How to Meet the Challenge of Managing a Remote Sales Force

By Henry Canaday

During the coronavirus crisis, almost every sales team has shifted to working remotely. Now, with the crisis still exploding in many states during the summer – most are still remote. Many will not go back to offices soon. As a result, remote sales may be much more common in the post-virus world. Julie Thomas, president and CEO of ValueSelling, gives tips on how to get the most out of this newly-widespread sales technique.

Management must “equip and enable” reps for home-based sales, Thomas advises. That means ensuring reps have Internet (high-speed Internet, if possible), Webcams for online meetings, and large monitors (and maybe several additional monitors) for easier viewing. It may mean ensuring comfortable business chairs rather than hard chairs or couches for reps who make their calls while living in small urban apartments. All these items are now business expenses – often covered by stipends of $500-$1,200.

Companies must have a sound sales process and culture of both empowerment and accountability. If not, informal processes that worked back when everybody was in the same office will yield a “wild west, crazy” sales effort when sales teams are dispersed, Thomas says. “Process means activities and expectations every day, week, month, and quarter. If you have a daily huddle to share goals and tasks, it becomes an online virtual huddle.” Managers must have visibility into rep activities, so CRM systems must be used and constantly updated.

Tactical coaching will not be done by a ride-along or joint sales call. Instead, managers can be invited to join a Zoom call, or reps may use Chorus or Gong to record calls. Managers can listen afterwards to coach reps.

Strategic coaching to decide an approach to a big account or expand rep skills must be done virtually. “You have to build trust, set aside time for it, and be specific,” Thomas says. “You can’t just say, ‘Let’s grab coffee in the cafeteria.’”

For motivation, the ValueSelling CEO recommends celebrating small wins – maybe single steps in the sales process toward close or hitting activity targets – rather than just the big closes. When workers are alone and dispersed, “you have to recognize them and keep them excited.”

When reps were in offices, they may have jumped up when they closed deals. Now, Thomas’s team uses Slack to ring a bell and send messages to share wins and keep each other motivated.

Personal touches can still be made for remote workers. Thomas sends care packages of coffee mugs, new sales books, hand sanitizers, and virtual gift cards to reps’ homes. “It doesn’t have to be expensive; sometimes, I send handwritten notes to let someone know I appreciate their efforts.”

Fortunately, most sales training had gone virtual before the virus crisis. Thomas recommends trainers redesign lessons to be engaging and interactive in small bits for remote reps. “You can’t just put classroom lessons online.”