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Out of sight,

out of mind?
PETER THOMSON and DAVID
BATUP look at the challenge of
managing remote sales teams
he best sales teams are composed of the best

K
sales executives or reps, regardless of where
they work — in different countries, offices or
homes. With the right sales management,
remote or virtual teams can be more effective
than those based in the corporate office. Frequently, sales
managers are credited with being good at managing
remote teams. The assumption is that they would be,
because the field sales team are one group of people who
traditionally have never been office bound. But we are
starting to see examples where this is not the case and the
risks and difficulties associated with remote teams are
impacting performance.
It’s all too easy to overlook the performance, morale
and development needs of a remote sales team. Often,
sales managers can succumb to the pressure of firefighting,
running with deals themselves, reporting upwards and all
the distraction that working in a corporate office entails.
This often relegates their direct reports to second place.
Slipping into this mode of working
leads the sales manager into a situation
from which it is very hard to recover.
Typically the warning signs of poor
performance are not easy to spot and
can be masked by the individual.
Performance indicators, such as pipeline
and revenue achievement do show
individual performance but the time lag With the right sales management, remote
in reporting and length of the sales
process can mask problems. And from or virtual teams can be more effective
the remote sales rep’s perspective the
situation can also be difficult. At times
they may be struggling on their own
than those based in the corporate office
and finding it hard to stay motivated. Information management: ensuring that a remote team
Many of the problems in being a remote based employee member is provided with the same access to formal and
and managing remote staff are common across job types. informal information as their colleagues in the office.
Social and team aspects: isolation and detachment
This list is typical of the issues faced experienced by those who are remote (‘the loneliness of
Trust: Establishing trust between a manager and a home- the long-distance worker’) and lack of motivation and
based virtual worker to combat suspicion that working at engagement with team goals and timescales.
home means slacking or abuse of agreements. Visibility and development: the propensity of managers
Work management: organising and specifying work in and office colleagues to see remote workers as out of
terms of results so that it can be accomplished without sight, out of mind; concern by remote workers that they
detailed management supervision. are harming their career advancement; concern that they

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could be missing out on training and development it’s less effective when the individuals are remotely based.
opportunities offered to office-based colleagues. These factors should be considered more as guidelines
Communications: problems ranging from the realities of than measures of performance. Trust is a major factor
technology support for home workers, through lack of when managing remote teams. But with trust comes
availability of, or skill in using, up-to-date collaboration responsibility to perform. Where there has to be an
tools, to reluctance to communicate through technology. element of flexible working to achieve sales targets the
Time management: for the home-based virtual worker, trust factor becomes even more important.
being capable of working effectively without the rhythm Flexible or remote working is not a new concept in sales,
of the office; dealing with family and friends’ belief that but it does pose the question of who is responsible for
they are fair game to be interrupted; feelings of guilt getting work done. If sales managers divide the territory,
leading to excessive working hours. allocate the patches to individual members of the sales
team, and direct and dictate what needs to be done, we
Homing in on sales — and focusing on outputs stay with the current ‘industrial age’ model of working.
There is a tendency for sales management to measure But if the remote based sales executives agree what they
activity such as the number of calls made, demonstrations are going to achieve and then carry out the tasks necessary
given or appointments booked as an indicator of goal to provide the results required, we have a view of work
performance. While this is valid, given that there does more appropriate for sales in the ‘information age’.
need to be an optimum level of activity to achieve targets, By allowing sales reps to take responsibility for

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It’s very easy for remote reps to feel isolated from the
producing results and rewarding them for outstrip their individual targets. Almost everything
outputs, not inputs, we have a different approach else should come a poor second. It is easy to
to the work required to make the numbers. assess this: just take a quick look at the diary for
This ‘results only work environment’, or ROWE last month and add up the time spent on
for short, has been adopted very successfully by motivation, coaching and helping the remote
Best Buy, a Fortune 100 company employing team. If it’s less than 60% it’s time for a rethink.
140,000 people worldwide. This shows that the So given you have a remote based sales team,
approach is not just a fad among a few small what is it you can do to focus on results and
companies but is a serious business strategy that outcomes? We will look at this from the
can have outstanding results. performance building blocks of strategy, people

5 This shift toward ROWE does not mean a 100%


commission-only style of managing or rewarding
sales executives but it does move the emphasis to
outcomes. Given that the sales manager cannot be
everywhere the focus on performance management
shifts towards the individual and what they can
and process and within these are our top 10 tips
for improving the performance of your remote
salespeople.

Strategy — focus on outcomes, support


systems and performance management
achieve. This requires less management time spent Taking the strategic thinking, planning and
on an individual’s activity or inputs and more time operational sales tasks as done or under way, the
on the factors that generate sales performance: smart sales manager would do well to consider
■ Deals closed by week or month rather than by what it is they could do to increase the effectiveness
quarter or year of their remote sales team. Many of the ‘meaningful
■ Conversion rate of leads into prospects and effective’ strategic approaches will take time
■ Profile and strength of the sales pipeline and effort. If we had to choose just three for this
■ Level of repeat business year these would be our recommendations.
■ Average deal size and profitability. ■ Measure outcomes — but it’s better if managers
To find this time sales managers will need to sit down and agree with reps what makes sense.
re-examine what it is they do day by day. The They need to agree on how they will both know
smart approach is to spend time on the tasks that the job is getting done, and what the warning
motivate, coach and help the remote team to signs are if things are slipping.

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■ Talk to people. A survey of remote workers by


Henley Management College found communication
was considered to be the most important skill
needed by managers of remote teams. We are not
advocating more emails (fewer would be good) but
strongly encourage managers to find the time to
call. Managers should sharpen up their EQ skills
to enhance their listening and develop a sixth
sense to detect when things are not right.
■ Socialising. It’s very easy for remote reps to feel
isolated from the team and the company. The risk
is they start to disengage from the company and
its goals, leading to the inevitable loss of
performance and ultimately, resignation. People
miss out on valuable social interactions when they
don’t meet face to face. Managers need to organise
social events, even if it is just that everyone comes
in on a Friday and goes to the pub at lunchtime.

Process — time management, sales


knowledge management (SKM) and training
Sales managers are not known for their love of
process. But when it comes to managing a remote
team, process can become the difference between
achieving an OK performance and an exceptional
one. There are four areas we recommend you take
a close look at.
■ Put it in the diary. Managers need to be organised;
meetings and teleconferences need to be scheduled
for remote teams to work at their best. Managing
outcomes and time management are key to the
effective running of remote teams. This takes
effort. Simple techniques such as ring-fenced
blocks of time and not going into the office prior
to meeting a remote rep avoids getting embroiled

team and the company in the latest firefight.


■ If a remote rep cannot gain the same level of
information, help, best practice, fieldcraft and
■ Look at the CRM system and develop reports collateral as their office-based colleagues then
that are focused on outcomes rather than inputs, they are at a distinct disadvantage. SKM solutions
eg. it’s better to know a conversion rate or volume need to be available, preferably via the web 24/7,
than how many calls have been made. for all travelling and remote staff.
■ Take performance management seriously. There ■ Consider a forum addition to your SKM to allow
is no point firing off a stinging email to a remote a more collaborative and unstructured form of
rep after the quarter end when it’s clear they have help and advice. In this way a remote rep can tap
not made target. It is much better to know into the collective knowledge and understanding
beforehand so you can take action to recover the of the whole team. Open this up to everyone in the
situation. Plan to be out with the sales executives sales value chain — marketing, pre-sales and
for a day to visit customers, coach and probably professional services.
most importantly, listen. ■ Face-to-face training is a highly effective way to
help remote reps to build contacts, get the low
People — hire right, communicate down on what works and of course pick up new
and socialise knowledge and skills from the training itself.
Leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ) and Some companies, such as Microsoft, make training
communication skills are great attributes of any part of the individual’s performance goals and
sales manager but they come to the fore as critical this should apply especially to salespeople who
abilities for managing remote reps. The need to are based away from the office.
find techniques that motivate your remote reps is
critical to helping and coaching them to perform.
Here are our three favourite people tips. Contributor Peter Thomson is director of Wisework,
■ Hiring is hard enough without the complication a consultancy in the implementation of new working patterns,
of the individual being based remotely. This places and a visiting Fellow at the Henley Business School.
petert@wisework.co.uk 01491 628143 www.wisework.co.uk
additional importance on how they are brought
into the organisation and brought up to speed. It Contributor David Batup is founder and COO
of Perperitus, a specialist in developing sales knowledge
is well worth considering a separate ‘onboarding’ management and sales enablement solutions for direct,
session for remote reps to help them adjust and remote and partner channel sales teams. db@perperitus.com
organise themselves. 0118 965 4066 www.perperitus.com Linkedin: davidbatup

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