How to Manage a Remote Sales Team

Being a manager is challenging enough on its own, but when you’re expected to manage a remote sales team – the game changes. It’s an entirely different setting with unique requirements and challenges.

Most of the people on the Etools team had never worked remotely before joining us, and our journey to being the company we are today required adjustments and learning what works and what doesn’t in a “virtual office “. We’ve learned many helpful tips to make remote working more efficient and productive. We’ve also chatted with friends and partners who manage remote sales teams in their companies.

Here are some of our best practices we’ve learned for managing a remote sales team.

1) Make up for the lack of nonverbal communication

Remote sales teams have the benefit of increased flexibility, but they miss out on things like casual office talk and in-person communication. When this is cut out, it’s easy to miss things, like subtle reactions from your employees, how they feel about certain things, etc.. You mostly rely on their word as a guide for how things are going.

How can you overcome this?

If you are using a chat platform like Slack or HipChat, try to include occasional calls as well (whether scheduled as a regular occurrence or from time to time). The tone of someone’s voice can tell you a lot. It builds better rapport and a stronger relationship when communicating via calls. If possible, also have occasional video calls – that can help with overcoming the issue of missing non-verbal communication.

If your work requires you to communicate exclusively via chat, then the most important thing is to establish certain rules and set clear expectations. Make sure you state clearly what work you expect to be done, the way in which it should be delivered, and clarify if there are any deadlines to be met. That way you can avoid miscommunication – never assume you were understood, but rather choose to always lay out your ideas in detail, and make sure you have feedback you were understood.

2) Track work using the right tools

It’s tough to keep an eye each remote employee and check whether they are fully using up their work-time. If you’re working with experienced freelancers they might be used to this type of workflow. But with many full-time employees, it can be a bit trickier.

The Bookmark team shared an example of how they automate the process of tracking daily work:

They use Trello to track tasks. Each task is done in our development environment which is a mirror of the live version. Trello acts as their ticket system to show who’s working on what.

They have a Slack channel where each person communicates at the end of the day what they are working on. In a few short sentences everyone gives the status of the project’s they’re working on and what’s next.

And here’s what Andy Marin from Bigbang, whose team is remote, says:

“There are many important things to consider when managing a remote team. Employee satisfaction and team spirit are harder to achieve, but the hardest thing to take care of by far is productivity. That’s where time tracking tools are absolutely vital, and one of the reasons why setting deadlines and having realistic expectations on projects is so important.”

So there you go – if you’re clear with what the tasks are, clear about deadlines, and you add the right tools to the equation, you can make sure your team stays busy and gets the job done.

3) Establish communication guidelines

Remote work requires most of your communication to be online, and without the right expectations a lot of communication is lost. It’s important to establish rules and guidelines for your team to follow so everyone is on the same page.

For example, you can devise a system to make sure everyone knows when someone “leaves” the virtual office. Maybe the rule could be that each person writes “brb” into Slack any time they step away from our keyboard, or it could be that each person is required to update their status whenever they’re busy. These guidelines help avoid awkwardness if someone calls or writes to you and you’re unresponsive.

Devise a similar system in terms of what makes sense for your team.

4) Motivate your team daily

Motivating remote employees can be challenging, the lack of human connection can make it easy for your workers to disassociate themselves from the job and become demotivated.

The great thing about sales is that it’s result-driven, and the results show who’s doing the work. This is why one of the best ways to motivate your team is include specific benefits for reaching goals. 

But commission checks and benefits don’t always satisfy the day-to-day need to say motivated. Especially if you have a longer sales cycle, working on longer deals in a remote environment can be difficult. As a manager, try to recognize all achievements in front of the entire team, not just closed deals.

A good way to do this is to be transparent about everyone’s performance. You could have a channel or message thread that would include the number of signups, email replies, successful cold calls, and sales (whichever metric makes sense for your product or service) each sales rep has brought in. Transparency will help highlight each reps’ individual achievements, but it will also create a sense of group responsibility and competition.

5) Create a friendly working environment

It’s important to create a sense of familiarity between yourself and your employees, and to maintain a positive, uplifting working environment overall.

Chat about non work-related things from time to time. Have monthly check-ins. Try having reps work in pairs. Put in the effort and show you care, and your team will in turn become more motivated.

CloserIQ even created a “watercooler” Slack channel to help employees experience company culture when working from home.

After all, even though we work online, we’re not a bunch of robots – we’re all people and acknowledging that fact shows your team you value them. This is especially true for sales teams, which is often a stressful job, as a lot of the responsibilities for bringing in revenue lie on their shoulders.

Keep track of things like birthdays, and create a space for a friendly rapport between your team. You can always allocate 10 mins in a day to have the team chat about day-to-day things, as this replicates what would happen in an actual office.

6) Choose the right candidates

It’s really easy to just shut down your laptop, mac, phone and disappear without a trace if you’re unhappy with the job. It’s also much easier than facing your employer and outright quitting, as that’s often a very uncomfortable, emotionally taxing transaction.

Hire autonomous, entrepreneurial sales reps

It’s crucial to hire someone whose character will allow them to thrive in a remote setting. A driven, reliable, independent person who is a hard worker and unafraid of challenges. Working in a remote setting requires a lot more adaptability than working in an office, which is why the perfect fit is someone who can go with the flow and accept change as they go.

Look for past remote work experience

Your best bet is to seek out people who have experience with remote work, as they’re already familiar with all the ins and outs of working in a virtual office. When you hire someone who has never worked remote, you’re taking a gamble. Not everyone has the maturity and drive to be successful in a remote environment, so look for previous success in similar situations. 

Consider hiring on a trial basis

Before fully onboarding a new employee, try having them work on a trial period for a set amount of time. This ends up being helpful for both you and them – you’ll get insight into their character and work ethic, and they would also be given the chance to determine if your company is the right place for them.

Refine your hiring and onboarding process

Most importantly, refine your recruitment process constantly in order to help new hires be successful. Learn from your mistakes, and update accordingly. Build an ideal candidate profile based on your learnings, and try using a grading rubric that fits your criteria to make sure you’re hiring the right people.

Final words

These are just a few of the best practices that we’ve learned from working with remote sales teams. By creating an environment of trust and efficiency, you’ll be providing a valuable incentive for your sales department to blossom.

What are some other problems and good practices you can think of? Let us know in the comment section!

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Nevena is a Business Development Manager at Etools – a toolkit that lets you find the exact contact details of any business.