Remote Selling: How to manage a sales team remotely

Manage Remote Sales Team

More and more businesses are adapting to a remote work environment, especially with the onset of COVID-19. This can prove challenging for salespeople who aren’t used to remote selling, as it varies significantly from in-person sales.

But remote selling, done right, can elevate the selling process, help you improve your team’s productivity and fill your sales pipeline—all without you having to leave your desk.

In this article, we’ll explain how remote selling can help you effectively manage internal and external sales communication with a distributed team.

What’s in this article?

What are the benefits of remote selling?

Remote selling refers to the process of making sales where buyers and salespeople don’t come into any physical contact.

It's similar to the inside sales approach that involves using technology, such as the internet or phone, to reach out to prospects and close deals instead of conducting in-person meetings.

Here are some key benefits of remote selling:

1. Cut down on costs

The most obvious benefit of selling remotely is that you get to save tons of money that you would otherwise be spending on renting office space, equipment, car fuel and flights.

You even get to save the cost of food and coffee spent on client meetings, which can often accumulate to a large amount over time.

However, this doesn’t mean that remote selling can be done for free. You’ll still need to spend money on setting up a home office, purchasing paid tools and applications and more.

2. Increase efficiency

When you eliminate the hours involved in traveling to meetings with prospects and engaging in face-to-face conversations, you free up valuable time on your calendar.

You can use this time to qualify leads, reach out to more people and perfect your sales pitch. The more you pitch and refine your selling strategies, the more likely you are to capture hot leads, nurture prospects through the buying journey and close more deals.

3. Sell on a global scale

With remote selling, you can reach out and pitch to prospects all over the world. All it takes is a solid internet connection.

Plus, it’s easier to grow your sales and scale your business when you’re using the right technology. There are tools to help you automate repetitive manual tasks, manage your sales pipeline and keep all of your internal and external communication organized.

We will dive into several of the technology tools that can help you manage a remote selling team in a later section.

4. Empower sales reps

Adopting remote selling for your business can motivate your reps and boost team morale. 

Why? Because when you allow reps autonomy and aid their efforts with comprehensive resources, they will feel empowered to produce impressive results. Having the flexibility to choose their work environment and set their own schedule (via your predefined guidelines) reduces stress and increases productivity.  

In a survey carried out by FlexJobs, 65% of respondents said they feel more productive in their home office than at a traditional workplace. A Stanford University research study, meanwhile, found that employees are 13% more productive when working remotely. However, managing a remote sales team isn’t easy. 

Plus, remote salespeople don’t need to deal with distractions like a commute or office politics, allowing them to focus their energy solely on the sale.

How to manage a remote sales team

However, there are still challenges, and if your salespeople travel more for work than they stay put, it means you have a remote sales team—or at least some of the tasks of managing one.

The basic principles of sales management still apply, but when problems occur, it’s not as simple as getting up from your desk and walking down the hall to get clarification face to face.

Let's explore four ways you can improve your management of your remote sales team.

1. Set clear expectations

When setting expectations, encourage sales employees to meet higher performance levels.

A Gallup poll of German workers found that when a manager sets clear priorities for their employees, about 38% of workers feel engaged and will strive to increase their work performance.

Establishing clear expectations for your remote sales team provides them with a standard to maintain. The benchmark should include sales objectives, specific online procedures when working on leads and tips for managing time more efficiently.

Sales managers must also be willing to hop on a video call with their remote sales team to discuss expectations and provide a detailed report to each employee about their specific tasks and the desired performance goals.

Go over the ground rules on how to find leads, what to do when cold calling prospects, when to perform follow-up work, how to close the deal and the procedures on what to do if they experience any problems.

2. Invest in resources everyone can use

Most companies work in the cloud. Storage providers, like Google or Box, allow your employees to log in to a shared cloud securely and view any data. Cloud computing has not diminished the need to have remote workers on a virtual private network (VPN), however, as they can still be set up for additional access, security and control.

Cloud-based storage systems enable workers to access company information from their personal computer at home, or their smartphone and update prospect records from anywhere. Cloud software helps ensure that every member of your remote sales team has the information they need exactly when they need it, so everyone can receive the most up-to-date information.

If you have a “bring your own device” policy, meaning your team uses their personal laptops or smartphones, you should carefully consider tools, documents and other resources to ensure all members of your team receive proper and secure access.

3. Build trusting relationships

When you have a remote sales team, it can take extra effort to build trusting relationships. After all, you don't see each other in the office every day.

Communication is key to building trust, but it can be challenging for remote teams. 

Sales managers should plan their working schedules to overlap with the majority of their team members. That way, if any issues or questions arise, you can respond immediately. 

When you pay attention to your team's needs you build trust. However, it’s important to avoid micromanaging your team, even though you may feel like it’s harder to track their progress remotely.

As a manager, your communication isn’t always immediate, and you cannot interpret your team members’ body language or learn their mannerisms.

That’s why it’s important to be able to track your team’s progress through a shared metrics dashboard, potentially through activity-based selling. As long as they are completing tasks and closing deals, you can leave your remote team to manage their own time.

4. Encourage social interaction

Promote positive interaction among your team members. Holding weekly meetings opens lines of communication and it’s a great way for the team to learn from one another.

For example, a sales rep can fully explain a new remote selling technique they use with reluctant buyers. Or someone may share a success story of how they closed four deals in one day

Moreover, scheduled meetings with the team enable you to address major challenges and brainstorm new sales strategies—everyone benefits from participating.

Bear in mind that meetings shouldn't just focus on work. Remote sales teams miss out on the time-honored tradition of chatting around the watercooler. Use meetings or chat apps to stimulate discussions around everyday topics, like the latest viral meme or event. These virtual office get-togethers will help build camaraderie and combat workplace loneliness.  

Encourage your team to connect outside your business’s day-to-day operations, as it will make meetings more productive and build healthy team relationships.

Adopting asynchronous and collaborative communication

Even though remote selling comes with many benefits, sales managers who are not used to managing remote teams may find it difficult to establish operational efficiency from afar.

It can be challenging to keep track of your sales reps’ activities when they’re scattered all over the world, especially if you’re managing a large team. Effective communication is a key aspect of bringing your team together in a digital environment. 

According to this Buffer study, collaboration and communication are some of the biggest struggles that remote teams face:

remote selling chart

When you’re not communicating face-to-face, you don’t have the benefit of body language to guide the interpretation of your message. Plus, the delay in responses and lack of emotional reaction can often lead to anxiety, frustration and misleading conclusions.

For sales managers, adopting asynchronous communication can help you overcome this challenge.

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is the concept of sending a message without expecting an immediate response. Examples of asynchronous communication include email and collaboration tools like Slack and Asana.

This is the complete opposite of synchronous communication, which happens in real-time. Some examples of synchronous communication include face-to-face conversations and video calls over tools like Zoom.

Asynchronous environments take into consideration that work doesn’t happen for everyone at the same time, and that employees are more productive when they have greater control over their hours and communication.

For sales managers, adopting asynchronous communication is key to effectively managing a large sales team distributed in different timezones.

For example, instead of struggling to find a time and date that works for both you and your sales rep, you can drop an email asking for an update by the end of the week. Setting a later deadline allows your team members to take their time to articulate a high-quality response backed by research and relevant information.

Another example of asynchronous information is recording a Loom video and sharing it with your sales reps so they can view it and respond appropriately in their own time.

Since most asynchronous communication is documented and stored in written or visual form, it can easily be revisited at a later time need be.

Remote collaboration: How to run a virtual sales meeting

A key part of sales management is conducting regular meetings with your sales reps. Sales meetings are important for sharing updates, new strategies and processes with the entire team and getting everyone on the same page.

You can run virtual meetings using various tools, such as video conferencing, webinars and scheduling apps.

Some useful tools for setting up remote sales meetings include Zoom, Google Meet and GoToMeeting. Most remote meeting apps also allow you to share your screen, so you can open a presentation or dashboard on your computer to use as a visual aid.

Before a virtual meeting can begin, make sure you notify all participants mentioning the date, time and platform where the meeting will be held. For internal meetings, this can easily be done over Slack, WhatsApp, Google Calendar or any other collaboration tool your company uses.

But what about high-profile sales meetings with potential clients? These require more organization and professionalism, which is why it’s a good idea to invest in a scheduling app for your team.

Pipedrive’s Scheduler tool allows your reps to set up meetings with prospects at a time that's convenient for everyone.

All they need to do is set their available time slots and share the link with their clients. Clients can then book a time that works for them and the system will automatically update it in your salesperson’s calendar.

Training sales reps when not face-to-face

Even in a remote work environment, you can guide and train your reps to optimize sales processes and achieve better results.

Keep in mind that an important part of training your salespeople is implementing an effective sales strategy. Clearly establish activity- and results-based goals so that your reps understand what is required of them at every stage in the sales process. This will make it easier for your reps to stay on top of their daily or weekly activities and for you to track their progress. 

To make tracking progress even more reliable, ask your salespeople to share regular updates and call recordings so you can help them improve future pitches.

Here are some additional ways to train your remote sales team:

1. Virtual ride-alongs

Similar to how you would take a new recruit or junior rep to a sales meeting with you for training purposes, you can include your sales reps in your own virtual client meetings.

You can do this by having them join in your calls, or by listening to audio or video recordings of your completed meetings.

In this type of training, you have the opportunity to lead by example, showing your reps exactly what's expected of them when they run their own client meetings.

2. Webinars

Another way to effectively train your reps is to run webinars. The advantage of webinars is that you can train multiple salespeople at a time.

You can use a tool like GoToMeeting or Livestorm to easily set up a webinar for your team. To add more value to your webinars, you can invite popular speakers and industry experts to share insights, best practices and tips with your sales team.

If the product you're selling requires technical know-how, or you want to introduce your team to a certain technology, you can also use webinars to onboard new sales reps and familiarize them with the software or product.

3. Leaderboards and dashboards

Tap into your reps’ competitive sides by creating leaderboards and dashboards that publicly display team-wide metrics.

A ranking system that gamifies the sales process may influence healthy sales competition. If it aligns with your team’s personalities and your sales process, it could motivate reps to work harder in an effort to overtake their team members. 

However, some teams might choose not to use leaderboards if their sales reps have different goals or if they express discontent at public team competition. In this case, you can also create multiple leaderboards so the competition is fair or allow reps to opt-out of the competition if that’s their personal preference.

As long as you are monitoring your team’s performance via your own team-wide dashboard, you can check in on the best and worst-performing reps and redistribute resources or implement new sales tactics need be.

How the experts set realistic expectations

Setting realistic expectations is also vital when working remotely, just as it is when in the office. You can’t expect your team to have the same productivity levels as they would in the office—especially if their tools and tech aren’t up to scratch.

When Mike Weinberg, a Forbes Top 30 Social Sales Influencer, started working with a client in Texas, he ran into a challenge: “They wanted a significant number of new customers, and placed very aggressive goals on the sales team,” he says.

Weinberg, the author of New Sales. Simplified and Sales Management. Simplified, helped the client come up with an activity metric for his team: 60 outbound calls per rep per day, which he saw as “a very reasonable number.” Yet, week after week, the sales team failed to meet the goal.

Weinberg decided to observe the sales team working for two hours and learned all the reps suffered from a common issue:

Selling was only a small part of their job.

“The number one issue that gets in the way of developing new business: People in charge of selling don’t spend enough time selling,” Weinberg explains.

Randy Riemersma, president of the sales training company Span the Chasm, agrees with Weinberg. By focusing a client’s sales team on the right metrics, Riemersma helped his client increase the average selling price by about 13%.

Here are Weinberg and Riemersma’s top tips to help you get realistic and create a sales culture that brings in the money.

Make sure your sales team isn’t drowning in non-sales responsibilities

Sometimes the attempt to stay lean hurts your bottom line.

“I see companies where salespeople are on the safety committee and operation jobs,” says Weinberg. In the Texas company he consulted, salespeople were responsible for, among other things, shipping paperwork, picking international orders from the warehouse and answering customer service calls when customer service agents were busy.

When your team is working remotely, their time can be even more stretched by responsibilities outside work.

To overcome this, “management has to agree that selling is the sales person’s primary job” and clarify it to the team, he recommends.

According to Riemersma, your sales team needs to focus on no more than three goals:

  • Protect and grow deal size
  • Shorten sales cycle time
  • Increase close rates.

When Weinberg convinced the Texan CEO and general manager to let their sales team do what it was hired to do, the sales team exceeded the aggressive growth goal it was given.

The only conversion metrics you should care about

“Organizations don’t have metrics at all, or they’re measuring too many metrics,” Riemersma observes. His client (mentioned above) initially measured his team based on 12 metrics. The salespeople had no idea what to focus on first and morale was low.

Only four metrics really matter:

  • What percentage of leads are added to the pipeline?
  • What percentage of leads in the pipeline become real opportunities?
  • What percentage of these opportunities turn into closed deals?
  • How long does it take your team to move from one stage to another?

Focus on gradually improving each of these metrics and get proactive about driving results.

Focus on results

Weinberg tells his clients to focus on a three-step “sales management accountability progression,” as he calls it:

  • Step 1: Look at your salesperson’s results. If the results are great, encourage the salesperson to keep doing what he’s doing.
  • Step 2: If you’re not happy with the results, explore that salesperson’s pipeline and opportunities. If their pipeline is healthy, the salesperson has “a million opportunities and it looks like business is coming, I don’t have to talk about activities,” explains Weinberg.
  • Step 3: If the pipeline is weak, it’s time to review their activities. Riemersma recommends reviewing the quality of prospects that salespeople are reaching out to and how they’re communicating value.

If 80% of your salesperson’s calls are to those unlikely to buy, or if the salesperson is not communicating your product’s value the best way possible, it’s time for a change.

Analyze unhealthy pipeline activities to develop realistic sales expectations

You need to quantify sales activities, especially if your pipeline is weak.

“If you want to set realistic expectations, you need to base them on how much you need to sell,” Weinberg explains. “If we need to sell X amount, we need to do some multiple of X of proposals and quotes, because we only win a certain percentage.”

To successfully reverse-engineer realistic metrics, you need to know what percentage of your revenue comes from each salesperson, how long is the average sales cycle per salesperson and why some salespeople on your team do better than others.

For example, are they newer to the profession or your company? Did they work on a different prospecting channel or on more challenging-to-close leads? Were they given too many non-sales responsibilities?

Set your sales team to realistic success

For Riemersma’s client, dropping most of their 12 metrics did the trick. The only goals that mattered were to protect and grow deal size, shorten sales cycle time and increase close rates.

A clear focus on sales led to setting realistic expectations and metrics, which drove growth in one year: Average selling price increased from $32,000 to $36,000, the average sales cycle time decreased from 94 days to 78 and close rate increased from 4.6% to 6.2%.

Analyze your team’s results and sales activities, get clear about the most important metrics and start prioritizing sales in your company. Then, set up a call to clearly communicate your action plan to your team, including your specific expectations from each salesperson and explain how you’re going to help them succeed.

Creating a professional selling environment

Selling from home can be difficult if there are too many distractions around you. To avoid distractions, set up a professional selling environment to boost productivity and encourage your team to do the same.

Here are three things you can do to create a productive sales environment:

1. Set up a home office

Having a dedicated work area in your home can help you stay focused and motivated.

Here are some tips to make your home office a productive space:

  • Remove clutter from your work desk
  • Invest in an ergonomic chair
  • Make sure there's proper lighting in the room
  • Keep stationery items, such as a pen and notepad, readily available on your desk

A clean, comfortable space can help keep you away from distractions and improve productivity.

This study showed that people with a neat environment were 1.5 times more persistent in their tasks than people with cluttered and messy surroundings.

2. Invest in the right technology

Don’t hesitate to invest in a high-speed internet connection, a powerful computer with a fast processor and other systems and tools necessary for your work. Invest in resources for your salespeople, budget depending, to help them produce their best work from home.

It's a smart move for your reps to invest in high-quality webcams and noise-cancellation headphones for virtual meetings. Again, if your company has the budget, these are fantastic ways to reinvest in your team and provide them with the best possible at-home work equipment. 

If that’s not possible, you can make recommendations as long as you clearly state that it is not required for reps to spend their own money on high-tech gear. 

You can also leverage tools and apps to help your team stay organized while working from home. Pipedrive’s activity calendar, for example, is a good way to stay on top of daily commitments and to-dos.

The tool lets you sync your activities with Google, Outlook and other calendars, and also set up reminders so you never miss out on important deadlines.

3. Create a professional backdrop

Encourage your team to make sure their visible surroundings look professional.

This piece of advice is critical for your team to follow in order to establish a professional atmosphere company-wide. Imagine a sales rep trying to sell someone business software while a dirty laundry pile is clearly visible on the screen. That would seriously diminish what your rep was trying to communicate and may result in them being taken less seriously.

Ideally, your reps should set up their workspaces in front of a plain wall. Or, they can decorate it with some nice visuals, like pictures or paintings, to make it look more attractive.

If using Zoom for work meetings, reps can also use virtual backgrounds to create a professional environment. These work best if you have a green screen installed behind you.

Here are some professional Zoom backgrounds you can use.

Conference room

bookshelf zoom background

Source: Hygge & West, https://stylecaster.com/zoom-backgrounds-home-interior/

Minimalist lobby

Managing clients and accounts 

Client and account management is a key post-deal close activity. This part of the sales process ensures a healthy, lasting client relationship that can ultimately increase your business’s profitability.

In remote selling, your reps don’t have the advantage of meeting with clients face-to-face. This means they need to go the extra mile when it comes to communication in order to build trust and keep clients happy.

Here are some best practices to help salespeople effectively manage clients and accounts.

1. Set up processes and stick to them

Client communication should never be excessive and unwarranted. The last thing your reps should do is reach out to prospects on multiple channels without a set process in place.

This can cause clients to stop taking their calls and messages seriously, so when there’s actually an urgent need to communicate, they might not be available.

What you should do instead is set standards for your reps on how to effectively communicate with their clients from the get-go. Whether that involves weekly updates or communication based on predefined service level agreements (SLAs), make sure your reps stick to the processes and channels that you have laid out for them. 

2. Organize your communication

Managing clients, accounts and a sales team remotely means you need to engage in a lot of online conversations—written or otherwise.

Keep all your internal and external communication organized by using a single tool or dashboard, such as your CRM. The advantage of managing all your communication from one place is that you don’t need to juggle multiple tools that could slow down your overall productivity.

CRMs help you manage overwhelming amounts of communication from both your sales team and your own remotely distributed clientele. As all of your communication is stored and organized in one central location, you can more easily stay on top of your to-dos, follow-ups, next steps, team performance and much more.

3. Put together engaging reports

Reporting is an essential part of team communication as it helps you to more easily convey progress and results in easy-to-understand visualizations. This way, you can keep your team in the loop with all of your team-wide activities, updates, achievements and areas that need work.

Instead of compiling multiple pages of reports full of numbers and walls of text, put together engaging, visual reports with charts and graphs and attention-grabbing graphic elements instead.

For example, you can use a tool like Visme to create sales and project reports for your team using professionally designed templates and a drag-and-drop editor.

Remote selling technology

If you’re shifting from in-person selling to a remote selling environment, make the transition as smooth as possible by leveraging the right tools and technology.

There are hundreds of sales applications to help you and your reps effectively manage remote selling to streamline operations and increase revenue. Here are some of our top picks.

1. Pipedrive: All-in-one CRM for sales management

Pipedrive is a powerful CRM tool designed for salespeople by salespeople. It helps you manage your sales accounts and streamline internal and external communication.

Dive deeper into your sales analytics, automate administrative tasks and even access an AI-powered sales assistant that helps you boost performance with personalized tips.

2. Slack: Communication and collaboration tool

Slack is one of the most popular tools for business communication and collaboration. It’s ideal for both small and large teams and is packed with features that facilitate asynchronous communication.

Some standout features of Slack include the ability to create channels, group chats and threads, along with file-sharing, integrations and other cool features.

3. Zoom: Video calling tool for virtual meetings

Zoom is a simple yet powerful video conferencing tool that lets you run meetings, hold webinars, and share files with colleagues and clients. This is a go-to app for many remote teams all over the world and can support up to 1,000 video participants & 10,000 viewers at a time.

4. Loom: Video recording and sharing tool

Loom is a handy tool for recording and sharing video messages. It lets you create videos using your camera or sharing your screen, or both at one time. Tweak audio settings, name your video message and share the URL. It even comes with a Google Chrome extension.

Take advantage of remote selling for your business

In this day and age, your business should be well-prepared to make the most of remote selling. Thousands of organizations hire sales talent from all over the world and manage their entire teams remotely—there’s no reason you shouldn't be taking advantage of it.

The key to ensuring a smooth transition to remote selling is to invest in effective communication, sales automation tools and setting up an environment for your sales team that supports working from home.

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