How To Manage Remote Sales Teams

By David Fletcher, Senior Vice President, ClearSale
A picture of a computer screen displaying a group video call

Remote work went mainstream in 2020, and the forced experiment showed us that working from home doesn’t have to derail productivity. In fact, a 2020 survey from FlexJobs shows that 51% of respondents said they feel more productive in their home office than at a traditional workplace. Because of distancing requirements, employee sentiment, and the efficiency gains associated with well-managed remote work, it’s reasonable to expect that many companies will opt not to shift entirely back to the office in 2021 and even beyond.

For salespeople who can spend much of their time on the road anyway, this may not be as big a shift as it is for other teams. Managing remote sales teams, however, while never easy, has become even more of a challenge – requiring changes in technology, managerial mindset, and culture to succeed.

At my international company 60% of our sales teams operated remotely even before the pandemic. Here’s how we drew on our remote team-management experience to take the rest of our sales staffers remote and set them up for long-term success.

When your sales team is remote, good technology can hold you all together. For example, I’m in the East Coast, but I also have staff on the West Coast and in Australia, so I have to manage conversations across a broad range of time zones. A reliable time zone app or world clock is helpful for scheduling team meetings that work for everyone.

Another challenge is that most people use multiple apps for communication and collaboration. To keep everyone in the loop, set expectations, and meet deadlines, you need to find and implement the technology that works best to support your entire team. Whatever you choose must 1) allow collaboration, 2) operate reliably, and 3) work for everyone on your team – not just one or two people.

Finding the right tools can take time as well as trial and error, but it’s critical to helping your team stay connected.

Managing sales data remotely requires clear expectations. In an office, you might check in with your team frequently and have a leaderboard on the wall. When you’re remote, you should still have those check-in discussions about your goals, but your leaderboard will be virtual.

To keep everyone on the same page and motivated, you can keep your most current data in your CRM, in your communication channels, in spreadsheets, or wherever it’s easiest for your team to see it. Regardless of how you share your sales data, the dashboards and the CRM platform you use should always be up to date.

As productive as working from home can be, the setting creates some challenges. One is the distraction that comes from sharing space with family members who are also working or learning from home. It’s important to be understanding about the interruptions and tasks your team members have to deal with while they’re working remotely.

Another big challenge is the need to unplug and recharge. At home, it’s hard to get away from your work. It’s especially hard to decide you’re not going to respond to an email from your boss after hours, which is how some people end up working almost around the clock. This can lead to burnout, and it’s on leaders to promote and model work-life balance. Reach out to team members who’ve been working long hours and tell them to take a break. Set boundaries, too.

For example, I don’t email my people after hours even if that’s when I’m working, because I don’t want them to feel obligated to respond right away. Instead, I write the email and schedule it to be delivered during their normal work hours. I’m able to write the message and I don’t have to remember to do it the next morning, but I’m also respecting my team’s work-life balance and boundaries.

Supporting your team requires one-to-one coaching, pipeline meetings, strategy calls, and other modes of collaboration. The key is having these interactions consistently, which is hard to do in an office and even harder when you’re remote. However, this consistency helps us feel more connected and motivated. For example, a Monday morning sales meeting and Friday morning pipeline review help everyone stay prepared and excited about work.

You can also set up what we call virtual ride-alongs. In an old-school ride-along, a sales leader would “ride along” with a sales rep on their calls to see how they’re doing and offer feedback. You can do the same thing over Zoom or Teams – joining calls as an observer or maybe as a participant. However, the ride-along is most effective if you let your team lead while you take notes instead of taking over the call.

The best teams work well together as colleagues and as people – but getting to know each other well requires time. To help our remote teams bond, we alternate monthly Webinars and what we call “lunch and learns.” These events are optional, and typically a few hundred folks have their lunch during the session while they get training on a topic like sales strategy, methodology, or case studies.

At these events, allow the team to interact instead of just controlling the mic yourself. That way your team has a chance to learn more about each other, like their families or their interests outside of work. It’s important for companies to embrace that kind of conversation in an era where teams can’t meet up for a coffee or a drink.

Another way to strengthen your teams is to livestream any on-site events so they can participate. For example, if you have a guest speaker at the office, off-site employees need to be able to join in remotely. Treating all your employees the same goes a long way toward maintaining morale.

If we’ve learned anything from our remote teams during this pandemic, it’s that work can be completed at home as long as employees have the right technology, up-to-date information, and opportunities to connect and share ideas. As long as your employees feel connected and have a level of trust, they’ll feel like part of the business no matter where they are – which means they can do great work from just about anywhere.