Nearly a year in and we’re still not ready to call it a new normal just yet.
With the shift to work from home, remote selling has become a cornerstone of successful sales strategies in 2020. And with a new year just around the corner, many sales leaders are wondering how to navigate the uncertainty of 2021.
Life is still very much in flux, so we decided to ask the sales community how they’re doing: what’s working, what’s not, and how WFH frontline reps and sales leaders are adjusting to moving into 2021.
Here’s a look at what they had to say.
What we asked the Sales Hacker community
This post reflects the responses of 11 Sales Hacker community members. Consider this more of a roundup of sales pros’ perspectives instead of deep research into remote sales strategies.
- How confident do you feel in your ability to navigate a fully remote sales process in 2021?
- How have you stayed at the top of your sales game the past nine months? Remote sales requires innovation and thinking outside the box. Here’s how the best of the best are doing just that.
- What’s one struggle you’ve faced in selling remotely? Adjusting to fully remote sales doesn’t come without challenges. Here are the most common issues sales reps are facing.
- What’s one tip for staying motivated and productive as a sales rep working from home? Even after 2021, many companies are staying fully remote. This advice will help you stay motivated while you’re away from the office.
- What’s one piece of advice for sales leaders now managing fully remote teams? Leading a remote sales team comes with its own challenges – here’s how leaders are handling the stress.
- Are you planning on adjusting your sales process for 2021? If so, how? Sales will never look the same after 2020, and here’s what reps are planning to do about it.
Where do issues typically arise with remote selling?
Back in March 2020, working remotely sounded like a breeze. But as two weeks away from the office has turned into months, people are feeling the pressure. While remote work has been reported to make employees feel more productive and improve their work life balance, other employees struggle with the need to always feel “on”.
Here’s a look at what remote employees say they struggle with most while working remotely:
- 22% of employees say their biggest issue is unplugging after work
- 19% of remote employees report feeling lonely or isolated from their peers
- 17% of remote employees say communication issues is their biggest challenge
When it came to our survey respondents, their answers were the same as most remote employees. Here’s a look at what sales reps are struggling with when selling remotely.
Lack of in-person communication and meetings
The majority of our survey respondents agreed that their number one challenge with remote selling is the lack of in-person communication. There’s a lot that goes into the psychology of sales and convincing prospects to buy. Sales professionals agree that it’s easier to build a rapport with prospects in person rather than over a video call.
Rishi Nair, Global Partners and Client Solutions Lead at Zensors, agrees that while technology can stand in for many sales strategies, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.
“The only struggle is the lack of personal touch compared to a face-to-face meeting. You just don’t always know what’s going on in the mind of the person at the other end. You don’t get to see the body language. These things, I guess, will never be replaced with any technology.”
Ashish Mathurr, Manager of Business Development at GMO Research Inc., agrees that in-person conversations open up the door for small talk and getting to know your prospect better on an individual level.
“There’s no opportunity to observe the body language of prospects or clients on Zoom calls as people rarely go for video calls. Also, there’s no chance to chit chat in a non-formal environment over a cup of coffee or beer which helps for better understanding your prospect.”
With fewer chances to interact with prospects in person, many sales teams are turning to social selling. Social selling is the art of prospecting and communicating with leads on social media platforms like LinkedIn. This strategy allows reps to build relationships with prospects in a less formal environment. While it’s not the same as grabbing drinks after a conference, social selling can work as a way to gradually nurture new leads.
DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE: The Essential Guide to Social (Distance) Selling on LinkedIn
Prospects are distracted and overwhelmed
Sales professionals aren’t the only ones struggling with burnout and distractions. Respondents agree that prospects seem more overwhelmed than ever before. This can cause the sales process to drag on longer than it normally might – and may even delay closing deals.
Another issue many companies are facing are tighter budgets. Companies are being forced to decide which solutions are must-have for their business, and which they can go without. This means salespeople are having to work overtime to prove the value of their product.
“People are distracted and that affects the entire decision-making process,” says Brendan McAdams, Co-Founder at Expertscape, “Not to mention budgets are completely upside down.”
Fewer opportunities for team collaboration
For many sales reps, their frustration stems from being separated from their own teams. Many sales organizations prioritize in-person collaboration and brainstorming. Without the ability to bounce ideas off coworkers in the office, many reps are finding it difficult to innovate and stay motivated.
“I miss the collaborative environment of being in the office on the sales floor,” says Nick Leader, Enterprise Sales at LeanData Inc., “It’s contagious listening to people make cold calls, hop on discovery calls, and chat about deals with coworkers.”
Being away from the office can also stem into other areas, like loneliness. Combating these feelings takes deliberate action and a plan, as Tariq Ahmad, Director of Global Sales at BrowserStack, points out. Tariq says that employee engagement became a huge priority for his team after going fully remote and hiring new employees.
“Given that we onboarded a batch of a hundred fresh graduates, keeping them engaged was our top priority. Sales enablement tools and manager interventions were very important to create a warm and engaged environment for them.”
How salespeople are adjusting and building resiliency
Remote sales can be a challenge, but the best salespeople know how to adapt.
While it might be a tough adjustment to make at first, remote sales opens up a world of opportunity for reps looking to make their mark. We asked survey participants how they’re feeling about navigating a fully remote sales process in 2021 and here’s what they had to say:
- 66% of respondents said they feel very confident in their ability to navigate a fully remote sales process in 2021.
- 30% of respondents said they feel somewhat confident in their ability to navigate a fully remote sales process in 2021.
- 3% of respondents said they feel neutral about their ability to navigate a fully remote sales process in 2021.
Surprisingly, none of our respondents said they feel unprepared for continuing a fully remote sales strategy in the coming year.
It seems that the worst of remote sales might already be behind us. Some traditional sales strategies might have to take a backseat until 2022, but the good news is that sales leaders aren’t waiting for a “new normal” to return. They’re putting in the work to ensure their teams are prepared for whatever may come their way.
“Sales has been impacted across the globe and across sectors. Nevertheless, it has also opened a lot of new doors that were previously shut,” says Rishi Nair, Global Partners and Client Solutions Lead at Zensors. “As companies leave conventional wisdom behind and become open to new ideas, I took the lead in guiding and consulting these customers. While it’s not hard numbers, I feel I’m building a solid pipeline for myself for the good times ahead!”
A common theme we noticed from respondents who say they feel prepared for the future of remote selling is how quickly their teams adapted to a changing sales environment. Joe Latchaw, Lead Development Manager at Intelligence North America, credits their team’s success to their fast adaptation to remote work.
“Pivoting before others was huge. We went to remote meetings right away, and we’ve made the most of our time at home.”
Many sales professionals have adapted to remote selling by reframing their outlook on remote sales. Instead of focusing on all the challenges it can present, sales professionals like Brendan McAdams, Co-Founder at Expertscape, sees this chapter as an opportunity to expand and grow on the skills his team already has.
“First, you have to recognize that we’re in a challenging set of circumstances. But the interesting aspect is that it’s largely a level playing field, and everyone is facing these same challenges. Ultimately, this is just another obstacle, and sales professionals are experts at dealing with obstacles.”
Tips for working remotely in sales
The stress of remote sales isn’t limited to the work reps have to do on a daily basis: it extends into their home lives. Many of us are adjusting to working remotely for the first time, and those adjustments come with their own challenges.
Battling technology issues, sharing a working environment with roommates or spouses, and more can all add extra pressure to your work. Whether you’re a remote work veteran or this is your first sales job out of college, knowing how to maintain a healthy work-life balance is the key to avoiding burnout.
Here are some of our favorite tips for adjusting to the world of working (and selling) remotely:
Create a system that helps you stay organized
Without the structure of things like a morning commute or specified start times, many people are finding it hard to stay focused. The distractions of working remotely can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. Jenna Morin, Business Development at Sendbird, says centering her daily work schedule around the goals she’s working toward helps her stay organized and motivated.
“The keys to my success are organization, prioritization, and commitment. Focusing on daily goals like conversations, pipeline, and opportunity creation goals is my way to stay motivated.”
Other respondents, like Nick Leader, Enterprise Sales at LeanData Inc., prefer using time-blocking techniques to keep them on task.
“Putting blocks on my calendar and sticking to them/holding myself accountable. Some blocks are for call/email sessions, some are for call follow ups, and some are merely for taking breaks or chatting with coworkers. I found that holding myself accountable keeps me focused and motivated.”
Be selfish with your time
Remote work can come with increasing pressure to always be available. Many of our respondents agree that if you’re not careful with how you’re spending your time, the day can slip away from you. Just as you would schedule a time for lunch breaks and team meetings, it’s important to block off time where you can fully avoid distractions.
“Have a routine and set aside eight hours a day to work as you would at the office,” says Rikki Frohmader, Sales Development Representative at WTWH Media LLC. “Consider yourself busy and not to be reached if not for work or an emergency.”
Working from home can also blur the line between our work and personal obligations. In addition to our work as employees, many of us are parents, friends, and spouses to other people. Communicating your expectations and needs to the people around you can help maintain a clear separation between work and play.
Emily Maker, Account Executive at Covered 6 Academy, says she’s found success in creating and sticking to morning and evening routine.
“Honor your transition rituals. Commit to starting and ending work mode and be intentional about them.”
Take scheduled breaks from staring at your screen
Nearly a year into the big remote work shift and the numbers show that productivity has not been impacted by the move to remote work. But as we’ve mentioned already, that trade-off comes with higher levels of burnout in the workplace. Employees are finding it increasingly difficult to separate their work and personal life.
Brendan McAdams, Co-Founder at Expertscape, stressed the importance of not only taking breaks, but seeking out social interactions.
“You have to take breaks. We’re now able to stay in front of the phone and computer ALL day. Get away. Reach out to friends, colleagues and shoot the breeze. Your networks are more important than ever.”
Advice for sales leaders in the remote reality
Leading a revenue organization is hard enough without the added stress of managing a fully remote team. Sales leaders were tossed head first into new management challenges in 2020, and many had to figure it out as they went.
The challenges of being a remote leader extend far beyond choosing the right technology for your team and keeping pace toward revenue goals. There’s more need than ever for soft skills like communication, creative problem solving, and keeping your team motivated.
So how are sales leaders adapting to the challenge? Here are some of our favorite tips for handling managing a remote sales team.
Tailor your leadership to fit your teams needs
Your employees are going to have different needs, roadblocks, and strengths in the remote environment compared to the office. Even if you’ve worked with your direct reports for years, it’s important to maintain open communication with them. As our work environments change, so do our needs.
“Every rep is different and will react to different management styles. Some may be happy with weekly management of my cadences while some may want two times a week or more,” says Jay Govani, Co-Founder of Money Mantra Media LLC, “Being more flexible in remote times will help your team feel connected to you as their leader. It’s as simple as being there for your people.”
These adjustments shouldn’t just be made to how you interact with prospects, but also how you measure your sales team’s success. Tom Morgan, Sales Leader at Breakthrough Sales Solutions LLC, suggests adjusting your expectations for the speed at which deals are closed.
“Treat each week like you used to treat a month, and every month like you used to treat a quarter. You have to be able to adjust and move the team to where the opportunities are and where the customers are at emotionally.”
Create an environment where people feel connected
Most of our survey respondents agreed that missing their coworkers and the camaraderie of the office was a huge struggle for them this year. As a sales leader, it’s your responsibility to provide opportunities for your team to connect and bond on a personal level. Keeping your team culture alive with weekly check-ins can go a long way.
“We’ve focused on embracing the things others may think are weird,” says Emily Maker, Account Executive at Covered 6 Academy. “We have Zoom lunches once a week and daily huddles with our team. Leadership is literally just a phone call away if we need anything.”
Tim Wagner, Director of Global Business Development at EF Education First, agrees that a simple coffee chat with colleagues can keep a team feeling connected and inspired.
“Schedule breaks to brainstorm, debrief, or just drink coffee with colleagues. It’s important to replicate those moments of collegial interaction that happen organically in an office.”
Lead with empathy, patience, and understanding
Your sales funnel is going to look a lot different than it used to. Not only is your team struggling to make the same connections they once did, prospects are under pressure as well. Actively practicing patience and empathy will save you and your team a lot of frustration.
“Remember that a global crisis affects everyone,” says Tim Wagner. “Practice empathy: be gentle and human with prospects and with yourself.”
Tariq Ahmad, Director of Global Sales at BrowserStack, points out that there is a clear difference between managing a team and leading a team.
“Be compassionate towards your team. While we would like them to be productive, they are under a lot of psychological and social pressure. Now more than ever, people will look up to their leader for strength and motivation. It’s time to lead, not manage.”
How has remote selling impacted your sales strategy in 2020? Are you looking for advice on how to integrate remote sales into your plans for next year? Drop your tips and questions to the community discussion below!