8 Tips for Managing a Successful Virtual Sales Team

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Managing virtual sales teams is becoming a common theme in the workplace.  

As times change, so does the average worker. Many companies are turning to virtual sales teams to save money on office space and create a flexible working atmosphere.  

This trend will most likely continue to increase with the advancement of new technologies and the current social distancing measures.  

However, many managers tend to worry that their team is either binging on Netflix shows, doing laundry or otherwise goofing off – while in their pajamas.

Guess what? 

The truth is employees tend to perform better when working from home.

Here are some tips that will help you manage a productive and high-performing virtual sales team. 

1. 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 their work patterns and ethics. 

Virtual sales team

Do you have to monitor the work continually, or is the individual a self-starter? Does this rep tend to slack off, or do they 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 they bring the right skills and experience — not just a desire to work from home.

Here are some tips for hiring rockstar SDRs you won’t need to supervise even when they’re working remotely. 

Build Your SDR Spec

Let’s imagine you could build your perfect candidate from the ground up. 

Use this as an opportunity to figure out your must-haves and your optional extras. Perhaps you value a background in your industry more than broader experience. Maybe you favor ambitious candidates who are always looking for the next goal to smash.

The skillset of today’s SDR is (or should be) much more advanced than in years past. It’s no longer just about “smiling and dialing,” although there is still a place for that.  

Here are a few must-haves in my SDR spec:

  • Excellent verbal and written skills
  • Experience using social media for successful prospecting; emphasis on LinkedIn but understanding of Twitter and Facebook, too
  • Ability and willingness to use personal videos as part of sales outreach

Whatever the case may be for your organization, creating this profile will form the basis of your recruiting plan.

Now, take a step back and look at your sales development team as a whole. What does your ideal SDR team look like? 

Treat the team as if it were a person or a single unified entity. Your team’s defining traits will give you additional insights into the kind of candidates who will work well with your team.

Find the Right Fit

When hiring SDR talent, you’ll need to decide whether you will hire for experience or attitude.

Oftentimes, sales leaders make the mistake of only focusing on experience. However, the experience is not nearly as important as attitude. You can train new hires on your product and industry, but you’ll find it next to impossible to teach them to have the right attitude for your team.

Bad hiring decisions can cost your team more than an open position does.

Be Transparent About Salary and Benefits

You can’t build a dynamic and successful sales development team without a little incentive. 

You need to face the reality that you’ll have to compete with industry-standard wages to attract suitable candidates, and you need to be transparent about the salary range in your job ads. 

A Glassdoor survey found that 70% of employees believe that pay transparency is good for employee satisfaction. 

If you want a genuinely standout team, you will probably need to offer better salaries or provide other benefits and perks such as more paid time off or better insurance.

Use Dynamic Interviews

Here’s an open secret that many of us don’t like to confront: many resumes stretch the truth while others contain outright lies. 

Interviews aren’t a much better window to the truth either. Charm, wit, and lots of prep time can make almost any candidate look like a prize.

Consider switching up your interview methods to include more dynamic elements — maybe role-play a sales call. Think about some small “audition” sales projects for your candidates, and see what they do with them. You’ll soon find those who deal well with the pressure.

Your job of managing a successful virtual sales team will be much easier if you select the right hire. 

2. Provide Quality Onboarding and Training

Do you have a formal onboarding and training program in place? 

If not, you’re hurting your potential for maximum efficiency, productivity, and revenue.

Whether you’re recruiting experienced reps or people who are new to sales altogether, you have to invest in onboarding and training programs.

Without onboarding and training, your SDRs will have to find their own path to success. Some may be lucky and figure things out. Others may leave out of frustration. 

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 we schedule recruits are scheduled down to the hour for their first few weeks. We assign onboarding buddies, who are dedicated to answering any questions on the 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.

Make sure to have a training program set up to teach them the things they need to know to do their job, such as:

  • Product Knowledge – High-performing sales representatives know their products inside and out. They can adequately respond to most questions and understand how to redirect technical inquiries.
    Your Job as a Manager – Provide ongoing training and keep your team updated on any changes to your company’s products.
  • Focus –To understand and connect with prospects, sales reps must practice active listening. Eliminating distractions and avoiding multitasking keeps a rep’s mind on the task at hand, in this case, interpreting how your product is a solution for the prospect.
    Your Job as a Manager – Ensure a working environment free of as many distractions as possible. Provide distraction-free sales tools that keep salespeople on task, too. A system with features such as lead routing automation and auto dialing can keep sales productivity flowing.
  • Ability to Handle and Prevent Objections – Your team should clearly understand your prospective clients’ recurring concerns. Enable your inside sales team to address any gripes before they become an issue. Instead of just handling these problems as they arise, your reps will be able to prevent them.
    Your Job as a Manager – Deliver coaching to your team regularly and keep an open-door policy. Allow them to come to you with any grievances they’re facing in their work.
  • Thought Leadership – Prospects are more likely to become customers when they’re dealing with someone they trust. Salespeople can build their thought leadership presence on social media to form relationships with their clients and prove their industry competency.
    Your Job as a Manager – Allow your salespeople the time to devote to social selling. Foster their journey to becoming a thought leader and consider starting an employee advocacy program. An advocacy program enables you to provide your team with content to share to help them stand out in the industry. The better they do individually, the better your company will do as a whole.
  • Time Management – A successful salesperson spends more of their time on the phone or in sales meetings than on menial tasks like inputting notes into more than one system. These reps are organized and have access to technologies that save them time.
    Your Job as a Manager – What can you do to streamline their work? Consider any duties you can take off of their plate, so they have more time to focus on calling leads. Automation software will give them the ability to drop a voice message in a mailbox, send a follow-up email, or nurture their prospects with the click of a button.
  • Understand the Competition – Prospects consider price and lack of features when comparing your product with competitors, and good salespeople are aware of that. They know how their product stacks up against competitors in the marketplace.
    Your Job as a Manager – Consume as much industry content as possible so you can learn about any new products or updates in your space. You’ll want to keep your employees informed regarding how the product they’re selling lines up against competing goods or services. This will give them an advantage when questioned by a prospect.

Support is a crucial element of every successful sales onboarding, so make sure to:

  •  Assign a Mentor – Identify someone that can be a mentor to your virtual sales agents.  Your agents will have questions, and they must have someone they can turn to to get the answers they need.  A mentor program allows the agents to reach out to someone else when the supervisor isn’t available.
  • Be Available – Virtual agents are not in the office; therefore, they need to have resources available to them when questions arise.  If virtual sales reps cannot get their questions answered, they won’t be successful, and the same goes for your company.  This is where a mentor program can really pay off if your office hours are outside of the hours of some of your agents’ shifts.

If your virtual agents are on the phone with potential customers, it’s crucial to have a tool that allows you to jump on calls with them quickly to monitor their progress and join the call when necessary.  

3. Define Expectations and Objectives

Douglas McGregor, a founding faculty member of MIT Sloan School of Management, developed a set of assumptions, Theory Y, about management, one of them being:  “People will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which they are committed.”) 

Have you defined objectives for your sales reps?  

Representatives who understand campaign/sales objectives will commit and confidently pursue success. They will be less likely sidetracked or derailed during a sales call.

When we’re talking about remote work, it’s essential to review your company’s policy on virtual agents and make sure your reps fully understand set expectations. This will help to alleviate any misconceptions.

Most people work harder if it means not dealing with the distractions that are so common in an open-office floor plan.

Remote work allows employees to escape a noisy office while boosting productivity and reducing absenteeism. 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.

However, 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.

To get the best performance out of your SDRs, set goals and review progress regularly. Yes, a sales quota is an obvious goal to set. 

However, there are other areas where you may want to focus.

If you have reps who struggle with call reluctance, set a goal to make more cold calls this month. 

If someone has problems with handling objections, set a goal to role play with a more experienced team member once a week for a month. 

These skills-improvement goals can improve individual performance and help the team achieve corporate revenue goals in the long run.

You should also take time to perform more frequent reviews with your new team members. These assessments will help you identify problem areas more quickly and give your SDR a clear picture of how they are performing.

While it’s always tricky, don’t be afraid to cut someone if they aren’t performing after an appropriate ramp-up period. If you’ve taken time to onboard someone and coach them through multiple review periods, you’ll be able to make an objective decision.

4. Ask Your Salespeople What They Need

Many employees will not come to management asking for things, even if these requests could help them to do their jobs better. 

Consider surveying your sales team just as you would your clients regularly.

Another way to get your sales team talking about improving their performance is to devote part of your meetings to this conversation. Apply this method in the team or one-on-one meetings. 

It’s essential to have an open-door communications policy where your inside sales representatives can come to you and know you’ll consider their ideas. 

To be a successful inside sales representative, one should be optimistic and confident when talking to prospects. 

When you notice that your reps are stressed out, encourage them to take the time to exercise and relax. 

Another thing to bear in mind when managing a remote team is that your SDRs are in different time zones. Coordinate tasks so that a time difference doesn’t interfere with their time off and your projects. 

Make sure your agents can make calls according to the prospects’ time zones too. VanillaSoft allows you to set time zones for your agents and routes the calls based on each prospect’s time zone. 

This will save you time and prevent calls from occurring too early or too late an hour.

As a manager, bear in mind that each salesperson will have their own vision of success. There’s a difference between hitting goals the company has set and reaching their own ambitions.

5. Make Communication a Priority

Working from home can be a solitary experience. 

No wonder 87% of remote workers say they feel more connected through the use of video conferencing. 

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 by 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.

6. 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. Still, CRM alone is not enough to provide a sense of focus to 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, VanillaSoft makes it easy for reps to automatically reach the right prospects with the right messaging at the right intervals.

SDRs need to hear and be heard on sales calls. A high-quality VoIP system and top-notch equipment lets reps communicate clearly.

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.

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?”

7. Define Your Sales Team Culture

Changing your entire corporate culture takes a lot of bandwidth and influence from the top down. 

While you may not control the rest of the company, you can take small steps to improve the sales team’s culture. 

Formally defining the sales team culture can improve productivity and start shifting upper management’s perception about the sales department as a whole, SDRs specifically.

Here’s how you can kick-start this process:

  • What comes to mind when you think about a sales team culture? People who share similar beliefs or values and who work together for a common goal. They share a language. They have customs and symbols. Have you established these for your sales culture? If not, this is where you start.
  • When you develop a positive sales team culture, you provide a framework that defines desired community member traits and the vision of how sales supports corporate goals. A well-defined sales team culture allows you to get a better ROI on your hiring and recruiting investments. The best individual is better than just “any” individual to fill an opening.
  • Providing a shared lexicon (industry terminology, brand messaging) and customs (i.e., procedures) helps integrate team members and ensure consistency in sales performance. Taking steps to create this structure makes onboarding new hires easier and sets them up for success. Hold a weekly sales meeting so SDRs and Account Managers can learn from one another.

Still, 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. 

8. Motivate Your Remote Sales Team

Sales development is hard work. 

Reps hear “no” much more often than “yes.” Rejection in sales is a given, but the best companies don’t let it debilitate their SDRs. 

Virtual sales team

It’s crucial to help your SDRs understand the value of “no.” This little word can hurt even more when your new hires are on their own and when they don’t have anyone to turn to for support. 

Use role-play and train your team to handle objections.  

Sometimes “no” may represent an objection that is merely an opportunity to ask more insightful questions or provide more education to a buyer.  

Sometimes “no” just means “no” – and even those answers can be valued when compared to the time-wasting tire kickers who don’t really plan to purchase at all.  

Help team members understand how to turn “no” into an opportunity rather than a rejection.

Incentives are another powerful method of motivating your team, so make sure to leverage rewards and recognition generously. 

The problem with award and recognition programs is that many times only the top performers get noticed. Develop a system that takes individual performance improvement into account so that all your SDRs have a chance to benefit. Try some of these team and individual recognition options:

  • Team outings, parties, and tokens of appreciation (branded apparel or gifts) to create a team environment. It’s true that social distancing gets in the way of this approach, but you can successfully take things online and throw parties via Zoom, just like we at VanillaSoft do. 
  • Celebrations of employee milestones (years of service, promotions, etc.) to emphasize the value each member brings to the team.
  • Gamification to motivate SDRs to meet goals.
  • Individual recognition to reinforce positive behaviors that drive success.
  • Team praise to demonstrate the company’s appreciation of meeting sales objectives.

Are You Ready for Remote?

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.

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