For a lot of organizations, the game plan for going remote amounted to, “Next week the office is closed.”
Going forward, we have to take remote seriously if we want to stay competitive. That means thinking of the sales team as remote-at-heart, not remote-by-default. “Remote for now” thinking can lead to missed opportunities in all senses of the word.
Not to mention, remote work is no longer temporary. Big companies like Zillow, Twitter, and Square have announced plans to indefinitely extend work-from-home and many others are sure to follow.
Even companies that are going back to the office will never be the same, as semi-remote and satellite offices become the norm.
So, what’s the big deal?
Running a sales team without face-to-face communication
Remember the sales floor when it existed in physical reality? There was a lot going on.
You’ve heard it before: communication is 93% nonverbal. Most of those nonverbals are now hidden. That means that communication in your team has been slashed to the bare minimum. Just think, coaching, pipeline reviews, training, all running on 7% of its previous bandwidth. Hopefully, you’re at least using video during calls.
If you were waiting for a silver bullet, sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t one. There’s no SaaS plugin for physical presence. What you can do is give some thought to the various things that made the sales organization tick when everyone was in one building and try to rebuild the sales floor virtually.
In this new era, walking the sales floor means:
- Keeping the team in sync digitally
- Remote onboarding and training
- Reimagined sales coaching
- Maintaining culture and motivation remotely
In the end, software is foundational to a digital salesforce. While sales organizations could previously pick and choose what they wanted to use and what they thought they could get by without, there are no remote sales without quality infrastructure.
For that reason, most of these have a software element and a management element.
Communicating your needs
Maybe you’re already convinced that remote sales is a new world, what about your Sales Enablement? They need to be on board with looking at this new situation for what it is. Developing a quality remote training and onboarding program, for example, is going to take support.
Think about the sales software that your organization is invested in. Does it match your needs?
The software tech stack is the infrastructure that enables you and your team to sell at full power. If what you’re using now is the same as it was before your team went remote, you’re probably missing out on an appropriate selling environment.
List the things that are taking up too much of your time, preventing you from getting important work done.
Even if you don’t know what kind of solution would solve your problem, make those pain points known to your sales ps and leadership. Remind them that the software you’re using is making up for key elements of the sales floor that are now missing.
Keeping the team in sync digitally
Keeping the team in sync without spending all day in calls and meetings calls for major improvements to visibility first and foremost. If you’re waiting on pipeline meetings and calls to verify information about deals, remote work is probably proving to be the dark ages.
Right now, it’s important to make sure that sales software is doing its part to provide as much information as possible automatically, to save time on the back-and-forth with reps and to save reps time to sell.
Always asking if your reps have taken suggested actions? You need a tool that can give you feedback on sales activities, or a dashboard where you can see what’s happening with each deal.
Always asking about the actual status of deals? Your sales soft should be giving you visibility of deal health, likelihood of closing, and recent activity.
The list goes on.
Next, make sure that the calls and meetings you do have are up to par.
Try to stick to an agenda and keep things brief, while still leaving time for questions and comments. Don’t forget about the “could have been an email” rule. If you find yourself covering non-essentials, save that time for selling and send an email.
A simple audit should suffice. Take notes during a few team meetings and calls with reps and make a list of the things that always come up, how often things veer off-topic, and what you run out of time for. You can even get an experienced rep onboard to let you know how things are looking from the other side.
Onboarding and training remotely
Your organization has probably always done onboarding and training in person. Until now.
Even if you had an effective training program before, it might not have translated well to a remote-only environment. Rules for valuable training remain the same, so what’s different in remote training?
It’s harder to see where exactly reps need support, training defaults to an individual pursuit, and it’s easier than ever to make low-grade, one-sided training content.
Finding out what reps need to work on most is going to call for software that can track specific performance metrics. You want to be able to track how reps are performing in the most important three to five skills, without you actually spending a lot of time observing them.
You need analytics for these metrics for two reasons. First, they’ll help you prioritize which training your team needs. Secondly, they’ll help you understand where individual reps need help, which will come in handy with coaching, which we’ll discuss next. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to see the ROI for training first hand and quickly understand which programs are effective and which are failing.
The easiest thing you could do when forced to produce a remote training or onboarding program post-haste is slap together a series of texts, videos, and presentations and toss them at your newcomers or reps. Given the circumstances, no one could be blamed for starting with this approach.
As you pivot into full-power remote selling, though, leaving that one-sided approach behind should be a top priority. Sales training needs a strong social element, reps need to buy in that the training is going to drive wins for them, and they need to practice the skills and get feedback. Just because people are physically separate doesn’t mean you can’t have live, interactive training sessions.
Training as a continuous process
The number one thing to remember? Training is a process, not an event.
Gartner’s latest Sales Enablement Framework points out that the best sales enablement teams are treating training as a continuous, always-on process, not a series of events. Shorter, more focused training sessions with preparatory elements before and micro-learning elements in the following 30 days provide much higher retention (and therefore performance) than boot camps and SKOs.
If your training looks like multi-day blocks cut out from the year, you’re wasting time and money, the majority of that training is getting forgotten.
Slicing training up into bite-sized pieces will save time and effort as well. Plan some preparatory work that reps can work through on their own to get ready for a short group training session, then follow-up with reminders in the next 30 days to boost retention and adoption.
Obviously most of this work should be on Sales Enablement, not managers, but it’s a group effort.
Sales coaching is a different game when you can’t just sit down next to someone and make a few calls together.
Fortunately, if you developed those metrics in the last step, you’ll have no trouble “coaching the gaps”. You shouldn’t be spending time in one-on-ones discovering your reps’ trouble areas. Bring your training plan together with your coaching: use metrics to guide what you train, then with the time you can spend with each rep, coach on the places that they’re still weak after training.
So how can you maximize minimal coaching time? Call and meeting recording will come in handy.
Review a few recordings with a rep to discuss specific examples of where they’re having trouble, then watch some examples of better execution from another team member to see how things could be better. Ask the rep to practice afterwards and record themselves doing a few run-throughs of the scenario.
Maintaining culture and motivation remotely
Supporting team dynamics in the new environment calls for a whole new approach. Consider the impact of remote work on some of the factors that make up your team culture:
- Accountability: How do you keep team members at top productivity when they’re on their own?
- Team spirit: How do you keep morale and motivation high when new team members have never even shared a win in person?
- Trust: How can you build a relationship with someone you can’t even see?
Understanding how to build your team culture remotely takes time. And that doesn’t just mean that you should give it thought in the long run, it means you have to actually build in time for team members to interact.
Build in time for reps to talk with cameras on. Focus this time on celebrating wins and discussing tactics that made it happen. Mark Roberge often promotes regular “film reviews” with the sales team to boost performance. This is still possible in a remote setting, and it does more than just make good execution visible, it builds team spirit and a culture of sharing.
Generally speaking, top-performing teams stay on top because they have a strong culture of sharing inside the team. They self-improve over time.
Even if you start with a team of A-players, if they never share their discoveries, you’re going to have a hard time making progress, and you won’t stay on top for long as valuable reps move on to more engaging environments.
Don’t look at team culture as a nice-to-have, make a plan, and devote resources (time) to it, even if it’s a small investment. You might not see the rewards this or next FQ, but 3 or 4 quarters down the line, you’ll be in a much better position than you would otherwise.
A remote future is already here
If your organization hasn’t comprehensively addressed the switch to remote selling, first of all, not surprising! It’s been a hectic year, and a lot of sales organizations are just doing what they can to keep their head above water.
That being said, it’s a new year, it’s a great time to reevaluate where things are now and where they really need to be to make sure we’re driving toward a realistic future.
The biggest takeaways here?
- Your tech stack is your friend. Rely on it.
- You’ll need to push for change to get it, let Sales Enablement, Sales Ops, and leadership know about your needs and get involved with them to push forward with a digital-first strategy. It’s a new world, treat it as such.
Remote sales is here to stay, don’t underestimate the changes!