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How to Build (and Motivate) a Remote Sales Team

Remote work is all the rage. It turns out, what started as working in pajama bottoms with a dressy top, in hallways, walk-in closets, etc. all while being chased around the house by your family (including the dog) during the COVID-19 pandemic, has settled into a nice balanced rhythm for many.

Productivity doesn’t appear to have suffered for businesses that have proactively managed their company culture by ensuring teams are connected well personally even though they mostly interact digitally. We’re all too familiar with fun contests and challenges, hilarious Zoom mishaps (I swear I was on mute), and long winded yet inspired Slack rants complete with clever giphys. All in, this WFH trend is kind of cool.  

Around 26 percent of Americans worked remotely in 2022, compared to only 5.7 percent as recently as 2018. This change was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic—41.7 percent of Americans worked remotely in 2020—but many experts believe that remote work is here to stay and will likely increase in the coming years.

Remote work can be an appealing option for sales teams. It reduces overhead costs, can boost productivity, helps you recruit and retain talent, and provides your team with additional flexibility. But it also comes with a unique set of challenges.

Whether you’re building an all-remote sales team from the ground up, have an established on-site sales team that you’re moving remote, or were already forced to go remote and are now playing catch up, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’ll walk you through:

  • Why managing a remote sales team can be challenging
  • How to build a high-performing remote sales team
  • What to look for when hiring remote sales candidates

The challenges of managing a remote sales team

When working remotely, sales reps and team leaders no longer share the same office space. This has its advantages—reps may find that the spaces they choose for themselves are quieter and have fewer distractions, allowing them increased focus. But it also has disadvantages.

Collaboration becomes more difficult when your sales team is spread out over many separate locations. Your reps may not be able to share intel and tactics as easily—or it may not even cross their minds to do so without physically seeing each other every day. And they may lack that sense of healthy internal competition that can accelerate performance.

From a managerial perspective, it can require more effort to rally and communicate with a distributed team. You can’t just walk around the office to see how everyone is doing, which might make it feel like there’s a lack of accountability. Instead, you may need to schedule individual check-ins to keep up with your team members and ensure they’re staying on track. And if even the hiring process is done remotely, you may never get a feel for how they come across in person. They might be great on the phone or over video, but struggle to keep people engaged at a conference booth.

Building a high-performing remote sales team

To drive performance of a sales team, we recommend following the Sales Performance Maximization Formula:

Expectations + incentives + empowerment + inspiration − obstructions = Performance

You maximize sales performance by setting clear expectations, providing appealing incentives, empowering your team with the resources they need, inspiring them with praise and encouragement, and removing obstructions from their path.

This framework applies to any sales team, but it becomes especially crucial for a distributed one. Let’s work through each part of the formula to consider how we can drive performance for sales reps who work remotely.

Set reasonable expectations for remote workers

Setting expectations for remote sales reps includes the goals and quotas they should be meeting—same as you’d set for on-site salespeople. It also involves the day-to-day routines and practices they’re expected to follow—like whether they have a flexible schedule or set hours they need to work.

In both cases, it’s important to communicate your expectations clearly to avoid confusion and frustration. Setting clear expectations from the outset also helps you find the right people while recruiting, weeding out those who won’t be a good fit.

Provide potential hires with a clear understanding of your processes, compensation, quotas, and company culture. Look for candidates that resonate with your company’s ways of working, and avoid candidates who push back. The more time you spend setting those expectations upfront, the more likely you are to recruit a team that gets the job done.

Create an appealing incentive structure

At the end of the day, your sales reps do what they do to get paid—and this is true whether they’re in-person or remote. The ability to work remotely may save employees money in some areas (such as a daily commute), but it can also cost them in other areas (such as needing a dedicated work area in their home).

So generally speaking, remote work should be compensated at roughly (if not exactly) the same level as in-person work. The better they’re paid, the more you can expect from them. So it’s crucial to develop a sales compensation plan that attracts the right kind of talent.

A great compensation package should be competitive for your industry, provide a good mix of salary and commission, and have attainable quotas. Use an On-Target Earnings plan to provide potential hires with a clear picture of what their compensation package will look like if the salespeople hit their targets.

You’ll also want to give your reps transparency into the sales they’ve completed and how far along they are toward meeting their goals. You can accomplish this with a good Incentive Compensation Management (ICM) solution like Performio. Our dashboard lets them easily track their progress and see what they can expect to earn.

Empower your team with the tools they need

Having the right equipment for the job is essential at all times, but this is especially true when all work is being done remotely.

A high-performing remote sales team needs access to modern software and tools to make, manage, and keep track of their sales. Giving your team access to these tools goes a long way toward attracting and retaining the best talent.

This means more than providing a good laptop and a CRM. Tools like video conferencing software, sales enablement platforms, and sales intelligence software are all a huge factor in making sales. And ICM software like Performio helps your team track and monitor their compensation and reduce shadow accounting. It also shows salespeople what they can make by pursuing different deals, helping them prioritize deals that best support company objectives.

Let prospects know what tools you’ll be providing to enable their success.

Inspire them to work well together—even if they’re far apart

Because remote workers don’t benefit from the day-to-day camaraderie of being in an office, you’ll need to make an extra effort to keep them engaged. Create online spaces for your team to chat, trade tactics, and have friendly competitions with one another. Performio, for example, encourages healthy competition via in-software leaderboards.

You’ll also want your sales management to check in with the team via both formal one-on-ones and informal chats. Even though they value their independence, 46% of remote workers say that the best managers are the ones who check in regularly.

And make sure to be generous with your praise. Celebrate victories—both individually and as a team—and share customer success stories with the rest of the company. Let each member of your team know that you see and appreciate what they do, even though they’re physically out of sight.

Establishing practices like these helps current employees stay engaged, and it helps you attract employees who take pride in their work and are motivated by affirmation.

Remove obstructions that stand in their way

With a traditional on-site sales team, many of the obstructions you’d be working to remove have to do with the office itself—the interoffice politics, distractions at work, etc. So you’re already a step ahead in this area when working with a remote team.

Nonetheless, some in-office obstructions find their way into remote work as well. For example, wasting time with superfluous meetings is a problem that plagues work of any kind. And because they’re otherwise out of sight, it’s easy to allow remote workers’ time to be taken up with far too many meetings. It’ll be your responsibility to fight for their time and ensure that reps only get invited to meetings that require them.

Some obstructions are unique to remote work. When sharing an office space, communication is a matter of walking over to someone’s desk. But it’s less straightforward when everyone’s in a different location.

Ideally, you’ll want all your sales reps logged into the same messaging software—one that’s secure to your company and geared toward work-related communications. Performio’s ICM comes with its own built-in messaging system, facilitating seamless communication that integrates directly with the software they’re already using.

Tips for hiring strong remote sales candidates

It’s always important to look for prior experience, including experience with working remotely. Thankfully, that shouldn’t be hard to find right now, as one in four US employees were working remotely during 2022.

But it isn’t enough to have simply worked remotely. They should be able to show how they performed under such circumstances. Even if they don’t have prior remote-work experience, they should be able to demonstrate a mindset conducive to remote work.

During the interview process, be sure to ask good behavioral questions that get at the following elements:

  • Task management and focus
    Example: Tell me about how you set up your remote work environment. What practices and tools do you use to mitigate distractions?
  • Working as a team
    Example: How do you communicate and stay connected with team members? What’s an example of a collaborative project you completed remotely?
  • Taking initiative
    Example: Tell me about the work you accomplished without direct supervision. What’s an example of something you took on without being told to do so?
  • Video presentation skills
    Example: What experience do you have with giving presentations over video calls? (It may be worth having them share their screen to give a mock presentation on something.)

Then follow up with the previous employers of promising candidates to ensure their self evaluations line up with what their supervisors saw.

Drive sales performance in all environments with Performio

At Performio, we give you the tools you need to keep your remote sales team track and manage their earnings. Your sales reps get transparency into expectations, incentives, and progress toward their goals, and you get increased productivity.

To see how Performio can empower your remote sales team, request a demo today.

And for more on how the Sales Performance Maximization Formula can drive performance during difficult economic times—whether your team is remote or on site—download our free ebook: Maximizing Sales Performance During an Economic Downturn: How to Motivate Sales Teams and Drive Revenue.

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