example, if they are working remotely out of their dining room, the webcam shouldn’t show the kitchen or their kids' toys, an open closet, or a pile of boxes. Sales people represent the company in every type of interaction, and they should consistently present a professional image, both internally and externally.
Of course, make sure everyone has a quality webcam, speakers and microphone. Most modern webcams include a microphone with noise cancelling, so your reps don’t have to borrow their kid’s Xbox headset. Without the ability to physically sit with your salespeople, you are already disadvantaged. Don't make matters worse with fuzzy and distorted video and audio. Also, use a well-known and popular webcam conferencing service. I have used them all and found Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx to be the best.
I recommend that 1:1 meetings with sales reps use video. They look forward to that special time where you are giving them 100% of your time and attention. This is a great way to maintain that human connection as best as you can under the circumstances.
Also, from a practical standpoint, while it’s easy for a rep to take a regular phone call from anywhere, on video it’s much harder for them to validate they are in “business mode” if they’re on a golf course (though they get the “pass” if they’re golfing with a client at the time!)
While we would like to believe that everyone on the sales team will actually work during regular business hours as they did when they reported into an office, some people struggle to adapt. Requiring the webcam to be on replicates many of the benefits of meeting in person.
Ad Hoc Meetings
What about meetings that are needed in the moment? What if your team has questions during the day?
It’s been my policy for many years that if you need immediate attention, call my mobile or send a text. If what is needed from me can wait for a response until the end of the day, send an email. This same personal policy was also communicated to my boss, the customer service department, HR and accounting. Another approach to managing ad-hoc meetings or questions is to use Slack or Microsoft Team. It’s a useful tool for ongoing discussions with multiple people in different departments.
One approach that helps internal communication culture is to provide some type of guidelines for what communication channel to use for when. Sometimes a team can get overly reliant on one channel, when another one would be more appropriate.
- Slack channel
- Slack direct message
- Mobile text
- 1:1 phone call or web conference
- Group web conference
- In-person meeting
The important point is that the policy is communicated regularly to everyone involved. Of course, it is equally important that you set the example as a sales leader by consistently following your own communication policy! If you don’t adhere to it, don’t expect anyone else to.
Ah, the famous whiteboard.
The Big Board.
It’s electrical tape, colored markers, and the daily drama of competition. We meet around it, study it, agonize over it, and celebrate with it.
And now...we’re working remote.
Many office-based sales teams use either a whiteboard or a centrally located large screen monitor to share sales KPIs and metrics. What’s going to replace these communication tools?
Fortunately, modern cloud-based computing offers some convenient options. Consider creating a view-only spreadsheet on Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other similar approaches. With this approach, all stakeholders can see how the team is tracking towards its KPIs and metrics in real-time.
In addition, you can explore fancier options like Google Data Studio, Klipfolio, or Smartsheet.
One big advantage of a physical whiteboard or wall monitor is that you can’t help but being reminded of it and show the latest info. But an online dashboard has to be proactively visited. Because we’re all so used to having information pushed to us by every system and platform, I made it a habit to send the previous day’s final tally in an email to everyone at the beginning of each new day.
Managing performance and effectiveness
This is where leadership is critical. It’s the sales leader that needs to demonstrate what successfully navigating this change should look and act like. Demonstrating competency, a positive attitude towards change and adaptability, all while simultaneously executing weekly, monthly, and quarterly sales results, is the best way to help your sales team. They will follow your lead and example.
As you might expect, some team members might not respond well to the change. In the beginning, be patient with them and show empathy. Help them create a daily schedule so they can establish a comfortable rhythm and cycle of the work day. By breaking their day into manageable pieces and setting achievable goals, they can feel productive without getting stressed.
Also, consider that the average daily commute to and from an office in America is approximately 30 minutes. This means that each salesperson now has an extra hour of productivity. During your weekly one-on-one sales meetings with each of your sales reps, spend time discussing and agreeing to their new weekly activity and sales metrics goals. How are they taking advantage of the time they now have?
Most of your top sales performers will take advantage of this gift of more time. Be aware though, that some of your mid to low performers will use the fact that they are working remotely as the excuse du jour for not hitting their weekly, monthly and quarterly sales goals.
If you see this developing, ask these salespeople to provide a weekly schedule of their planned activities, including customer and prospect calls. When you have your weekly 1:1 sales meeting, review the outcomes of their plan. While this is micro-managing, it may be necessary to help the salesperson change their behavior.
It’s your job to coach each of your reports to achieve their greatest potential. The adage “inspect what you expect” is old, but it remains effective.
The biggest challenge for sales managers transitioning their team from office to remote is the change management necessary to keep the sales team focused on their customers and prospects, all while operating in a new environment.
Check in with each salesperson a few times a day. Asking how they are doing and if they need anything will tangibly demonstrate that you are committed to helping each salesperson succeed and are in it with them. Checking in regularly also reinforces that they are just as accountable for performing their jobs, even if you’re not just a few office doors away anymore.
To keep morale and motivation up, considering arranging a weekly lunch and chat webcam conference call. The goal is to get everyone together and hang out during the lunch break. In this get-together, take your sales manager hat off and let the team talk about sports, their kids, their vacation plans, a new recipe or new workout routine. The meeting is not about business; it’s all about maintaining and growing the strengths of the sales TEAM.
While many of us started our career in a punch-the-clock, 9-5 world, as long as people are productive and hitting their objectives, be realistic about a remote working environment. If salespeople are now working from their homes, it really can be ok to run out to the gym or complete an errand during the day. In fact, you may also notice that some emails are coming in earlier in the morning and later at night. As long as everyone is working with integrity, showing up to meetings on time, and putting in their time each week, results are all that really matter.
Managing a remote sales team can have its challenges, but in sales, it is a common practice. We have the benefit of industry experience that most other departments are figuring out from scratch. Like most successful programs, evolving your sales management process to support a remote sales team requires thoughtful planning, a commitment to execution, flexibility, and empathy.
Here is a good starter template for establishing policy and expectations
- Working hours
- Communication expectations
- Equipment policy
- Performance standards
- And more