Sales team working remotely: How can companies adapt?

Worldwide, as of 22 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting over 290,000 cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19), with nearly 13,000 deaths across 187 countries and territories.

We have to acknowledge this is unprecedented. It’s scary for people everywhere, and businesses are currently in uncharted territory. Around the world, governments are telling companies to encourage and put measures in-place so that staff can work from home. Isolation is the most effective protective action that can be taken to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.

Working from offices is too high risk. Not only are people traveling to work, it involves too many people being in the same place for prolonged periods. Plus it has an impact on the surrounding area, with large numbers of people in the same place interacting with others, even when social distancing is factored in.

Whenever possible and practical, for the safety of staff, companies have already and are implementing remote work policies. For many, this could be the first time that teams who are used to working together in the same office are all working from home (WFH).

How WFH is changing how sales teams operate?

Companies with field sales teams are used to them traveling around to see clients. Now, in many countries and territories, that isn’t sensible given the need to socially isolate and avoid interacting with too many people.

Alongside the need for field sales teams to work from home, and therefore use remote tools to stay in contact with prospects and clients, inside sales teams are quickly transitioning into this working model. For many companies this is unprecedented, changing long-established working and operational norms.

Productivity, of course, is going to be affected. At least at first. People are scared. People are also adjusting to working from home, perhaps using new technology, and in many cases working in more confined spaces alongside family members, partners, and children. Hence the immediate impact on productivity.

However, as numerous studies about remote working habits have found, productivity almost always goes up. Remote works are rated 7.7 out of 10 (on a productivity scale), compared to those who work in offices, at only 6.5 out of 10. Consequently, companies should expect an initial productivity drop, followed by the majority of team members being more productive than they normally would.

Whether your company has already implemented WFH, or soon will, sales leaders need to understand what it means for their teams.

How to implement WFH for sales teams

#1: Communicate a clear policy

During a time of crisis, employees need to be clear on what’s happening.

When people aren’t clear on what actions are being taken, there is panic and anxiety naturally increases. Employees aren’t going to be as effective when there is uncertainty at work, especially with fear and concern around Coronavirus impacting mental health worldwide.

As far as possible, sales leaders need to know and communicate the following:

  • Job security. Are everyone’s jobs secure? If yes, then make sure the team knows this.
  • Overall company stability. Is the business secure? If yes, then make sure the team knows this. If no, then be as honest as possible what could happen, and what actions need to be taken to secure the company (and what those in sales roles can do, if applicable).
  • When the WFH policy comes into effect
  • How people are meant to work (what’s expected of the team, especially when it comes to KPIs and communicating);
  • What technology is being put in-place, and how/when there is going to be remote training to get everyone up-and-running?
  • Anything else timely and relevant. Acknowledging that no one knows how long working from home might be necessary, and what other support could come online soon (e.g. remote coaching/mental health).

#2: Get technology operational, quickly

Having the right technology in-place is essential. It will make everything easier, and give sales managers the oversight necessary to ensure the team can operate effectively.

Do your staff have the tools they need to work as effectively? Make sure everyone is using an instant messaging system with a Voice over IP (VoIP) option, such as Facebook Messenger, Viber, Skype, Telegram or a multitude of other free options. Encourage staff to jump on quick calls with one another for everything that needs an actual conversation, and use instant messaging for other needs.

For one-on-one meetings, you can augment telephone calls very easily with a solution like CrankWheel, which is the quickest way to show colleagues, clients and prospects your screen.

Alongside communication solutions, you need to ensure everyone is proactively filling in prospect call/meeting details in the CRM, and other tools are being used, such as project management apps.

#3: Open, transparent and proactive communications

When everyone is in the same office, there is immediate real-time accountability and oversight. It’s a natural consequence of working together. Plus, there is the chance for spontaneous collaboration and working together.

Once the team is working from home, managers are right to be concerned that will stop altogether, dragging down team cohesion and productivity with it. Don’t worry, it won’t. Especially if you put policies in-place to encourage honest and open communications and collaborative working.

Communication must be open, transparent, in real-time whenever possible, and proactive. Team members need to feel supported. Managers need to look after the team, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Daily kick-off calls and pre and post-lunch check-ins are great ways to keep the day moving forward in the right way.

#4: Allow for flexibility

Flexibility is important, even essential, right now. Employers need to demonstrate this, otherwise staff aren’t going to feel supported. Micro-managing and putting pressure on staff, especially those in sales teams, could easily generate the opposite effect.

Companies that are experienced in managing remote workers know judge performance based on outputs, instead of how busy employees are. Now that managers can’t physically see what staff are doing, systems need to be in-place to provide the oversight needed. But at the same time, there needs to be trust.

Managers need to learn to trust staff. Trust that sales teams are doing the work needed to hit targets, while accepting that some targets may need to be adjusted (depending on how customers/prospects are reacting to these unprecedented times). Trust and flexibility are key to adapting to a sales team going remote.