• Duane Cashin

How to Manage a Sales Team Remotely

Working remotely has been a familiar sight in recent years. Whether it’s to tend to a sick child, wait for the cable guy, or simply to have a more relaxed morning, working from home is not at all unusual, and sales management has gotten pretty good at managing teams that work remotely here and there.

Still, nothing has prepared them for this.

The current crisis hit us with no warning, and even those companies most experienced in telework are struggling. Whoever thought our entire workforces would be working remotely full-time and for the foreseeable future?

Sales management has been forced to rapidly adjust to managing entirely remote sales teams. It’s hard because what worked in a shared office space (face-to-face meetings, role-play training sessions, team building activities, and more) may not feel immediately comfortable or as effective when done via video calls and group chats.

You’re not alone in your struggle. If you’re a sales leader looking to improve your new role as a virtual leader, here are a few tips to help you improve and allow your team to feel more supported and connected.

1. Be patient -- with yourself and your team.

Let me say this again: The current version of working from home is nothing like we’ve seen before. We’re not talking about someone working remotely for the afternoon to meet a repairman or attend their child’s school function. We are talking about entire work teams suddenly working from home full-time -- perhaps now with spouses also at home and children at home needing e-learning assistance. It’s a huge change, and adapting will come easier to some than others.

As the leader, you need to be patient with the fact that everyone is adapting at a different pace because their individual circumstances are so different. Show empathy by asking your team directly how they’re managing the transition and if there’s anything you can provide to ease it. Do this regularly so that you can modify your expectations together as you go.

2. Embrace communication tools, especially video conferencing.

I know, the initial thought of Zoom-only meetings made me shutter, too. But while the camera may feel awkward -- especially in your house with your dog barking in the background -- it’s the only way we can communicate face-to-face right now. And, the reality is, as a leader, you need to be able to see people’s facial expressions -- their nodding in agreement or furrowing a brow when confused or frustrated -- to be able to successfully lead them.

Plenty of other communication tools are available, too, including company-wide instant messaging, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google Hangouts, just to name a few. Don't paralyze yourself with too many tools, but do communicate with other leaders in your organization to develop communication strategy that serves your specific needs.

3. Err towards overcommunication.

We can’t have quick follow-up conversations at the water cooler right now, and many members of your team, especially those who have never worked from home before, may feel disconnected and lost. It’s particularly important that you reiterate action items often so your team stays aligned on key projects. Think recap emails after video chats with specific next steps each team member needs to take. Provide people with something concrete to keep them on track and assure they know what to do to move forward confidently.

4. Take a break.

This is a directive for you and your teammates.

It’s very easy to feel like you need to stay glued to your workstation so you never miss an email, but that’s not how you operate in the office, so make sure you’re not doing it at home.

The office is filled with little breaks and distractions -- getting up for a cup of coffee, chatting with a coworker about weekend plans, getting out for lunch -- that keep us sane and enjoying the work that we do. While it’s difficult to do at home, it’s important for your mental health and the health of your team.

Get up, take a walk, eat your lunch outside, and consider a little virtual social time with your team, too. You’ll all be stronger in the end.

5. Focus on the positive and building your pipeline and workforce for when the smoke clears.

We’ve focused on shifting perspective and strategies and focusing on consultative selling a lot these past few weeks, and it’s important to mention it again. In this time of crisis, it’s important to keep calm and remember that the bad times will eventually end. How do you want your situation to look when it does? Do you want to see a pipeline full of qualified prospects who are ready to do business again or an empty one because you let the panic and despair of this moment paralyze your sales efforts?

Equally important is finally learning to identify the kinds of salespeople who have what it takes to succeed no matter the challenge. Savvy sales managers are approaching this crisis as an opportunity to roll out new and productive systems and hone their teams so they can strike when the time is right. Are you?

Coronavirus is putting new pressure on sales teams as they scramble to work remotely, but strong sales leaders will get them through it. If you need some additional help addressing a specific issue you’re facing, give us a call.

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