Well before the age of coronavirus — it seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? — we were seeing a steady, rapid increase in sales teams who were transitioning to remote work.
And for good reason: It can benefit everyone. Employees, especially millennials, appreciate the flexibility to work from anywhere, and sales orgs open themselves up to a much larger pool of talent when they’re not limited to hiring locally.
But sales teams face unique challenges when they go remote — even when they’ve had plenty of time to plan for the transition. It’s always a challenge, for example, to put the right tools in place and hire people who can handle a certain level of independence.
So when your sales team unexpectedly and hastily goes remote… well, that’s even harder.
One of the biggest challenges sales managers face? Keeping tabs on their teams from afar. Especially if you’re a manager who wasn’t prepared for the remote shift, it can feel like you’re suddenly wearing blinders. How do I know what my reps are doing all day? How do I know if they’re staying on track?
The good news is the same basic sales coaching principles and best practices still apply, and they’ll still help you maintain a system of accountability. They just may require a few tweaks.
Here are 5 tactics every sales manager should implement to keep your reps accountable, aligned, and on a path to success — even when you’re not sharing a sales floor.
- Set daily activity targets
- Add a little (more) structure
- Reinvent your 1:1s
- Shore up your tech stack
- Leverage your team
1. Set Daily Activity Targets
Many sales teams set daily activity targets to keep reps on track. It’s a great way to ensure your people hit their longer-term objective targets and ultimately achieve results.
Remote sales managers may want to take daily activity targets one step further. Why? At 8 a.m., 5 p.m. feels like it’s a long way off. Your reps may overestimate what they can get done if they don’t pace themselves as they would in the office.
To help, consider setting multiple activity targets throughout the day. One Ambition customer runs a “10×10” program for their remote reps: Every morning, reps need to make 10 calls by 10 a.m. Managers get a private alert in email or Slack when reps haven’t hit their target, so they can jump in if they need to help a rep get back on track.
2. Add a Little (More) Structure
Every sales manager has a unique coaching style. It may range from total independence — essentially setting your reps free — to complete micromanagement. Of course, the most effective sales managers tend to have a style that falls somewhere in the middle.
If you’ve found your sweet spot, that’s great. You don’t need to overhaul your approach or methodology. In fact, that could do more harm than good since your team is already trying to adapt to the substantial and stressful changes COVID-19 has introduced.
But do consider adding more structure to your existing coaching program.
What does that mean, specifically? For starters, weekly 1:1s just isn’t enough if you want your team to stay connected, aligned, and motivated. A few ideas:
“Brown bag” lunches
You don’t have to be in the office to share a meal together. Set up regular (and casual) “Lunch and Learns” with your whole team — webcam required. Pick a topic to cover or skill to hone. Or better yet, crowdsource ideas from your reps.
Peer learning often happens organically in an office setting, but working from home can feel like working in a silo. Jump in and help newer, less experienced reps connect with more experienced reps by designating time for peer coaching opportunities on a weekly or biweekly basis.
Then, step back. The magic of peer coaching happens when your manager isn’t looking over your shoulder!
Make an effort to stay abreast of what’s happening in tangential departments, like Marketing, Sales Enablement, and Product.
Sure, you may hear updates during all-hands meetings or via Slack, but since you’re no longer absorbing important details through osmosis at the office, consider setting up a time for your team to interface with a representative from another department.
Keep in mind, no one likes pointless, fluffy meetings. Adding in extra, structured opportunities to coach and connect is smart when your team is distributed. Just make sure that every calendar invite has a clear objective and agenda.
3. Reinvent Your 1:1s
Your 1:1 “template” should be a living, breathing thing. No, you don’t need to change up your questions every week, but these meetings should evolve as your team grows and changes.
That said, when your team is going through a major transition, it’s a prime time to rethink your 1:1 format. A few things to keep in mind:
Strike the right tone
Be empathetic. We’re all dealing with an unprecedented crisis, and it’s adding stress to everyone’s lives, on both a professional and personal level. Of course, your 1:1s should be much more than a temperature check — but start there.
Ask how your reps are doing. Show you care about their physical and mental wellbeing during this trying time. Right now, there’s no such thing as “business as usual.”
Troubleshoot WFH challenges
Working from home can be a whole different ball game, especially if your reps have roommates hanging around, or if they are parents trying to wrangle tiny interns, thanks to closed schools and daycares. Help your people troubleshoot issues that are blocking their productivity, and think through ways you can provide flexibility while still helping them stay on track.
Let your reps lead
Remember: coaching sessions are not mini-performance reviews. In fact, your reps should be leading the sessions. This approach is even more critical for remote reps since you don’t get the chance for regular, casual interaction.
As always, guide the conversation with a solid mix of thoughtful, open-ended questions. Ask questions that encourage your reps to make observations about their performance and draw conclusions based on those observations, then apply them to new and different circumstances.
4. Shore Up Your Tech Stack
Fortunately, most of the tools we’re now using to stay connected aren’t new. Zoom, Slack. We were already using them.
Of course, staying connected is one thing. Staying accountable and motivated is another. These are the tools you need to ensure performance doesn’t take a nosedive.
Sales coaching software
With fewer opportunities to interface with your reps, you need to make the most of the time you have together. Our mantra: automate what you can.
Find ways to take administrative work off your plate, like scheduling coaching sessions, recording notes and coaching conversations, creating and tracking action plans, etc.
Send your reps their 1:1 questions ahead of time (bonus if you can automate that, too), and make sure you get their responses before your session starts so you can spend time on a meaningful conversation.
Sales gamification software
Sales contests are a tried-and-true tactic to add a layer of accountability while also getting your reps fired up to sell. Bonus: healthy competition (and maybe some friendly trash-talking) can provide a welcome distraction from everything that’s happening in the world right now.
The key to remote competitions is visibility. Make sure you’ve got a sales gamification tool that integrates with email and Slack, so everyone can celebrate wins together. And make sure leaderboards screens are accessible through URLs.
5. Leverage Your Team
Of course, you want your reps to feel accountable to you: you’re their manager and you’re helping to steer the ship.
At the end of the day, though, it takes every person on your team to achieve results and hit The Number. Sales should be a team sport — so find ways to encourage collaboration and nurture relationships, even when your people are apart. You’ll add a layer of “peer accountability,” and it’s also just a great culture play. Consider:
During your regular team meetings, set aside time for reps to shout out their teammates for something they did that was particularly smart or well-executed. If you don’t already do this, you’ll find that reps look forward to earning recognition from their team.
Remember, this requires overcommunication throughout the week and performance visibility, which leads us to our next point.
As a manager, you hopefully have easy access to performance data and insights for your reps. But do your reps have that same easy access?
Make it easy to see the team and individual progress against goals — even better if it’s automatically visualized in charts or graphs, so you and your reps aren’t having to run Salesforce reports or shuffle through spreadsheets.
As noted above, sales competitions are a great way to ignite the competitive spirit. Make sure you’re not limiting yourself to only individual competitions. Run team competitions — especially ones where you’re pairing up newbies with seasoned pros — so that teammates can collaborate together and hold each other accountable. Or try some of these team-building activities.
Whether you’ve always been remote or it’s a recent, potentially short-term shift, you can optimize a distributed team without overhauling every process and workflow. In other words: Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
But do think through ways you can adapt your management style to a new situation. Adding in extra layers of accountability, when done thoughtfully and with your team front of mind, you’ll be able to keep your remote team on track, even in uncertain conditions.