It seems like just yesterday we were living our day-to-day lives - commuting to work, having lunches at a nearby restaurant, hanging out with our colleagues after hours. Yet, it’s already been half a year since most of us have been to an office (or any other place other than home or a grocery store, for that matter).
And while remote work was the only way to keep a business running under the new circumstances, that transition came at a price.
As 98% of sales executives are still adapting to the new reality, according to the Revenue Enablement Institute, their team productivity has dropped by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic.
Most sales leaders also agree that there’s no way back - the way we sell has changed forever.
So if you’re struggling to adapt to the new reality too, you’re not alone. Yet, you better find a way to do so fast - otherwise, you might be at risk of going extinct.
The Pros and Cons of Running a Remote Sales Team
If there’s one thing that I can say for sure based on our experience it’s that remote work, whether it’s a forced measure or deliberate choice, comes with its advantages and drawbacks.
Let’s start with the benefits.
According to the Buffer’s annual report, most remote workers enjoy their flexibility, both in terms of schedule and location, and commute-free life (well, in addition to staying safe and helping stop the spread of the pandemic, obviously).
Yet, most businesses don’t really care about your flexibility or work-life balance. What they do care about is the quota.
The good news is that businesses can also win from moving their sales teams online. Some of the key benefits of remote selling include:
- Lower operational costs. Remote selling is affordable. All you need is a laptop and the right tech stack - no expensive office space to wow your prospects, no conference rooms, or costly equipment to hold calls.
- Access to global talent. Remote teams are easier to scale as you’re not limited to a certain location and can hire the top talent globally.
- Higher efficiency. Remote selling is efficient as 77% of workers tend to be more productive at home than in the office - mostly due to a better work-life balance and lower stress levels.
The latter, however, is often debatable as many sales pros struggle to stay productive while working remotely. As a result, the two most common problems for remote sales teams are:
- Communication. The lack of face to face communication can cripple any team and cause confusion, delaying deals or disrupting internal processes (especially when there’s a time difference between your team members).
- Productivity. As mentioned above, many find it easier to stay focused and motivated while working in an office setting (thus the popularity of co-working spaces). Some struggle in isolation, others find it impossible to work considering all the distractions at home.
Yet, to each their own - for me, it’s easier to disable the Slack notifications than fight off the office distractions when I need to focus.
There are also situations when the challenges can actually turn to your advantage.
For example, one of our AEs was terrified to hear her dog barking in the background during an important call. So unprofessional, right? Not really! It actually turned out to be a great icebreaker and helped her build a more personal relationship with the prospect (they would ask her to bring her dog to the next meeting as well).
5 Tips for Managing a Remote Sales Team
If you’re only planning to build your remote sales team, I’d recommend paying close attention to who you are hiring. Even the most experienced sales rep might be completely worthless when forced to work on their own, without your strict control.
So, unless you’re planning to enforce some kind of time tracking or activity logging within your team (which I wouldn’t recommend), it makes sense to hire only the people who love what they do and are self-driven enough to perform well on their own.
In case you already have a team that has been forced to switch to remote, here are some tips to help you manage it effectively:
- Always keep in touch
For example, you can use Slack for quick updates or more relaxed communication within the team and jump on a Zoom call when there’s something important you need to share or discuss with them.
I strongly recommend holding daily stand-ups (even if it’s just 15 minutes) to stay on the same page with the team. Committing to a specific short-term goal, e.g. making 10 calls or adding 100 hand-picked prospects to your list, during such a sync-up can help you gear up for the day ahead and be more productive.
- Make all information easily accessible
It’s also important to provide your remote sales reps with enough resources to do their job on their own. Namely, we’ve collected all the information that might be valuable to our sales reps - i.e. playbooks, scripts, snippets, checklists, meeting agendas, etc. - and uploaded to a unified Slite knowledge base. It took some time but it was very worth it!
We also use 1Password to store and share credentials (login and password information) so any team member can get access to the tools they need - whenever and wherever necessary.
- Build and follow orderly processes
Aside from offering useful resources to aid your remote SDRs and AEs, you need to make sure they know exactly how and when to use them. Relying on unified, orderly processes helps our team members operate autonomously, without constant supervision, and stay productive.
Some of the processes you should consider documenting include onboarding the new hires, outbound prospecting, sales engagement, sales to customer success hand-off, etc.
- Set and track your goals
When running a remote sales team it’s better to focus on just 1-2 of the most relevant goals at a time. For example, our SDRs only report on the number of calls and demos booked every week and it still provides enough visibility into the progress without overwhelming the team.
We also have recently adopted the OKR framework using Workpath to keep track of our team goals. But you can choose any other framework or tool that offers a visual and flexible way to stay on top of your team’s activities, collaborate on your goals, and measure your progress on a day-to-day basis.
- Employ a solid toolset
You might have noticed that I’ve already mentioned half a dozen different tools we use on a daily basis. Yet, when it comes to remote selling, you should look beyond the communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and task management tools.
Sales software, including CRM, sales engagement, or sales intelligence platforms, can not just help you effectively manage your pipeline but also provide tons of insights improving your process visibility and streamlining your remote team collaboration.
How to Keep Your Remote Sales Team Motivated
All of the above-listed tactics are important beyond doubt. Yet, no matter how solid your processes are and which tools you use, all of your efforts will go to waste if you don’t know how to keep your team motivated.
Motivation is the key to your sales team’s productivity, especially when operating remotely. After all, it’s a bit harder to procrastinate while working at the office - you can’t just idly sit there scrolling through your Facebook feed or binge-watching Netflix shows.
Working from home without enough motivation - whether internal or external - can turn out to be a disaster. As a manager, there are two things you can and should focus on to keep your team’s morale and productivity high:
- Encouragement - which can be introduced in a form of monetary incentives or through gamification. Using the latter, you can spark friendly competition within your team through challenges, leaderboards, and scores.
- Appreciation - for me, knowing that my achievements are noticed and appreciated by the management is sometimes more important than monetary incentives. That is why we have a dedicated Slack channel for sharing and celebrating our small wins - closed deals or booked demos.
- Engagement - to make your team feel a part of something bigger (meaning an important part of the team, not just another cog in the machine). While there aren’t too many ways to socialize without putting anyone at risk at the times of Corona, you can still organize a virtual “happy hour” or just have an online game night with the team once in a while.
Most importantly, establish trust within your team. Give your teammates the freedom to work at their own pace, encourage creativity, ask for their feedback, and act upon it. Instead of enforcing strict rules and processes, just try to make their work a little more engaging and rewarding.
Going remote overnight has put many sales teams to test (as if selling amidst the pandemic wasn’t hard enough). And while it takes some extra effort to make remote selling work, the sales leaders who embrace the change will see many benefits down the road.
Hopefully, the tips and tricks listed here will make your transition a little easier and inspire you to experiment with other tactics to find the ones that work best for you.
If you’re looking for more first-hand tips on how to effectively organize your sales and fight the downturn, see our Crisis Management Decision Tree.