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Establishing and managing a remote sales team

The use of remote teams is on the rise in many industries, and a company’s sales organization may have members that operate in different geographical locations, even across international borders.  Because of this, a company may decide to establish its regional sales efforts by using remote team members, who do not work out of a central office, and have the ability to be self-motivated.

The benefits are significant if a business can rely on remote sales people, saving travel time and cost as well as offering team members more autonomy.  However, when this is the case it may require management to implement recruitment and management protocols that reflect the specific challenges of running a remote sales team.

Setting Up a Remote Team

Most effective sales people spend more time working more independently than other staff, given the travel time and on-site customer interaction required for success.  Their pay structure also adds to a feeling of independence, since a bulk of compensation comes through commissions generated by their own efforts and skill.  These factors can affect the management of remote sales team members, since they may be more difficult to engage in team objectives than other personnel.

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When recruiting and setting up a remote sales team it is essential to hire people who have the ability to work remotely, but can also interact as a contributing member of the sales team.  In the end, their ability to generate new business will be the most important quality, but even the most independent worker needs to feel a sense of purpose and alignment with the organization.  The tone for involvement can be set during the recruitment process by setting clear expectations for their role as an active team member.

“Ensure your on-boarding training is both detailed and motivating. Look to crystallize your solution offering so that your new recruit can confidently prove the value to prospects of working with your company”.  

It is also essential to clearly define the compensation and benefits being offered, which may differ for remote team members, depending on their location and scope of activity.  It is the earning potential that creates the greatest incentive for many good sales people and that will not be different when using remote team members.

One approach to recruitment is to engage sales people as contractors initially, and evaluate their performance and team integration.  If they perform up to expectation, they can be hired as employees at a later date.  The only hazard with this approach is that an independent contractor sales person will typically meet the legal definition of an employee, with the company directing their work time and methods.  Because of this, there may be risk of misclassification, leading to problems in one or more host countries.

Managing a Sales Team

Once the remote sales team is assembled, the next priority is to establish a consistent and reliable management and assessment method.  These methods are well established, but there may be the need for different approach with a remote sales team.  Sales team management can be customized to your organization by addressing the unique needs of remote members, who need a blend of support and independence, coupled with modern communication tools.

Communication Technology

Just as with any remote team member, communication with a salesperson is critical, especially if they are in foreign location.  Communication through mobile devices, online apps and messaging can create an ongoing link to management and other team members.  Periodic sales team meeting via video or phone conferencing can help add to a feeling of inclusiveness and accountability, as members report their results against established goals and benchmarks.

CRM Systems

Using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system will allow your team members to track all of the client contacts and activities, without relying on written notes or verbal updates.  A CRM system can monitor sales leads, activity, progress and outcomes.  The numerous CRM system software programs available can be integrated with other communication modes, and are available with mobile apps and desktop browser capabilities.

Management personnel, sales team members and even customers can be allowed to view certain contact and progress activity, giving the sales effort transparency and accountability.  A CRM system is probably a necessity for managing a remote sales team to prevent the risk of losing touch with each member’s daily and weekly activity.  

Milestones and Benchmarking

No sales team can succeed with vague or undefined goals, and a part of any management system must include clear team and individual milestones.  This is even more important for remote sales team members who are working autonomously.  Sales forecasts are only meaningful if they are backed up with clear benchmarks for progress from the sales lead state to closing a new or recurring contract.  Milestones can be reviewed at bi-weekly or monthly videoconference meetings to encourage remote sales team members to be prepared with progress reports.

Challenges

There are areas of challenge in managing a remote sales team, aside from the obvious communication and tracking issues already mentioned.

Ongoing Training

Remote salespeople may not have the same training opportunities as office based staff.  Certain training elements can be offered via webinars or other online methods, but this lacks the face-to-face interaction and opportunity to participate in real time learning from other sales team members.  There is also the absence of reinforcement of successful techniques or methods, since the only positive feedback available to a remote member is the closing of a sale.

One solution is to offer periodic trainings in the home office, or even in sales regions, where all members can gather for a few days of intensive training and meetings.

Reporting and Tracking on Prospect Meetings

When a salesperson is constantly on the road, meeting with prospects and ongoing customers takes priority over the reporting process.  Even effective sales people may neglect documenting each meeting and relaying the information to the home office.  Even if they are using a CRM system, this will still requires data input at regular intervals.  A remote sales team member will have to be self-motivated to provide this information, so that the overall team activity can be tracked and evaluated.  Otherwise, the actual sales meetings and efforts may remain vague in terms of content, follow-up and potential for a positive outcome.

Motivation

One of the core challenges for any remote team member is motivation, when they do not have the personal or social contact that is offered in an office environment.  As a result, sales team members may lose their motivation and sense of working toward a collective business result, and may begin to feel isolated or estranged from the sales team and company.  Even brief visits to a central or regional office can bring feelings of validation and accomplishment, and its difficult to replace this by using virtual communication methods.

Addressing all of these challenges will require extra efforts by management to monitor team member satisfaction and performance, and to detect any issues that could interfere with their success.  If approached with this awareness, a remote sales team can be a cost-effective means to expand business activity in a new or existing market, in the home country or abroad.

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