These days, it’s not unusual for front-line sales teams to be distributed across states, countries, and continents.
And if you’re keeping tabs on the news, you know that entire companies are trying to shift to a work-from-home or partially remote strategy — at least for the short term. In many industries or companies where remote work and remote management have never been practiced, this is going to present enormous challenges.
When a company gives employees the option (or assignment) to work remotely, it can benefit everyone: employees — especially millennials — appreciate the flexibility to work from home, or the coffee shop, or wherever they feel most comfortable and productive. And sales orgs open themselves up to a much larger pool of talent when they’re not limited to hiring locally.
For sales managers, however, overseeing a remote team can present some challenges:
- They’re often faced with a lackluster (or nonexistent) team culture.
- There’s little collaboration among team members.
- It’s hard to make personal connections and build relationships.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all also happens to be a sales manager’s most important responsibility: sales coaching.
Running an effective, consistent sales coaching program has been proven, time and again, to drive quota attainment — but that’s hard enough when your front-line sellers are all within your direct line of vision. How do you coach with impact when your team is spread across the globe?
Good news: it is possible to have a successful remote sales coaching program. And in fact, if you do it right, you can solve for a lot of those other remote challenges, too.
Whether your team is currently distributed, or you’re just preparing in case of a possible pandemic (thanks, coronavirus) — with the right tools and tactics, you can run an impactful, performance-driving coaching program, even from afar.
Want to learn more about helping your remote sales workforce navigate their world? Join Lessonly and Ambition for a webinar on April 22nd, where we’ll share ways you can help your reps find success during uncertain times. Learn more and sign up here!
1. Recruit the right people
On a recent webinar, Natalia Sekkat, VP of Sales with Panera Catering, spoke some hard truths about managing a remote team. One of our favorites: When you’re not in the same office, “you can’t brainwash your people at the watercooler.”
A little tongue and cheek, maybe — but she’s got a point. In an office setting, when a company has a clear mission and strong values, it seems that employees tend to pick up on those through osmosis. That’s just not possible to the same extent when your team is distributed. As a remote sales manager, you don’t have many organic opportunities to cultivate your people as brand ambassadors.
So that makes it all the more important to hire employees who are not only extremely talented, ambitious, curious people — but also who buy into your mission from the get-go and embrace your company values.
2. Structure, structure, structure
Every sales manager has their own unique coaching style. Some are naturally inclined to hire great people and set them free. If you’ve got a seasoned team, and you’ve got a formal, consistent coaching program in place, then being more hands-off may work well for you.
But for remote teams, structure is better. Weekly 1:1s just aren’t enough if you want your team to stay connected, aligned and motivated.
In addition to your regular coaching sessions, consider adding in a regular mix of formal and informal meetings. (Of course, every meeting should have a clear purpose that’s well-communicated to the team — no one likes pointless meetings!)
For example, in addition to your monthly all-hands meetings — where you likely hear company and department updates — or your regular sales team meetings, sprinkle in a bi-weekly “brown bag lunches,” where you can do some light sales training or provide opportunities for peer-to-peer coaching. (Webcam required!)
Bottom line: consistency is key. You’ll show your employees that even if you’re not a few cubes away, you’re still 100% available and committed to their development and success.
3. Coach in real-time
Weekly sessions allow time for discussion and reflection, which is invaluable. But you’re either looking backward — talking about what went well with your reps, what challenged them — or you’re looking forward, building out action plans, role-playing, etc.
Every sales coach needs to find ways to recognize, motivate and coach in the moment.
How do remote managers do it? Use tools that provide real-time insights and alerts into performance. (Bonus if they integrate with your instant messaging technology, like Slack.) That way, the second a rep veers off track, you’ll know — and you can step in to offer support or coach them up on skills they may need to develop.
Of course, coaching is also about recognizing and celebrating a job well done. Here again, real-time alerts and integrations are key — especially for remote teams.
If they’re not on the same sales floor, your whole team may not be able to see a big, beautiful sales TV with anthems and triggers firing off all day. At Ambition, while TVs are used in the HQ offices to keep the company up to speed on SDR performance, the same screens can be viewed through a URL so that remote reps aren’t left out.
We also rely heavily on Slack integrations: automated Slack triggers are used to celebrate reps as they book meetings or move deals down the funnel, so our remote team is well aware of every win. Competitions are broadcast both to the TVs and to Slack, so the whole company can cheer the team along.
4. Leverage sales coaching software
As a remote sales manager, you’ve got fewer opportunities to interface with your reps, so you need to make the most of the time you have together. Our mantra: When it comes to your sales coaching sessions, automate what you can.
Sales coaching software is the best way to do that. It gives sales managers more of their hottest commodity: time. The right tool will give you the ability to:
- Visualize (actionable) insights and performance data at any time — without messy spreadsheets or reports — so you can spend your sessions on valuable, development-focused conversations, versus trying to get up-to-speed on your rep’s performance.
- Send questions and get responses ahead of your sessions, so your reps have time for self-reflection, and you’re prepared to address specific challenges your rep may be facing.
- Tie action plans to KPI data, so you can set the right goals and track progress throughout the week — setting you up for real-time coaching success.
Used alongside other critical coaching tools, like conversation intelligence and sales training software, sales coaching technology can become even more powerful.
Coaching a remote sales team isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of active management, some recalibration of your traditional coaching program, and maybe a little outside-the-box thinking. The ultimate key to success: measure the impact of your coaching program. Keep an eye on what’s generating results from your reps and what’s not — then iterate and improve along the way.
About the Author
Mark McWatters is the VP of Sales at Ambition. Mark is from Nashville, TN and a graduate (and too loyal fan) of the University of Tennessee. Mark loves all things sales — but only if it’s done with the prospect in mind, not your commission. He lives in Nashville with his wife, 2 real kids, and his favorite child — his black lab, Layla.
Sales Leaders, HR Professionals, and C-Level Executives use Ambition to recognize, motivate, and develop employees into more engaged and productive versions of themselves. Funded by Google, used by the Fortune 500, endorsed by the Harvard Business Review.