By Eliot Burdett
The advent of new technology and changing philosophies on work-life balance have created an increasingly mobile work force. Last year, the Global Leadership Summit predicted that more than half of all employees will work remotely by 2020.
This will have a profound impact across all industries but perhaps even more so in sales. Salespeople thrive on energy and engaging with others, and they need to be motivated on a daily basis.
Companies that are used to having a centralized sales force have a whole new set of opportunities and challenges when managing a remote team. The ability of sales leaders to solve these will be the difference between a cohesive team that consistently makes their numbers, and one that is isolated, disjointed and hurting the company’s profit margins.
Here are five tips to make a remote sales rep connected and successful:
- Communicate often and on a personal level: Research from the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management explains that workplace isolation negatively effects trust in supervisors and coworkers. Making your reps deal with rejection on an island is a recipe for disaster. This can be overcome with frequent and informal check-ins. Rely on teleconferences or even text messaging to communicate with your team. The constant communication will help lessen feelings of isolation. In addition, we recommend connecting with your reps on an individual level. By asking about their favorite sports team or their child’s graduation, you will make them feel a strong connection to you, your company and their mission. It is just as critical to set up peer-to-peer teleconferences. Sometimes, a ‘players-only’ meeting is just what the doctor ordered.
- Budget for social engagements: A sales rep who feels isolated is doomed to fail. Harvard Business Review reported that successful managers of remote sales teams organize face-to-face forums, conferences, workshops and get-togethers. These are planned well in advance and, in addition to building cohesion at work, give employees a chance to interact socially, which is critical to building rapport. A good option could be to choose a sales conference to attend together. Plan this into your budget and the investment will pay off in both the short and long term.
- Make your availability crystal clear: Make it clear to your team via a shared calendar or team project management board when you are available. This sets clear guidelines for how and when you will respond to phone calls, e-mails or texts. Having reps who feel like they can reach out to you in any given circumstance is crucial for leading a top-producing team. This is especially necessary when managing across different time zones. If you are home with your family but it is still office hours on the West Coast or overseas, let your reps know how to reach you with emergencies.
- Use your reps’ autonomy to develop trust: The lack of face-to-face communications can hinder employee engagement. A study conducted by the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management found that employee engagement is shown to be positively correlated to salesperson job performance. To that point, Forum’s recent Global Leadership Pulse survey revealed that trust has a direct impact on the engagement levels of remote teams. Great sales managers, if handled properly, can use the autonomy of their reps to build trust. By giving reps the chance to take on additional responsibilities in certain situations, they will feel empowered, engaged and connected – despite the distance.
- Don’t just hire any sales superstar: A common mistake in sales hiring is not hiring based on a certain situation. The assumption is that if someone was good in another selling environment, they will thrive in yours. That is a mistake. Find someone with the right sales DNA who has proven success working remotely. The bottom line is that the evolution of technology has created an opportunity for businesses to profit from cultivating a remote workforce. However, it is incumbent on managers to recognize that the same old managerial rules don’t apply. Tactics such as developing trust, tweaking your communication approach and scheduling social events can ensure long-lasting relationships that will be profitable for your organization.
Eliot Burdett is an author, sales recruiting expert and the Co-Founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a B2B sales recruiting company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in the March 2017 issue of Cape & Plymouth Business.