You will struggle to successfully run a sales team by remote. I’ll explain why shortly. But first, what do I mean by managing a sales team remotely? Well. Think of how effective, though detached, a remote control is from the TV, and the comfort it offers the user. Now then, there are sales managers and business owners that are like that user. They want the comfort of managing the team while staying detached. “I just want a system that monitors and measures them without me being involved.” Really! Good luck with that! And just to be clear: managing sales team remotely runs the whole gamut from the complexity of COVID to the simplicity of just being in different rooms. Now here’s why hoping to successfully run a sales team by remote is an exercise in make believe. Now where do I even start?

Sales is not a desk job

“When we came back to the office after COVID I fired the sales person. It turns out that she had subcontracted her job to a cyber café owner in her estate.” This was from a business owner who sells end to end plug and play online accounting solutions to SMEs. And that lamentation right there, encapsulates the challenge of running a sales team by remote. Sales is not a desk job. Let me drive that message further home with a separate experience from a different business owner.

“We closed the office where the designers were working from. In fact, COVID helped us realise we were incurring an unnecessary cost on space. The designers’ productivity skyrocketed when they worked remotely from home.” Accountants, coders, customer service and other desk jobs have a much higher chance of managing successfully by remote because, being desk jobs, work comes to them; in Sales you look for the work. With no one looking, the average salesperson will happily cop out or, at best, take the path of least resistance and subcontract the role.  Your sales team members are no exception.

Sales requires high levels of collaboration

Successful sales often hinge on seamless collaboration within the team. Sales professionals need to exchange ideas, share best practices, and strategize together to close deals effectively. In a remote work setup, spontaneous brainstorming sessions or impromptu meetings become less frequent, potentially hindering the creative and collaborative aspect of sales.

This is true even for lone rangers which a number of sales people tend to be. Such sales people may not participate animatedly in the brainstorming but their occasional well thought through contributions can be gem. They also benefit immensely from knowing that their struggles are shared. “But there is WhatsApp groups and I can manage them from there?” you say. True. And you likely, like the former Nairobi Women’s Hospital CEO, do so quite effectively right now as a complement to your in-person sales management. With remote sales management, to imagine that the high engagement you get on-line means you can do without the in-person engagement is a recipe for failure.

managing sales team remotely

In addition, collaboration with back office is most effective when you can engage them in person. Even in-person, depending on SLAs (Service Level Agreements) is never 100% fool proof. In fact, it works against successful selling. Sales people must sell internally to effectively navigate back-office who they need to collaborate with to see the sale through. Back office are the colleagues that deliver the heaven the sales person promised. They are the unseen staff that ensure the account you sold is opened and the cheque book and ATM card are printed. Or the ones that will spend six months installing the enterprise wise ERP you sold.

Managing sales team remotely disrupts the selling process

A sale is a result that follows a process. You can only manage the process not the result. And you do so through reports and continual engagement. Given most sales people give fictitious reports with in-person management, how much more so when no-one’s looking, as with remote sales management? Your inanimate WhatsApp group cannot allow you reconcile what the sales person is saying, (and how he is saying it) versus what the report shows. Monitoring sales activities, tracking performance metrics, and holding team members accountable are crucial aspects of managing a sales team. These tasks can become more challenging when everyone is working remotely, as it may be harder to ensure that team members are following through on their responsibilities.

Sales training and development

Effective sales training and mentorship are pivotal for a sales team’s success. In a remote environment, it can be more challenging to provide hands-on training and guidance to team members, especially for newcomers who need continuous support and coaching. Think about experienced you during a Zoom meeting. How engaged are you? This salesperson as brutally honest:  “I usually have multiple windows open and I switch off the camera blaming it on low bandwidth. Even when it’s on, because HR and the bosses have insisted, I’m not fully engaged. And when they set a test I have ChatGPT to do it for me.“

Now think of onboarding the novice salesperson by remote. Job orientation, even for a desk job is at once exciting and anxiety filling. There’s also the assurance that the script has been drawn for you to follow. Now a sales job has no script. Yes, I know, there’s the sales manual. But, do you read any manual, forget your company’s ones? Even students need to be guided by a teacher and even then, are engaged largely because there’s an exam to sit.  And even when the novice sales person reads the manual, it’s a far cry to how the actual experience be on the ground.

Read: Open letter to the novice sales person

Motivation and Team Spirit when managing sales team remotely

The energy and motivation generated by a shared office space can be a significant driver for sales professionals. Remote sales management can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of team spirit among members, which can negatively impact motivation and overall performance. The more when you factor in that not all sales people are motivated by goals nor money.

Security and Data Protection

Sales teams often deal with sensitive customer data and confidential information. Managing data security and ensuring compliance with regulations becomes more complex in a remote setup. Companies must implement robust cybersecurity measures and educate remote team members about data protection practices. This is an additional responsibility for the Sales Manager.

Managing sales team remotely: Conclusion

Running a sales team is not for the faint hearted. A handful few salespeople are sufficiently hungry to work independently. While remote work offers numerous benefits, it’s essential to recognize that not all roles and departments are equally suited to this work model. Sales, with its unique demands for collaboration, relationship-building, and real-time adaptation, may not thrive as well when entirely remote. Ultimately, the success of a sales team depends on careful planning, effective communication tools, and a commitment to maintaining the critical aspects of sales that rely on human connection and teamwork. As it’s lead, do you still want to run your team remotely?

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