Being the leader of a sales team can come with its set of peculiar challenges. But when the personnel you are supposed to manage are in a different location from yourself, the challenges increase. You will find out that not only will you have to manage their performance, and strategy, you will also have to manage time zone differences and communication logistics, all the while trying to keep your team motivated, engaged and hitting their numbers.

Most a times, the best sales team are not found in the confines of an office cubicle, and if your sales team works remotely, they have probably forgotten what cubicles look like. If you have sales people that travel more for work than they stay put, then you have a remote sales team. Fortunately, in this day and age of technological advancement, remote work has been made more accessible.

A research that was carried out by Stanford University found out that employees who work remotely are about 13 percent more successful than their counterparts who do not work remotely. However, this increased flexibility in the location of a work place is not without its unique problems. 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.

Tips that can help you manage a sales team remotely 

  1. Make communication a priority

The hallmark of a good remote sales team is communication. When you prioritize communication and communicate effectively with your team, it will go a long way to strengthen every other area of your team due to the fact that they are closer and better informed. Different sales teams will need to find the right communication channel that best suit their needs. Most times, a combination of these communication channels works best;

  • Email are best for quick interactions. You can also replace most email communication with other tools such as project management tools or chat programs.
  • Chat programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts are great for quick instant messages where you need real-time interaction.
  • Video chat: some issues are best handled over the phone while some are best discussed on a face to face basis. But when you can’t meet with a member of your sales team in person, a video chat is the next best thing. Video chat is even better as it gives you more visual cues of what is going on with the other person. Adding videos to the mix can make a virtual office and workforce seem more tangible and “real”.
  • VoIP: Virtual phone systems centered on cloud technology that allow for quick and easy calling, messaging, and task management. They also come equipped with dozens of call functions to make the calling experience as smooth as possible.
  • Project management tools: These keep your communication a lot more organized so that you are able to reference it and refer to it later on. Or perhaps when people join the company they can see the previous discussion points.

2. Set clear expectations

When setting expectations, it is best to encourage your sales team to meet higher performance levels. A recent Gallup poll of German workers found out that when priorities are clearly define for their employees, about 38% of workers feel engaged and will strive to increase their work performance. Establishment of clear expectation for your remote sales team will also go a long way to provide them with a set standard to maintain.

The benchmark should include sales objectives, specific online procedures when working on leads, and tips for managing time more efficiently. Setting expectations can mean that managers must be willing to make a Skype call with their remote sales team to discuss expectations. Also, provide a detailed report to each employee about their specific tasks and the desired performance goals.

Just like in-person communication, 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 a deal, and what to do if they experience any problems. Don’t just allow your sales team to just roam around the cyber space. Remote work requires expectations, too.

3. Invest in resources everyone can use

Most businesses already have one form or the other of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) procedure for their employees. Most companies work in the cloud. Storage providers, like Google or Box, allow your employees to log in securely and view any data. With this feature, the need to have remote workers on a virtual private network (VPN) has reduced, but they can still be set up for additional access, security and control.

With the aid of a cloud-based storage system, workers can easily get access to company information from their personal computer, smartphone or other internet enabled device all on the go. Sometimes, they’ll access documents (with or without permission) on a prospect’s computer using cloud storage systems. Cloud based sales software’s also allows sales team members to easily update their prospect records from any internet enabled device.

With the software, team members can be sure that they will always have the information they need, when the need it, thus ensuring that everyone has up to date information. However, even with these advantages it is surprising that some companies seem to forget to optimize work templates and documents for employees. This can hinder employee productivity as each device displays information differently.

Creating a BYOD policy also requires that you consider tools, documents and other resources carefully to ensure all members of your team receive proper access. If you want to make a remote sales team work, then you will need to invest in tools that match their work environment.

4. Build trusting relationships

Building a trusting relationship starts with hiring people who you trust. In the year 2013, a Harvard Business Review report showed that people will be most unlikely to avoid helping others when they lack trust in their teammates or managers. It makes no sense to make an effort when it is obvious that your action will not be rewarded. This challenge can tend to escalate in sales teams, which often structure goals around individual accomplishments.

Also, when you teams work remotely, it will take you extra effort to build a trusting relationship with members of the team. This is because you don’t see each other in the office every day. In order to build an ambiance of trust, you will have to foster communication. Even though this is important for all work places, it is even needed more in remote sales team.

It is best for team managers to plan their working schedules in such a way that it will overlap a majority of their team members. By doing this, you can easily respond to issues and questions as soon as they arise. When you are in tune with the needs of your sales team, even without being physically there for them, you will be able to build trust with them.

5. Encourage social interaction

As a team manager, you should promote positive interaction among your team members. You can do this by having weekly meetings to open the line of communication. This can also help your team members to draw from the knowledge of one another and learn from each other. For instance, a sales representative can share his technique for converting reluctant buyers.

Or a sales person can share his success story of how he managed to close multiple deals on a single day. Hearing the voices (or seeing the faces) of your co-workers brings life to the remote job setting. Always keep in mind that the meetings do not focus on work all the time. Remote sales team need lighter moments. So do well to stimulate this atmosphere based on everyday discussions like the latest viral meme, a sporting event or the happenings in your city.

Building a sense of solidarity among your sales team can go a long way to help pacify the loneliness that can creep in on team members who are working alone. Give your team the space to learn about each other outside of day-to-day operations. It will make meetings more productive and build healthy team relationships.

6. Lead and Inspire your sales team

In addition to managing a sales team, a manager will also have to lead and inspire them as well. If your sales force are with you in the same office, this task will be a lot easier because you can easily walk up them in the hallway and start to have hallway conversations and share with them what’s going on in the company, get their input, and understand their concerns.

However, the task of leading and inspiring is a lot more important if your team works remotely. It is best to make use of video calls where you can talk to them face to face and also see their facial expressions. You can use that opportunity to share and update them on what’s going on in the company, your products, and what’s going on in the industry.

Ask them for their input, get their thoughts to know what’s going on in their mind, and try to understand if there are any underlying concerns. Great leaders make a personal connection, and a video call is a better way to do that. Do not let emails and texts take away all the personal interaction that is needed to make the art of sales and sales management work out.

7. Be wary of Chat and Email overload

This can be a tough obstacle to surmount because on the one hand, you need to make sure that members of your team are communicating enough, but on the other hand, it can get distracting and overwhelming. This means that you will have to find a balance. Make sure that team members are not subscribed to too many channels and instead are only receiving the messages that they need to see.

8. Build a performance-driven culture

If your sales team is in an office, it’s easy to feed off the energy of others around you. You can hear the phones ringing, see the leaderboard updates and thrive in an environment of healthy competition. However, if your team members are working remotely, they may not have this luxury, but you can still establish a performance-driven culture.

Try out sales performance software to help. Choose a vendor with a mobile component, and you’ll keep everyone aware of their own performance and collaborating as a team around it.

9. Encourage healthy team habits

Closing deals and hitting sales quotas is not an easy work. You can encourage healthy team habits, like flexible vacation policies and regular team events, which will go a long way toward keeping your salespeople motivated and away from burnout. Here are a few ideas that can be used as healthy team habits:

  • Periodic (Quarterly/previous quarter) celebratory meeting: you should get your team together periodically to celebrate success and create enthusiasm around an upcoming or past quarter so as to add excitement and allow for personal connections and trust to develop. You can make use of the office or any other location.
  • Open vacation policy: Rather than micromanaging or risking burnout, let your team manage their own schedules, taking time off as they need it.

10. Promote Health

Working on the field as a member of a sales team can often mean very long days and difficult schedules, especially when you travel. To this effect, you should encourage your team members to unwind, exercise, eat the right food and to try their best to imbibe a healthy lifestyle.

11. Have a chat room open constantly

In a conventional office, when you encounter any difficulty, you can easily walk up to any of your colleagues to seek a solution. But when members of a team are working remotely, this becomes incredibly difficult. It is up to the sales team manager to try to bridge this gap. One of the ways of doing this is by way of a chat room.

Team members leave messages for the team that they are a part of. It’s essential to keep these chats alive but not distracting. There’s enough conversation to be able to discuss important issues and to feel like we’re connected as one team, but not so much that it becomes distracting.

The three most common options for chat software are: Slack, Skype and HipChat. All of these are great options and worth considering, Skype is possibly better if you want a free option, but it lacks some of the benefits of Slack in terms of integrations and getting your company organized.

12. Use screen sharing tools

There are some tools that allow you to share your screen to other people. With some of these tools, you can even remotely control the computer screen of another person (with their permission of course). Some of these tools are even free to use. Examples include TeamViewer and Join.me. Skype, Slack and Google Hangouts are also equipped with screen sharing capability however, they do not have the remote computer control option.

13. Video conferencing technologies

Face to face conference interaction with your team is really needed in every sales team that operates remotely. Imagine a scenario where as a manager you walk into your normal office with a paper bag over your head and you don’t chat with anyone or show your face.

That’s kind of how it’s like if you never chat on video. To connect as a team, video chat is essential. There are lot and lots of technology to choose from when it comes to video conferencing. Options include Google hangouts, Slack, Skype and Zoom.

14. Set up a meeting rhythm

A meeting rhythm refers to having regular meeting within each team and an “all hands” meeting for the entire company. The number of times it should be held depends on the person and the type of job involved. Here are some ideas;

  • A daily meeting within each team (quick, less than 10 minutes just to say hi and feel like you are connecting and to make sure there is nothing blocking each person from achieving their goals).
  • A weekly meeting within a team or a weekly one-on-one meeting between a team leader and each person on their team. This weekly meeting is a way to sort out issues and minimize the back and forth email that takes place during the week and handle it all in one meeting.
  • A weekly all-hands meeting for the entire company. This should be short, usually 10 minutes to feel like you are all part of the same team and to get on the same page.

15. Implement systems

Without a laid down system, a business can fall apart. A sales team that carry out their operations from an office can compensate to some degree for not having systems and processes simply because of the fact that people can talk in person and look over each other’s shoulders.

If your sale team are working remotely, each person can tend to be in their own world. To this end, they can create their own processes and procedures that may not be in line with the way other team members are doing theirs. It’s best to have a documented, standardized way of working that you’re constantly refining.

16. Track work output

Regardless of if your team is virtual or not, you need to be able to measure their productivity. As a sales manager, you should know the key indicators of success that you will need to look out for. Get transparency around this so that you will know quickly (in a couple of weeks and not in 6 months) whether each team member is being productive or not. Tools like SalesHandy are useful for this especially if you want a streamlined communication and analytics for a remote sales team.

17. Track hours worked, attendance and other basic measures of productivity

If you are paying your workers on an hourly basis, then it only make sense that you should have parameters in place that will help you to track the number of hours that each person has worked. In a physical office, it is very easy to tell who comes early and who does not even without an attendance.

If your team is working remotely on the other hand, it can be quite difficult to understand exactly what is going on, how long each person worked, and what they are working on. Granted, there are some people who are self-motivated enough that they do not need any tracking of attendance or hours. However, a large majority will need some level of discipline when working remotely.

18. Organize a system of overlapping times for communicating in different time zones

Time zones can be a clog in the wheel of effective communication. If the members of a sales team are in different time zones, then make sure that you have an overlapping period where everyone is working and organize your virtual meetings during these times.

But still, this may not be enough. Depending on the type of sales you are into, you may have to be restricted to hire people in the same time zone as you or where the time is only 3 hours apart. Especially from within one team. Most teams need to be constantly collaborating to be effective and a large time zone difference between team members will kill the collaboration.

19. Look for people who are the right fit for working remotely

The truth still remains that working remotely is not for everyone one. Some can adapt to working like this easily while other cannot due to lack of discipline or other factors. Both distractions and isolation can be issues and it’s important to make sure that your team is happy & productive working remotely so that they can be at their best. Most good salespeople quickly adopt allegiance to their company.

They sell because they believe in their company and product. But to be an effective remote salesperson, he or she needs to be a self-starter, highly motivated, and laser focused. In addition to their persuasive selling abilities, they must also be organized and disciplined. When hiring a remote salesperson, first check and see if they have these inherent characteristics.

  1. Meet in person

Developing true friendship remotely may not be the easiest task to achieve. You should endeavor to meet in person with your sales team at least 4 times per year or as often as possible so as to create and foster a stronger bond within the company.

2. Fostering Accountability

One of the things most successful remote teams do is to set up an accountability routine. Once a week, all team members should post an update on what leads they would be following up next week and what targets they have already met. This will help to keep members of your team abreast with project target as well as keep everyone accountable to everyone else. This will also go a long way to ensure that team members reach their targets on time.

3. Manage Sales Activities

Most sales managers just give their sales personnel a target and ask them to deliver. A good sales manager knows that there is more to be done. They know that they have to keep track of the activities of their sales personnel. This is a lot more necessary in a remote sales team where you can’t see what your sales people are working on.

You will not have the opportunity to coach your people as regularly or effectively as in a physical office. So it’s vital to use the right technology that makes it easier for you to manage your team.

4. Managing Time Usage

Time usage and management is very important in every working environment (virtual or otherwise). Time is a limited resource and as such it is vital that your salespeople judiciously allocate and spend their time on the right opportunities. It makes no sense to spend a lot of man-hours on a lead that that is too small or has very little probability of conversion.

You can make use of time-tracking tool like Time Doctor to keep track of which projects and opportunities your salespeople are working on. Furthermore, a time tracker can help your team members to maintain “consistent” work hours.

20. Learn how to read between the lines

Great remote sales managers know that they need to be highly perceptive and attuned to the emotional cues they receive from your remote reps. This means that you need to learn how to spot potential or existing problems from a distance. You may need to rely on effective questioning techniques, such as:

  • Open ended questions (require elaboration and cannot be answered yes or no)
  • Funnel questions (begin general and ask for specific detail with each answer)
  • Probing questions (asking for examples, asking why, asking for clarification)

In addition, you will also need to rely on active listening skills, and look for any change in pitch, tone, or pace of exchange in your conversations to identify possible issues.

Ajaero Tony Martins