How to Manage a Sales Team Remotely
In this episode, our CEO Norman Behar shares best practices for managing a remote sales team. A challenge that sales managers have struggled with for years. Norman discusses the impact technology has had on the sales management function and shares techniques you can use to manage, coach, and lead a remote sales team.
It's a good question, how do you manage a remote sales team?
That's something sales managers have struggled with for years. It reminds me of a blog post I published earlier on The Use of Sales Enablement Technology, which I'm a huge proponent of, and I love the idea of having more analytics—and there's no shortage of analytics through your CRM systems.
But technology also poses a risk for sales managers to become too reliant on the analytics that they become somewhat of what I would call an armchair quarterback, and aren't making the connection they need to with the members of their sales team.
If we think about the overall objective of a sales manager, it comes down to three key skills: the ability to manage, coach, and lead their sales team. All of those, by their very nature, are social. So, what we want to do is think about some techniques you can use to manage, coach, and lead a remote team.
There's this notion out there that if you have a remote salesperson, you need to focus on the results, and if they're hitting their results, then you're fine.
I can understand that rationale, but that logic is flawed, because the results are backward-looking in nature, and that logic only works until they miss the results. Then suddenly, you're behind the game.
So, what you want to emphasize—particularly important with remote salespeople—is to measure performance, and communicate clearly. What is the result that you expect? What actions do you want them to take that lead to that result?
For example, the result may be the achievement of a sales quota, but you may have an expectation of going on many in-person calls, sending out proposals, new account penetration, and all things that can lead to achieving those sales results.
So, as a remote manager, you want to focus on not only the results but also the underlying behaviors that drive those results. However, when working with a veteran team, it’s important to be very skillful and artful in how you do that, or you could come across as a micro-manager.
For example, you don't need to say, "Well, let me understand how many sales calls you went out on last week." That information should be available to you through either the CRM or a sales report. What you want to focus on is a conversation, "Tell me a little bit about who you visited last week? How did those calls go? Were there clear action items?" And, if there aren't clear action items, that's an opportunity for you to coach and contribute value by helping them identify how they could advance opportunities.
For opportunity coaching, you can use your CRM system to examine the pipeline to have a one-on-one conversation with each salesperson. Review their individual pipeline and look for opportunities that may not have a clear next step or might be stalled in a stage.
Then you can ask deal coaching questions that relate to how your remote salesperson is going to advance those opportunities. Here are five deal coaching questions that you can ask.
- What is the customer's business need? If the salesperson can't articulate the business need, there is more work on asking questions and identifying priorities.
- What's the unique value that we bring to that customer? Can they really articulate the value proposition and how it ties to those needs?
- Who are the decision-makers and who are the key influencers? Have they mapped the organization? Are they able to reach all the people necessary to get to a positive outcome?
- Who's your competition, who are we competing against?
- Where are we going to win? What are our competitive strengths? And what are our win themes? This involves confidence in the salesperson, and your job as a manager is to build that confidence as they pursue opportunities.
Another type of coaching that is important is skills coaching. It’s your job as a manager to help your salespeople improve their selling skills. And that does require some time in the field, but a lot of that planning can happen in advance.
You can do an assessment of those skills and have the salesperson do a self-assessment, and develop a coaching plan focused on one or two key selling skills that you're going to focus on that quarter.
Then with that limited time you have with the salesperson in the field, go out and observe sales calls, and I use the word "observe" intentionally because many managers can't resist the temptation when they go out on a call to start running the meeting.
And it may be that as a manager, you're in a better position to close that business, but you should be cognizant—especially with remote salespeople—that they're on sales calls all the time when you're not present. So, resist that temptation to jump in and focus on observing the key skills that you're going to work on.
Then following the call, you want to debrief with the salesperson. The temptation may be to share with them what didn't go as well as you like, but if that coaching is not a positive experience, they're going to tune you out, and they may not even schedule you to go on additional calls the next time you come out to visit.
So, make sure you're sharing with them something positive that you've seen on that call, getting their thoughts first as to how the call went, where the areas for improvement are, and then adding your advice as a coach as to how they may do it differently or better in the future.
Leading and Inspiring
You're managing and coaching your team, but you also need to lead and inspire.
If your salespeople are in the same office, that's a little bit easier because you can walk the hallways and you can start to have hallway conversations and share with them what's going on in the company, get their input, and understand their concerns.
But leading and inspiring it's even more important with your salespeople that are disconnected from your office. I recommend using video calls where you can see the facial expressions and the energy level of your salespeople.
Use that opportunity to share and update them on what's going on in the company and 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.
Many managers—and too many of us altogether—get caught up in texts and email, and we lose all the personal interaction that’s essential to the art of sales and sales management.
To recap, I’m a huge believer in technology, CRM, video conferencing, social networks, and they’re all important to sales and sales management, but they're not a replacement for the personal interaction necessary to manage, coach, and lead your team.
SRG Insights is a Q&A video series where we answer your questions on the topics of sales, sales management, sales coaching, and sales training. Featuring sales experts with over 25 years of sales and sales management experience.
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About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is a Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications, including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.