• Sales Execution

14 Tips for Managing Remote Sales Teams When You Weren’t Expecting To

Michael Lowe

Michael Lowe
Director, Content Marketing, Clari

14 Tips for Managing Remote Sales Teams When You Weren’t Expecting To

Revenue leaders have found themselves unexpectedly coaching and managing their team from afar every day—and all indicators show that remote sales team management will continue for some time.

While field sales teams were always remote, the inability to build in-person relationships with clients, or collaborate face-to-face during team meetings at the office, or huddle up for a critical one-on-one over coffee, is changing the way entire revenue organization must operate.

Gone are the days of feeling the buzz from calls happening from the sales floor. No longer can reps wheel their way over to your desk to ask a quick question about sales process or methodology. Everything takes more effort, more intention, more reinforcement, more documentation and more empathy towards your reps who may be facing burnout without even knowing it.

We understand that just as well as anyone else, so our revenue leaders are sharing some of their top tips for managing remote sales teams with you.

Driving the Predictable Revenue Process

Though in-person meetings have ceased to exist, the demand for driving the predictable revenue process has continued to increase. How can you coach your team to make good on their number while overcoming economic and logistical challenges?

Focus on relevance and share best practices

Working deals in a completely virtual environment means losing the opportunity to build trust face-to-face and pick up on body language—after all, so much of our communication, from gestures to facial expressions, is nonverbal, as the American Psychological Association notes. For sales leaders, that means finding ways to coach their sales reps to work deals with more rigor and creativity.

“We coach our team to focus on identifying and using clear discovery questions and aligning on strong next steps,” Holly Procter, Clari’s Vice President of Sales. “It’s much easier to ignore cold calls and cold emails as a buyer today, so relevance is incredibly important. The amount of preparation for a meeting or even the first outreach has gone up and can’t be underscored enough.”

When Procter’s team does find a tactic or strategy that works, remote workers can’t relay that discovery to colleagues as easily while working from home—they can’t turn and speak across the room or knock on an office door. Procter actively encourages sharing best practices when a rep finds something that works.

“When a sales rep does something amazing and nobody is around to hear it because everyone is working from their home office, that best practice is typically lost,” she says. “A sales leader’s responsibility has to include finding best practices in a remote environment and cascading the knowledge to the rest of the team.”

Double down on critical questions, revenue and otherwise

One-on-ones are a critical component to the revenue cadence. These meetings allow sales managers to not only inspect reps’ deals that contribute to the sales forecast, but also spend time on career development. Double down on these moments to continue strengthening the relationships with your remote team members and identifying the pipeline critical to driving predictable revenue.

“In field sales, one-on-ones were already mostly remote, but now we’re having much more human conversations. Taking time to understand how the other person is doing and what’s going on in their lives has been really nice,” says Anthony Cessario, Clari’s Vice President of Enterprise Sales. “From a revenue perspective, much of our time is spent discussing the activity and relationship insights in our most active pipeline. How is the velocity of meetings and email exchanges changing? Are we engaged with the right stakeholders? Are they staying engaged with us? Are we keeping regular touch points in accounts where budgets are on hold until fiscal year ‘21 planning is finalized?”

Communicate early and often on process

Revenue isn’t just an outcome, it’s a process that can be streamlined and optimized—and it should be run that way whether remote or in the office. However, trying to enforce the sales process with an all-virtual sales team can be a challenge. There’s not only a deluge of information that now has to be communicated via Zoom, but there are also additional processes, frameworks, and documentation that need to be shared as an adaptation to remote sales motions. What can sales enablement and sales operations teams do to encourage adoption and steward change management while remote?

“Especially in times when teams are all working remote, it becomes even more important to set clear expectations and ensure that processes are followed,” says Rosalyn Santa-Elena, Head of Revenue Operations at Clari. “For operations teams, we need to continue to communicate early and often, as well as follow up with our internal revenue team and our stakeholders to ensure alignment across the end-to-end revenue process. The key is to stay engaged, follow the revenue cadence, and over-communicate.”

Synchronize to prioritize enablement goals

Within days of going remote, the number of Zoom meetings seemed to proliferate, occupying every open space on the calendar. For sales enablement teams, ensuring sessions are time well spent for the entire team is critical to building trust and continuing the same level of educational rigor even while remote.

“We have to be very diligent about scheduling of enablement programs and sales training,” says Brent McNamara, Clari’s Head of Global Sales Enablement. “Understanding priorities and getting feedback from revenue leadership on what should be prioritized and what shouldn't needs to be an ongoing exercise.

“For example, we hold a stakeholders prioritization sync twice a year with quarterly check-ins. First, we get feedback from individual leaders to identify the top initiatives from each, then we combine that feedback from each of the leaders into buckets to see where the common priorities lie. Lastly, we validate as a group on direction and objectives.”

Make prospects keep their commitments

Within months of the pandemic, the number of meetings between sales professionals and prospects shot up by 14%, according to Clari’s Covid-19 Revenue Impact Report. But making sure the prospect actually shows up in this virtual world among a seemingly endless lineup of meetings is a completely different ball game.

“We’ve had to get creative. We’ve armed our sales reps with email sequences that lead up to that meeting with strategic content so we can stay top of mind for the prospect,” says Pat Kenney, Clari’s Manager of Sales Development. “The cherry on the top is in the reminder email for the meeting. The team sends a gift card for coffee as a reminder that we’re scheduled to chat about Clari over a virtual coffee break.

“Today, calendars are full of Zoom meetings, so we try to stand out and make the prospect feel as invested as we are.”

Take a listen-first approach

Every company and team has been affected by the current pandemic and subsequent economic fallout differently. Often it’s hard to understand what the situation is until your reps start looking under the hood. Encourage your reps to approach new prospects from a place of empathy.

“We coach our sales reps to understand the unique pains that the prospects are having during these times before pushing for the meeting,” says Steven Lopes, Clari’s Manager of Sales Development. “How dramatically has their company been impacted by the economic side effects of Covid-19? From there we can understand how to pivot our value depending on how they have adapted their business strategy.”

Optimize Internal Meetings and Communication

Meetings are a critical part of the entire revenue process, but it’s important to find a balance in the world of remote selling. Too many meetings and the demand can feel overwhelming to your team. Too few meetings and important information might slip through the cracks. Here are tips for how you can manage your meetings across the entire sales team.

Make every meeting valuable—or don’t meet at all

Everyone is feeling video call fatigue these days, which means sales leaders need to consider which meetings are actually worthwhile and valuable to the team. If they’re not absolutely critical, consider alternate means of communication. If they are, consider alternative meeting formats to keep the energy flowing and mix things up.

“We have to make every meeting valuable, and if the meeting is not really needed, let’s think about using alternative methods such as Slack or email,” says Ben Chen, Clari’s Sales Engineering Leader. “In the spirit of promoting ownership of individuals to step up and share learnings, team meetings are now run in rotation where each person gets an opportunity to lead the team meeting with pre-planned topics.”

Hold productive meetings, while getting exercise

When you’re working from home all day every day without seeing anyone but your spouse, roommate or dog, it’s easy for your revenue team to stay glued to their seat—but don’t let them. Not only is it bad for productivity, notes the New York Times, it’s also bad for their health. If everything is virtual, why not truly take the call on the road—or hiking path, or sidewalk.

“We try to do every other one-on-one meeting while walking together,” says Amy Johnson, Clari’s Vice President of Customer Success. “Not only is it a chance to get some exercise throughout the day, it also carves out time for strategic thinking without screens and emails and notifications that can be distracting.”

Reinforce key ideas over time

Increasing the number of team meetings throughout the week might seem counterintuitive, but this strategy can help to reiterate key themes and action items your team needs to focus on. Rather than meeting just for meeting’s sake, consider breaking larger meetings into smaller chunks throughout the week.

“We're much more focused on being efficient with our time and making things more digestible for our team,” says Jason Plank, Clari’s Director of Revenue. “What was an hour and a half meeting is now broken into three 30-minute meetings throughout the week. We’re going for quality over quantity and increasing our touchpoints to reinforce what we need to do more consistently."

Adopt a people-first mindset

Even if your remote team spends all day together on Zoom, it’s important to remind them of the people on the other side of that screen. For sales leaders, that means leading by example.

“I block off the first 30 minutes of my day to message my team and coworkers, ‘Good morning,’ and ask how their weekends or evening went, just like I would in the office lunchroom,” says Diana Lustenader Cappello, the Manager of Sales Engineering for Global Enterprise and Strategic at Clari. “It helps people feel connected and share. Alternatively, I might ask ‘What is the most important thing for you to accomplish this week,’ and follow up on the progress or ask how I can support them.”

Be mindful of how others communicate

Working from home means the lines between work and life can often blend, which sometimes results in unplanned long hours or late nights. After-hours emails and Slack messages can feel like a call to action to employees—even when managers don’t expect anyone to jump at 9 p.m. As a manager, keeping in mind the way your remote employees work as well as their local time zone can avoid burnout from your most responsive workers.

“If you need to send something late at night, make sure to articulate the priority,” says Jessica Starr, Clari’s Director of Customer Success Operations. “You may have people on your team who are so all in that if you ask them to do something they will try to do it immediately.”

Continue to Prioritize Professional Growth

Gone are the days of the casual check-ins, with a pat on the back and a few quick, kind words about the latest deal developments. If you don’t replace constant in-person positive reinforcement, sales rep morale can dip—with productivity and revenue to follow.

Celebrate the wins

The highest performing teams received about six positive comments to one negative comment, according to Harvard Business Review. While it may be easy to casually praise your team in the office, doing so virtually is a not always top of mind.

“Set up micro-goals weekly, like a weekly meetings-set target, so your sales reps feel like they’re making progress towards the larger goal. Celebrate the little wins when they happen,” says Alex Jagiello, Clari’s Head of Revenue Development. “Those larger quarterly goals can often feel out of reach sometimes, so we break them down and then celebrate at the end of the week by doing a virtual happy hour or bring a comedian to join a Zoom call or simply reflecting during our weekly Friday meetings.”

Keep your remote team on their toes

Life in quarantine can make every day feel the same, a cyclical routine on repeat. Creating moments that catch your remote sales people off guard or force them to think differently can rewire their brain for good, even as they continue learning new and different ways to handle objections or sell the product.

“I encourage my sales reps to practice T-CUP: Thinking Clearly Under Pressure,” says Vernon Bubb, Clari’s Managing Director of EMEA. “I believe thinking clearly under pressure can be taught, so we work on it regularly. On weekly calls I’ll have one pop quiz question, often a typical customer product question. Everyone has to answer on the spot, and we discuss the answers. After the discussion, everyone answers the question a second time so they’re able to incorporate feedback and learn by doing.”

Bring in outside experts and customers

Advice, coaching, and guidance shouldn’t always flow top down. Bringing in outside speakers, industry leaders, and customers to share insights exposes your team to a diversity of thought that can encourage creative thinking and new ways of solving problems. Although nothing beats the face-to-face energy of an in-person appearance, you may land more guests now that they aren’t maintaining a busy travel schedule.

“Bring in outside speakers to share their experience on influential topics around leadership and personal development. We’ve brought in a former (U.S. Army Special Forces) Green Beret to talk about leadership as well as Clari customers to showcase the amazing things they’re doing with our technology,” says David Delnero, Clari’s vice president of Enterprise Strategic Sales and Emerging Markets. We encourage spouses, kids, and significant others to join our happy hours so we can all get to know each other beyond typical day-to-day work life.”

Read more about managing remote sales teams

Remote selling and managing remote sales teams is likely here to stay. Companies from Twitter and Square to Okta have committed to going remote indefinitely in the wake of Covid-19. We’re here to help you brush up on your remote selling and management strategies:

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