Remote working at a sales department – a guide for directors and salespeopleAgnieszka Zawadka
Remote working is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more entrepreneurs want to introduce this model of work at their organizations. We’ve compiled good practices of remote working at Livespace, which can be applied in various teams – especially at a sales department.
Remote working offers a number of opportunities to hire better employees and work more effectively, regardless of location. Nevertheless, many organizations have plenty of doubts about switching to the remote working model, or simply don’t know how to do this yet. At Livespace, we’ve been supporting remote working from the very beginning of the company’s existence, and now half of the company works from various parts of Poland and the world. Although on a daily basis the sales team works at the office, there are situations when they use the remote working solution – and it always does a great job! In this article, we share our proven practices and observations that should help to introduce effective remote working in sales teams and beyond.
This article will tell you:
- What the advantages of remote working are
- What the role of processes in remote working is
- Which remote working tools to use in a sales team
- How to streamline communication in remote working
- How to manage remote sales – advice for directors
- How to work remotely – advice for salespeople
Advantages of remote working
Remote working is becoming increasingly popular. Studies show that 63% of companies already have employees who work remotely. Surprisingly many? Not necessarily. Nearly 70% of employees work remotely at least one day a week. Most employees are on flexible terms of working from home – as many as 84% of those surveyed work from home as remote working..
Building a remotely working team brings many advantages. First of all, it saves time and costs (related to the office having to be run by the employer, or the employees’ having to commute to the office), but also gives the team members greater autonomy. Studies demonstrate that the biggest advantages perceived by employees include flexibility of working time and being able to perform tasks from anywhere. When it comes to working remotely, employees also appreciate the time spent with their families and the possibility of working from home.
From an employer’s perspective, it’s not just the savings associated with renting office space that matter but, most importantly, access to unlimited possibilities of hiring talented people – without being limited to recruiting those in the vicinity of the company’s seat, the pool of potential candidates for a job grows automatically.
Managing a remotely working team is not an easy thing to do. Fortunately, technology makes remote working easier. According to a Stanford University study, employees are 13% more productive when they work remotely.
The role of processes in remote working
Processes are absolutely the most important thing to implement when managing a remotely working sales team. Good processes give direction and provide a structure that makes the work easier. What processes are critical to establish in a sales team? Above all, the processes of generating leads, conducting product demos, finalizing sales opportunities, and serving customers. All of these should get systematized and digitalized so that the sales team can successfully switch to remote working. Based on a wealth of experience, we at Livespace have prepared numerous materials that help to design a sales process:
- Everything you need to know about the sales process
- How to create and measure a sales process – a video
- How to design a sales process: ready-made templates
Of course, it’s not enough to just design a sales process – you also need to persuade your salespeople to use it. A CRM system will help. It’s able to reflect the sales process and guide the salesperson through the tasks to be performed, thanks to which he or she won’t forget any task and will successfully bring the sales transaction to completion.
Work tools for remote sales teams
The tools we use on a daily basis include: Livespace CRM for managing sales, JIRA for managing tasks in teams and projects, Slack for communication, and Confluence for managing knowledge at the company. The selection of tools depends on the company’s needs and abilities. Below, we’ve explained why the tools that we use are key:
Livespace – to every sales team, a CRM system is an absolutely basic tool. It allows to store and manage customer data, thanks to which you avoid losing access to customers when a salesperson loses his/her address book or leaves the company. Also, Livespace helps salespeople to carry out the sales process thanks to the tasks that give them step-by-step hints on what to do in a sales transaction. With regard to directors, a CRM system allows them to quickly see specific sales transactions so they don’t have to ask their salespeople all the time what they’re doing. Checking that in the CRM system will suffice. Consequently, a CRM system also allows to monitor the progress of the sales team’s work on an ongoing basis and to quickly react when any actions need to be corrected.
Slack – in our daily work, we highly value instant exchange of information. Our primary instant messenger is Slack, where the sales team exchanges private messages but also uses channels for (among other things): monitoring any leads that come to customer service, checking the status of changes in the product, and communicating with customer success in matters related to the customers being served.
JIRA – although we use this tool mainly to plan and monitor tasks in teams that (usually) work in the so-called sprints, i.e., (usually) two-week-long project blocks, JIRA proves useful also to the sales team. Its basic application is the planning of activities that go beyond the ongoing handling of sales opportunities, e.g., the planning of an outbound campaign, or changing the handling of leads. Another application is, for example, using this tool for letting customers report errors or for letting potential customers submit inquiries about product changes.
Confluence – knowledge management tools are becoming increasingly popular at companies. At Livespace, we use Confluence to describe processes, procedures, projects, etc. Thanks to that, merchants have access at their fingertips (literally, all it takes is a few clicks) to the necessary information about the company, product, and arrangements such as, e.g., the rules for extending test accounts, the discount policy, and changes in the application.
Zoom – videoconferencing is the basis for communication in dispersed teams, but also for working with customers. Its main advantage is the possibility of seeing non-verbal messages. Zoom is used in sales to hold online meetings with customers, during which the salesperson demonstrates the operation of the Livespace CRM application, as well as individual/group conversations with the team. 1-on-1 calls are available free of charge without any limits, whereas group calls are limited to 40 minutes in the free package. Useful feature: possibility of recording calls and meetings, e.g., for people who couldn’t participate at the set time.
Sharepoint – a standard tool for cooperating on documents, e.g., contracts with customers, or product presentations. It allows teams to access various materials, for instance, marketing, product, and company-wide materials.
Hardware – when switching to remote working, everyone usually focuses on advanced technological solutions yet forgets about the basics. First and foremost, a company must invest in ICT solutions that will allow employees to feel like they’re at the office, and to work comfortably. Remote employees should get the whole set consisting of a laptop computer with a good quality webcam and headphones with a microphone.
How to ensure communication in remote working
Communication in a sales team can be considered from two perspectives. The first one concerns ongoing communication, i.e., exchanging information and discussing matters, which serves to maintain the team well-integrated. At Livespace, this type of communication usually happens by means of messages sent via the Slack instant messenger (in private messages as well as on topic-specific and company-wide channels), telephone calls, and audio-video calls via the Zoom, Hangouts, and Slack applications. Important: in the case of online team meetings, it’s good when everyone has their webcams on – this makes the conversation easier thanks to the possibility of seeing non-verbal messages. At Livespace, the team almost doesn’t use emails for internal communication at all – this greatly helps to organize any conversations held and to avoid the chaos of figuring out who was supposed to reply to whom, where, and what.
An example of a video conference in the Livespace sales team
The second type of communication concerns discussing matters related to the progress of specific sales transactions. At Livespace, the sales team (much like the other teams) draws a lot from the Scrum methodology, and has introduced the following into its work:
- daily scrums – devoted to the daily statuses of the entire sales team, and lasting about 15 minutes. Every morning, at 9:30 a.m., the team meets in a video conference. Afterwards, each team member briefly talks about what he or she was doing yesterday, and what he or she plans on doing today. This is also the right time to mention any encountered problems, challenges, and needs.
- weekly scrums – weekly meetings of the entire sales team, which last 1–1.5 hours. Every week, the team meets to discuss the sales funnel of each salesperson. During this meeting, the forecast is checked for being up-to-date, and transactions that require more support from other people are discussed. The purpose of all this is to accomplish team and individual objectives together.
If it happens that the team meets at the office, the scrums are organized on the premises. But if the possibilities or needs dictate otherwise, the scrums are organized online without any problem.
At this point, we should also mention the CRM system – obviously, our sales team uses Livespace every day. How does CRM support team communication? It’s mainly used to discuss specific sales transactions – this is what the notes on the sales opportunity card and contact card are for.
An example of communication in Livespace CRM
Another important thing in remote working is to ensure communication between other teams, so that the sales team knows what they are doing, working on, and planning. For many years now, we at Livespace have been doing the so-called Friday summaries – every Friday, at 2:00 p.m., we call the whole company so that each team can briefly share what they have done recently. We have also included an integration element in these meetings – at the end of the online meeting, we conduct funny quizzes with which we check product, company-wide, and employee-related knowledge. The official and integration parts last about 20 minutes each.
Once a quarter, we organize quarterly meetings during which we focus on summing up the quarter and planning the next one – this is the time when all the employees from various corners of Poland and the world come to the office.
Feedback – another key element in building a team that works remotely. At Livespace, we use two forms of feedback:
- ongoing feedback – given on an ongoing basis when a situation worth praising or remedying occurs.
- quarterly feedback – given at the turn of quarters during the periodic meeting, in order to emphasize desired attitudes/behaviors and correct any undesirable activities.
When it comes to communication, it’s important to establish communication standards that everyone agrees to. Discuss the following with your team: what tools you want to use and for what purpose, how you want to communicate, when you expect information – what the time for responding to a phone call, text message, email, or Slack message is. I recommend that you write a team contract in which the above-mentioned issues will be addressed, and to which each team member will be able to refer.
How to manage remote sales – advice for directors
Set short- and long-term objectives. At Livespace, we use the OKR methodology to set quarterly objectives, and this is also how we plan sales targets (in consultation with marketing). These objectives get translated into scorecards for each salesperson in Livespace CRM. That is also where the salespeople’ progress is monitored – not only in terms of achieving the global objective, but also in terms of the activities undertaken to help achieve the individual objective.
Establish rules of cooperation. At Livespace, we regularly map the processes and describe them in order to balance the knowledge across the teams. This allows us to refresh the rules of cooperation. We create instructions (checklists), process descriptions, and we sign contracts. Speaking of. Contracts are one of the most underestimated and overlooked tools that help to regulate the basic principles of teamwork. Want to work out a contract with your team? Have a meeting, e.g. online, in which each member of the team will speak their mind on what behaviors and attitudes in other people support teamwork. Next, discuss these ideas and write them down on a piece of paper (or in some online space). It’s important to write down these (sometimes seemingly trivial) points. Why? Because you’ll be able to refer to them later, e.g., when one of the rules gets violated. Examples of rules that can be entered into the contract: we start daily scrums every day at 9:00 a.m. on the dot; we always say what we think; on days off we don’t work – we rest!
Monitor the progress of work. Monitoring is not the same as controlling. On the market, there are a lot of applications designed to manage customers, projects, and sales. Besides Livespace CRM, you may be interested in Asana, Trello, JIRA, or Confluence. Each of them gives you a quick insight into the progress of work, thus enabling you to promptly respond wherever support and corrective action are needed.
Train your employees. Make sure that the team which works remotely or is only just switching to remote working is properly trained. Prepare a guide for your employees, in which they’ll be able to find all the key information. This information may include: the rules of remote working, availability hours, the rules of company hardware use, good practices for logging in to company servers and securing one’s devices. Some of these things may seem trivial, but it’s better to make sure everyone knows how to act than to risk someone being prone to ineffective work. Also, don’t forget about regular training courses for your sales team – there are many valuable sources of sales knowledge available online. Check out the materials prepared by Livespace – many sales teams use our materials during employee onboarding.
Build trust. Building trust takes a lot of time. When you don’t have the opportunity to meet someone in person, this process takes much longer. Why is trust important in the remote work of a sales team? First of all, to increase both sides’ work comfort – so that the director can rest assured that the salesperson is not slacking off, and the employee can avoid stressing out about being checked on all the time by his/her superior. As Harvard Business Review reports, people avoid helping others when there’s a lack of trust toward their colleagues or superiors.
Stay in touch. Trust is built through communication. So, don’t let ‘radio silence’ (when no one in the team talks to anyone) creep into the team’s work. This is extremely demotivating. It can be particularly hard on people who’ve been forced to work remotely by the circumstances but are used to the daily hustle and bustle of teamwork. Try not only to contact your employees, but also to organize video conferences. Remote working is a challenge for many managers – to bring the team close, to make it go in the same direction, and to make sure that no member of the remote team feels isolated. If possible, integrate also physical meetings into the work of a team that normally works remotely.
Promote teamwork. If the team do not trust each other, they won’t be willing to cooperate or help each other. Don’t see the connection? I recommend reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. In sales, there’s a natural need to achieve – first and foremost – individual goals. To avoid unhealthy rivalry, you should ensure regular feedback, explain roles in the team and in the sales process, etc.
Promote commitment. Committed employees can be 10 times more productive than those who aren’t. In the case of remote working, where personal contact is limited, it’s much easier to lose commitment. To prevent this, you should:
- reduce employee frustration – make it easier for people to do their job. If someone doesn’t like to do prospecting, but is a super-effective salesperson in sealing deals, relieve them of the obligation to look for new contacts, and assign a separate team to do this or find a tool that’ll take this load off his/her shoulders.
- give support – talk to employees, help them solve difficult cases, take over tedious tasks or provide tools that will help salespeople. There’s nothing worse than a salesperson’s feeling of being left to themselves.
How to work remotely – advice for salespeople
Establish rules of cooperation. Absolutely the first thing to do to avoid misunderstandings. It’s worth talking to your superior and determining how to perform your duties in the remote working model, how to do reporting, and how to communicate. This will facilitate execution of tasks and fulfillment of expectations, and will translate into effective cooperation.
Stay in touch. People who work in an office on a daily basis and suddenly get cut off from the world and have to switch to remote working may feel demotivated. This is why it’s important to maintain constant contact with colleagues. If you work in a sales team, talk to its members often and not only about work. Practice the habit of starting the day by checking on how others are doing. Not only will communication help to streamline and coordinate your work, but it will also help to keep you connected and fight the feeling of loneliness that can be tough after you suddenly switch to remote working.
Participate in meetings. If there are regular audio or video conferences scheduled for the team, a salesperson should do everything not to miss them. This will ensure that the salesperson doesn’t become invisible to the other members, and will allow the superiors not to forget who he/she is and what he/she does.
Use tools. The tools that the organization uses online are now the salesperson’s second office. It’s worth taking advantage of their potential to make work easier – for you, and for others. That’s why instead of fighting, for example, with a CRM system, it’s better to befriend it, get to know its capabilities, and check in which sales activities it can relieve the workload.
Separate rest from work. Some people are unable to work remotely because they can’t motivate themselves or don’t have proper conditions for work. There are many things that can distract you and pull you away from your work, especially if your new workplace is your apartment. In order to focus on work, it’ll help to separate a special space for work at home, define the working hours, and introduce some daily rituals like getting dressed ‘as if for work’. This will create a clear division between the place where the salesperson works and the rest of the house.
The so-called home office is like all motivational tools – you need to approach them individually, as well as check what can be advantageous to the given employee and to the company and whether the model is attractive in a specific situation at all. Remember that for many people this will not be a dream come true because they need frequent contact with people, meetings, interactions, and external motivation to act. Similarly, for many companies, the remote working model won’t perform well, especially if it’s not thought out or implemented in accordance with the principles of how employees and customers function. However, if an organization decides to implement remote working, if only in the sales team, we advocate using the method of small steps and introducing changes one by one without making a big revolution.