Together, new technologies and changing philosophies on work/life balance have created an increasingly mobile workforce. In a survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in 2014, more than a third of respondents said half their full-time employees would be working remotely by 2020. A quarter of respondents said more than 75 percent of their employees would not be working in traditional offices by 2020.
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A massive shift like this will have a profound impact across all industries and fields, but perhaps the effects will be even more pronounced in sales. Salespeople thrive on the energy of engaging with others, and they need to be motivated on a daily basis.
Companies that are used to maintaining centralized sales forces will face a whole new set of opportunities and challenges when managing remote teams. The ability of sales leaders to seize these opportunities and address these challenges will be the difference between a cohesive sales force that consistently makes its numbers and one that is isolated, disjointed, and hurting the company's profit margins.
At Peak Sales Recruiting, we have increasingly been working with world-class companies to develop remote sales teams. Here are five things we have learned about what it takes to make sure your remote sales reps are connected and successful:
1. Communicate Often and on a Personal Level
Research from the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management explains that workplace isolation negatively effects trust in supervisors and coworkers. Making your reps deal with rejection all by themselves with no support is a recipe for disaster.
Isolation can be overcome through frequent and informal check-ins. Rely on teleconferences and text messaging to communicate with your team. The constant communication will help sales reps feel more connected and less alone.
In addition, we recommend connecting with your reps on an individual level. Don't just talk about work. Ask them about their favorite sports teams or their child's graduation. Showing a genuine personal interest in your sales reps will help them feel more connected to you, your company, and your mission.
It is also critical to set up peer-to-peer teleconferences. Sometimes, a "players only" meeting is just what the doctor ordered.
2. Budget for Social Engagement
A sales rep who feels isolated is doomed to fail. Harvard Business Review reports that successful managers of remote sales teams organize face-to-face forums, conferences, workshops, and get-togethers. These are planned well in advance, and they 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 terms.
3. Make Your Availability Crystal Clear
Make your availability clear to your team via a shared calendar or project management board. This will help employees set reasonable expectations around how and when you will respond to their phone calls, emails, or texts.
It is crucial for your reps to feel like they can reach you when they need to – especially when managing across different time zones. If you're home with your family on the East Coast while the West Coast team members are still putting in hours, make sure they know how they can reach you in case of emergencies.
4. Use Your Reps' Autonomy to Develop Trust
A lack of face-to-face communication can hinder employee engagement, and engagement is correlated with salesperson job performance.
To that point, a 2013 survey from AchieveForum found that trust has a direct impact on the engagement levels of remote teams. Great sales managers know how to use the autonomy of their reps to build trust. If you give reps the chance to take on additional responsibilities in certain situations, they will feel empowered, engaged, and connected – despite the distance.
5. Don't Hire Just Any Sales Superstar
A common mistake people make when hiring sales reps is that they don't take context into account. The assumption is that if someone is good at selling in one environment, they will also thrive in yours. This is a mistaken belief. When you're building a remote sales team, you need to hire a skilled salesperson who has also proven successful working remotely.
The bottom line is that the evolution of technology has created an opportunity for businesses to profit from cultivating remote workforces. However, it is incumbent on managers to recognize that the same old managerial rules don't apply in remote work situations. 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 cofounder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006.