Who better to lead a remote team than a sales manager?
Probably no one!
After all, many sales leaders have managed a small army of Seldom-Seen-Sarahs and Not-Around-Nates for years.
But nothing is business as usual – including managing a sales team remotely in the coronavirus era.
Sales leaders want to rethink their remote management approaches and try new strategies to help salespeople in an environment where they sell virtually more than ever.
Here are nine tactics, tools and strategies sales leaders will want to adopt when managing a team remotely. Even better, they’re all helpful when you’re working together, too.
Create (or revamp) a communication plan
Clear, consistent communication is the key to making remote management work. You may need to increase the degree of interaction you have with salespeople and other colleagues because the quality of interactions almost always drops when done virtually.
Experts at Harvard Business School recommend a strategy like this:
- Tally the number of weekly check-ins with salespeople, meetings with colleagues and calls with customers you normally have.
- Determine the best way to hold those meetings in the remote setting – Zoom, Slack, Skype, video call, phone call. Consider the communication tool preferences of the other person or people involved, too.
- Use a word document, Google Sheet, calendar, Excel chart to create a comprehensive plan for each type of meeting. Include at least four columns for these priorities: Mode of communication, meeting cadence, agenda, participants.
- Use some old and build new best practices. You’ll likely want to revamp size of and time allotted to meetings because virtual meetings are more effective with fewer participants and less time. Perhaps you can turn status meetings into a status report. Maybe you’ll want to stick with the same number of check-ins and agenda for each.
- Focus on quality. Frequency and length are less important for remote meetings. Meet with a driven purpose, agenda and clarity on what discussed, accomplished and needs to be completed.
Practice the softer side of management
Sales leaders don’t need to shorten goals or soften expectations when their team transitions into more remote work. But you do want to amp up the human side of management. Nearly two-thirds of employees say they’re OK with their boss asking about their mental health, the HBS researchers found. They want you to ask how they’re dealing with the circumstances that drove them home and the new remote working situation.
Some may not want to share anything, but some will feel and perform better when they know their boss cares about their well-being.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture
It’s easy to feel disconnected from the company and its mission when you don’t walk in the door and work close with colleagues every day. So when managing a remote sales team, you want to help salespeople stay connected to the company and keep sight of the big picture.
From time to time, step away from talking about operations (completed tasks, next steps, metrics, etc.) and meet with your team to talk about strategy – ideas on improving your business model, reevaluating your selling cycle, revamping your value proposition or increasing customer engagement.
Similarly, carve out time to strengthen the company and/or sales team culture. When teams are apart, they still want to feel connected to each other and the company mission. In group virtual meetings, let salespeople talk about wins – sales-focused, professional or personal. Tie bright spots to company’s mission when appropriate. Regularly pull together those triumphs into an email message for the team, a social post or blog.
Scrub your data
The data your salespeople use to make decisions needs to as accurate and up-to-date as ever. In a remote situation, salespeople rely on CRM data more to determine their approach to a sale, how to advise prospects and how to manage their quota expectations. And clean data is essential for leaders to set proper goals, recognize needs for quota relief or redesign/restructure compensation.
Ask salespeople to set aside time every week to review the data they entered, making sure contacts, next steps, identified opportunities and objectives are as they should be. Same goes for leaders: Double check their data and validate information to align funnel reviews.
While it’s important to coach and console a bit while managing remotely, sales leaders also need to tell salespeople exactly what they need to do.
Recommend specific approaches and actions, sharing more detail than usual when you talk about where to focus efforts. You don’t have to demand, but you want to give guidance through the sales funnel similar to when salespeople were learning. This detailed approach should help them be more productive and see better results, according to researchers at Miller Heiman Group.
Many salespeople realized success when the economy was booming. They reached and surpassed goals based on quantity. That might not be possible going forward, so sales leaders want to spend more remote time coaching salespeople on how to improve the quality of interactions and prospecting.
What can salespeople do remotely to go the extra mile for customers? What can you do to help both salespeople and customers to improve experiences?
Keep salespeople engaged
Salespeople won’t lose their work ethic and talent just because they aren’t working as close as before. But It’s more difficult to feel connected to colleagues and the meaning in their work when you all aren’t physically together.
To keep salespeople engaged:
- Maintain a regular cadence. You likely won’t need to micromanage from a distance. But you do want to check in regularly, treating them the same as always.
- Be flexible. Everyone’s demands shift when they have to work remotely – including sales leaders. Schedule meetings well in advance so salespeople can prepare. And allow flexibility for when and how they get their work done.
- Recognize efforts. People working remotely and under stress can start to feel isolated and unrecognized. You want to regularly remind them of the positive impact their work has on your organization and thank them for all they continue to do.
- Create a virtual water cooler. Either set up group virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet or let salespeople set up their own just for social purposes. Perhaps they can have lunch or end-of-week happy hour together. Sharing stories, commiserating and passing along best practices helps keep them engaged and motivated.
- Give them a break. Salespeople need a hard break from work when they work remotely (so do you, leaders). Don’t reach out to them or expect them to respond after hours.
- Encourage them to exercise mind and body. You might suggest they walk during their usual commute times. Or give them links to free virtual Yoga classes. Direct them to online professional and personal development classes.
- Build on existing camaraderie through social things such as virtual social hours, book clubs, meditation groups, art sharing clubs, music performances and fitness challenges.
If your sales team has worked remotely exclusively or partially, they might already be successful in their roles. But when people – including managers and leaders – move into a distanced situation, you might need to adjust responsibilities, expectations and even the role itself.
When you have one-on-one discussions with remote sales employees, ask questions like these:
- How are things going for you working in these circumstances?
- What challenges are you running into?
- What else do you need to be successful?
- Do you have successes or new best practices to share with the team?
- How can I, or the team, help you succeed?
Take note of each person’s strengths and weaknesses – those you identify and those each of them admit. Look for areas where you can shift responsibilities and areas where it’d be smart to invest in training. Either way, frame the suggestions or changes as opportunities for growth. You want salespeople to succeed in any environment, so putting them situations where they can do their best remotely should be a welcomed change.
Use the opportunity to improve the future
Sales leaders who were thrust into managing remotely can use the experience to improve operations when things return to the new normal.
- How fluid is our sales process? Were salespeople able to quickly adapt to the new situation? Or were they caught up in formal processes that delayed their responsiveness to customers and prospects?
- How adaptable is our content? Could salespeople pull what they needed when and where they needed content and other sales enablement tools? Did they have value propositions that adjusted for the evolving markets?
- What existing best practices worked in the remote selling and managing situation? What new practices do we need to adopt?