When the pandemic first took hold in early 2020, it seemed like everything changed overnight. For many sales professionals used to working in an office, the 9-5 hours and daily commute were replaced with Zoom calls and remote work.
In our latest State of Sales report, 60% of people said they’d changed the location from which they’d worked, and 41% were working from home—more than any other category.
But those weren’t the only changes. People working from home were five percentage points more likely to at least rarely work on weekends, compared to those working from other locations.
Interestingly, working from home vs. in an office had a minimal impact on performance. This goes to show how resilient salespeople are at conforming to new environments, expectations and needs.
This post will explore three key ways sales managers and their teams can adapt to remote sales, prevent work from encroaching on their personal lives and become more productive while working from home.
When people first started working from home, some managers worried about how to tell if their teams were actually engaged or not. What was to stop them from saying they were working when they were really watching Netflix?
As a result, certain companies demanded their employees were online and reachable at all times. In other cases, managers used monitoring software to spy on their teams, sometimes without their knowledge.
More hours worked does not equal more productivity
This fear (and overcorrection) stems from the widespread belief that the longer someone works, the more they accomplish. However, a work culture that prioritizes hours worked is unlikely to get the desired results.
Research from Stanford University found that, after 50 hours of work in a week, any increase in output was negligible. In contrast, not having a day off on the weekend actually damaged output. Compare that with our State of Sales report, which found that 25% of salespeople are working more than 50 hours a week.
It’s important to acknowledge that the Stanford research was based on work done at a munitions factory. However, other studies have shown that results are similar for knowledge workers.
For example, Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found that managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. Although managers penalized employees who worked less, there was no evidence that the overworked employees accomplished more.
Overworked employees accomplish less
Likewise, an experiment at Harvard Business School discovered that predictable time off (such as evenings and weekends) made consultants more productive.
The good news for sales managers is that, with a CRM, it’s straightforward to track your team’s progress to see whether or not reps are reaching their goals (regardless of how much time they’re spending online). That’s because if reps aren’t booking meetings or closing deals, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been sitting at their desk.
Set clear targets and clearly communicate expectations
To build up trust and avoid micromanaging, you need to set clear targets. Remote reps should know exactly how their work will be judged and what metrics will be used to measure their performance.
When RescueTime surveyed 850+ remote workers, they found that the biggest barrier to productivity was “a lack of clear policies and expectations–especially around availability.” When those expectations are clearly laid out, reps are more likely to focus on activities that move the needle (rather than making sure they’re online throughout the day).
To maintain productivity, it’s essential that you’re looking at the right metrics in the first place (rather than trying to measure everything at once). In our post on how to manage a sales team remotely, Randy Riemersma (president of sales training company Span the Chasm) recommended focusing on just four key metrics:
Percentage of leads added to the pipeline
Percentage of leads in the pipeline that become real opportunities
Percentage of opportunities that turn into closed deals
The time it takes to move from one stage to the next
Of course, once you’ve established those metrics, it’s important to communicate those targets to the team.
One of the advantages of an office environment is that you can asynchronously talk with your team throughout the day without having to book every single conversation.
On top of the set meetings you had when you all shared the same office, you also have to make time for those informal, unplanned chats that took place. To accomplish this, it’s important to prioritize regular communication.
“When leading remote sales teams, over-communicating is a virtue,” according to Jakob Thusgaard, founder and CEO at YourSales. “Pick schedules, processes and productivity tools and stick to them!”
Implement more one-to-one’s to make up for lost run-ins
More one-to-one meetings can help catch any issues that would have been obvious in an office environment but could be hidden when workers are behind a screen.
Additionally, many salespeople thrive on the camaraderie and energy that come from interacting with their colleagues. Far from being a waste of time, setting aside time for those ‘water-cooler’ moments can help keep motivation high.
Avoid overcommunication to allow for deep focus
But with this idea of ‘overcommunication’ comes the possibility of too many meetings. When a sales rep’s schedule is full of internal meetings, it makes it difficult to get on with actually selling.
RescueTime’s survey on meetings found that 34% of people say their meeting schedule gets in the way of doing their main job, while 61% say meetings seriously interrupt their focus.
Even the way meetings are carried out can cause stress. One of the many new terms that came out of the pandemic was “Zoom burnout”, where people who spent long amounts of time on video conferences complained of tiredness, being distracted and headaches.
Even the founder and CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, has stated that he struggled with too many Zoom meetings.
Implement scheduled breaks and meeting blackouts
How can we maintain a balance? Eric has several recommendations for anyone else looking to reduce the strain of video conferences, including scheduled breaks away from the computer, turning off self-view and implementing a ‘no internal meetings’ day.
Eric also discouraged night and weekend meetings, something that can be a challenge for remote teams based across multiple time zones. The perfect time for your reps in LA might mean your European reps have to get up in the middle of the night.
While it’s preferable to find a time that perfectly suits everyone, that may not be possible. One solution is to rotate meeting times so that no team member or region is always stuck with that 11 pm catch-up.
Understand your teams’ unique needs
At the heart of all of this is the need to know your sales reps as individuals and understand their specific needs, especially in what has been a challenging experience for everyone.
For example, many salespeople have struggled to focus on selling during the pandemic. While 62% of English-speaking sales professionals classed sales as one of their main day-to-day activities in 2019, that figure dropped to 54% in 2020. Instead, more are spending time on prospecting and lead qualification.
When sales managers appreciate how the challenges have changed, they can put the tools and training in place to meet those needs.
People deal with fatigue and stress in different ways, so you can’t expect to find a one-size-fits all solution. However, by taking the time to check in with everyone on your team, you can take into account their unique situations and plan your meetings accordingly.
In the wake of the changing work situation, companies such as Facebook, Dropbox and Zapier have now adopted a dedicated Head of Remote position.
As a pioneer of the role, Gitlab has published a Head of Remote handbook that outlines what the position involves. Duties include auditing workflows and policies to ensure they’re remote-first and replacing old habits with more progressives ones.
Gitlab also highlights skills that are useful for anyone managing remote work. Along with effective communication, empathy and problem-solving are also important qualities.
By showing empathy for how remote workers are adapting to new situations, you will be able to identify potential issues before they have a serious impact, whether on performance or their physical and mental well-being.
Optimize your processes, systems and workflows for remote working
While you might not be ready for a dedicated Head of Remote position, sales managers who embrace the emerging responsibilities that come with overseeing a remote sales team can help their reps work as efficiently as possible.
That said, it’s likely that your existing workflows and processes weren’t created with a remote sales team in mind. To stay ahead of inefficiencies or grievances, audit them to see if they still make sense for a distributed team. Consider:
Are there any unnecessary steps that can be eliminated?
Could any parts of the process be automated?
Are there any other actions that now need to be added?
For example, while working a set 9-5 might have made sense in the office, it may no longer be the most effective way of working. Additional tools and training may be needed in order for reps to put together a powerful sales demo to prospects.
Our State of Sales report found that among sales professionals who were happy with their tools were 12 percentage points more likely to consider themselves successful than sales professionals who weren’t happy with their tools. This showcases just how important efficient tools are to producing favorable outcomes.
Educate yourself on the best ‘sell from home’ practices
This involves first educating yourself on best practices for selling from home, then passing that knowledge on to your team and helping them implement it.
For example, in your 1-on-1 meetings, you might notice that a rep is working hunched over on the sofa with the TV on in the background. You could then share relevant advice on how to plan their day and how to create physical and mental boundaries between work and home.
However, Jakob Thusgaard adds that we should be careful about how far you take this role:
“Resist the urge and temptation to micromanage. It often leads to decreased motivation, lower results and increased staff turnover. Not exactly what you need to drive revenue growth!”
Set new policies and stick to them
Rather than creating and enforcing a long list of rules, managers can get better results when they lead by example. That means no mixed messages. If you tell your team that they should take the weekend off, but then send them work emails Saturday evening, that will confuse your team and compel them to respond.
Make yourself available to your team
At the same time, being an effective remote sales manager involves making yourself more available.
“Speed of response and accessibility has to be at an all-time high,” according to Sales Leader Scott Leese. "It's easy for me to walk in the office and say, ‘Hey Ray, I need help with something’. It's a lot harder when I have to text you or Slack you to try to get your attention and then get you to respond to it."
While it will involve more work on your part, being there for your team when they need you the most is essential for remote teams.
For many salespeople, the way they work has radically transformed. However, according to the State of Sales report, they remain optimistic despite these challenges. 81% of sales reps expect an increase in their sales over the next 12 months, while 92% feel their role will have a positive impact on the economy in 2021.
For some though, the changes have blurred the boundaries between their home life and work life, as they carry work over into evenings and weekends.
While working more hours might sound like a good thing for revenue, too much time at the desk can actually hurt performance and increase the risk of burnout.
This has presented additional challenges to sales managers who, on top of all their other responsibilities, have to take on a new role and help remote staff stay productive in these new circumstances. In most cases, this requires a carefully balanced approach.
Rather than focusing on how much time your team is spending in front of the computer, focus on the results they’re getting. Over-communicate with your teams, but don’t fill their day with useless meetings. Don’t email them when they’re meant to be off, but make sure you’re readily available when they need help.
By focusing on the right metrics, effectively communicating and leading by example, sales managers and their teams can thrive in this new environment and continue driving revenue for their business.
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