Managing a Distributed Workforce — Out of “Site” Does Not Mean Out of Mind

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What’s your philosophical bent: are people inherently good or bad?

Your answer probably colors your perception of what it’s like to manage a remote sales team. Those of you looking for the good in people are more open to believing that a remote team will work hard and get things done. The more cynical of you think the team is either binging on Netflix shows, doing laundry, or otherwise goofing off — while in their pajamas.

Guess what? Regardless of what you believe about people, employees tend to perform better when working from home. So what gives? How can this be true?

Prefer to listen instead?

I don’t know about you, but I would definitely work harder if it meant not dealing with the distractions that occur in an open-office floor plan. It turns out I’m not alone. Office workers now find it harder to concentrate at their own desks, a complaint that’s increased by 16 percent since 2008 according to the Harvard Business Review.

Aside from escaping a noisy office, productivity goes up, and absenteeism goes down. According to a CoSo Cloud survey, 77% of remote workers report greater productivity while working offsite, and they are less likely to take time off — even when they are sick.

A remote sales team is starting to sound pretty good, eh?

Remote Culture Requires More Than a Policy

When you decide to go remote with your sales development reps (SDRs), you have to do more than draft a “work from home policy.” If you want this to work — if you really want to see results — you have to build a remote work culture.

Culture requires a foundation, tools, communication, processes, reinforcement, encouragement, rewards, and leadership. If you don’t want to put in the extra time, budget, and resources to build a thriving remote work culture; keep everybody in the office. If you are ready to commit, let’s talk about the best way to manage a distributed team of sales development reps (SDRs).

Set Clear Expectations

Remember the productivity gain and reduced absenteeism stats I mentioned earlier? Those positive results don’t just magically happen. Out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. You can’t just turn everyone loose to smile and dial with no leadership, nor should you micromanage from afar. Instead, you have to set clear expectations.

Meet with each SDR one-on-one to discuss what you expect from them when they move into a remote sales position. Define sales objectives, of course, but don’t forget about other guidelines you need your SDRs to follow — like using the required sales processes and technology tools, being available during certain hours, attending weekly meetings, following data capture requirements, and so on.

Select the Right Candidates for Remote Work

While the data supports the idea that remote teams are effective, not everyone is effective when it comes to remote work. Before you allow a current employee to go remote, you should evaluate his or her work patterns and ethic. Do you have to monitor the work continually, or is the individual a self-starter? Does this rep tend to goof off or does she overachieve? Are some of your reps better when they can have face time with coworkers or management?

When hiring new candidates, ask the right questions to suss out why they were really interested in the SDR opening. Ask questions such as, “what is it that you like about our company or product?” or “what drew you to this job posting?” If the answers revolve around the appeal of remote work, this may not be the right candidate for you. Vet the candidate carefully to understand if he or she brings the right skills and experience — not just a desire to work from home.

Make Communication a Priority

When you manage a remote SDR team, you have to make an extra effort to engage with your team. In the office, you can drop by Jill’s desk or request that Joe drops by your office to discuss an issue. Sales managers need to schedule time each week — even if only a few minutes — to check in with individual team members. Try using Skype or Slack so that you can video chat.

You should also — no groans allowed! — continue with weekly sales meetings. Don’t tell me you thought you could get out of those just because your team has gone remote? The best way to do this is going with a video conferencing option like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Seeing one another’s faces makes the session more personal and engaging. A quick 15-minute review of recent successes and priorities for the coming week can often be enough.

87% of remote workers feel more connected through the use of video conferencing. (Source: Harvard Business Review)

Finally, don’t hog all the communication fun to yourself. Set up Slack (or a similar tool) where your SDRs can collaborate, share ideas, and even just have a little fun watercooler chat from time to time. We allow that here at VanillaSoft. A recent repartee on Slack focused on the age-old debate, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?”

Pay Attention to Onboarding and Training

Taking your existing SDRs to a remote model will probably be reasonably easy, but what about new reps? You can’t just hire someone and leave them to sit at home alone to figure things out. I’m not saying you would do such a thing, but you may have a friend who hasn’t thought this part through yet.

Here’s what Ryan Burke, SVP of InVision said about onboarding his virtual SDRs.

“Employee onboarding is one of the biggest things for remote culture. It’s critical anywhere, but for remote hires it’s even more so. It can be intimidating to wake up on your first day solo in your home office with no one to talk to. We quickly realized this and revamped our entire onboarding process where new recruits are scheduled down to the hour for their first few weeks. We assign onboarding buddies, who are dedicated to answering any questions on process or who does what across the org.”

In addition to onboarding, you need to think through your training plans. There are plenty of learning management systems (LMS) if you want to deliver brand or product-specific training programs. You can also take advantage of a host of online training options and offline events local to your SDRs. There’s no excuse not to train just because your team doesn’t commute to the office every day.

Provide Structure and Productivity Tools

When I say “provide structure,” I don’t mean that you turn into a micromanager or implement “Big Brother” style technology to track every keystroke your team makes during work hours. No. What I’m suggesting, though, is that you give them access to software and solutions that keep them focused on the job at hand so that they meet your expectations.

CRM is an essential platform for sharing contact records and information, but CRM alone is not enough to focus reps and drive productivity, especially among a distributed sales workforce. A sales engagement platform keeps your sales team busy and focused on engaging your leads and growing revenue.

Since you aren’t physically there to help guide them on calls and walk them through what to do next if they need help, a sales engagement platform comes in handy. With guided selling tools such as automated lead routing, scripting, and sales cadence management, the system makes it easy for reps to automatically reach the right prospects with the right messaging at the right intervals.

The right sales engagement platform will also help you better manage your remote team. You should have access to dashboards to monitor call activity, reports to help you track individual rep performance, and interactive listening and monitoring features so you can coach reps while they make calls.

Are You Ready for Remote?

Back to our original question: is humankind fundamentally good or bad? Maybe it doesn’t matter based on the data, at least when it comes to managing a remote sales team as long as you’re a good manager and planner.

Pay attention to your hiring, onboarding, and training practices. Enable your remote team to deliver real sales success. Invest in tools and resources that help remote workers stay focused on your sales process and prospects. Place a premium on regular communication and make yourself available to SDRs when they need help. Finally, create a relevant and engaging remote work culture.

What else do you think adds to remote sales team success? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.