In my twenty-plus years working in sales and sales management, I cannot recall a stranger time to make sales. As we work together to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, sales managers are now operating a remote sales team, which requires a different set of skills than managing an onsite team. After being a work-from-home seller, along with managing satellite locations and in-home sellers, I wanted to share a few tips I have learned over the years.
The first step is to understand the difference between a workday and productive work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week, or 8.8 hours per day. That is how many hours someone is present at a specific location. The real question is how much time is that person productive. Christina Willner wrote a great piece last year on work productivity. The actual time someone is productive in a workday is 2.5 to 3 hours. Both the productive time and the downtime is relevant for a few reasons, which we will cover below.
Maybe I am gullible, but I start by trusting people to do the right thing. I have studied and implemented several different ideas like ensuring staff have their own workspace in their home, having a morning meeting, live cams, and also over tracking the sellers using the CRM or end of the week reports. Every solution has some merit, and a variety of tactics work, but the three key actions I have found to work are clear expectations, good time management, and constant communication.
During this disruption, you need to simplify your expectations and communicate them clearly and directly to your team. Expectations are vital for your team, yourself, and the executive team.
- Management Expectations – Forecasting is predicated on established markets and customer variables. What is currently happening is not a typical market fluctuation, nor standard customer behavior. Therefore, holding tight to your forecast for the upcoming months is foolish. The expectations need to reset and provide real guidance. My end-of-year goal would nudge down based on every month impacted plus one, and I would wait to assess the rebound before making any substantial changes. The most significant change in expectations is the amount of time I will need to work with the team to deliver this goal. My main focus is to save what I currently have, close any low hanging fruit, and turn my efforts to driving the funnel until business resumes as usual.
- Sellers expectations – First, identify business deliverables that the sellers can work towards while being remote. The deliverables can be client outreach, closing contracts, but in this environment, the focus is on building the funnel to close the business when the time comes. Define your short term expectations in writing to the team and schedule either 1:1 meetings or team meetings to discuss. Establish realistic metrics to track the team’s progress toward these goals. If you already have metrics like the number of new prospects to set in a week or number of leads, great. If you do not, you might think about putting something in to help them achieve small wins.
You will need to develop time management skills for your sales team. Remember, the average person runs on the organization’s daily flow; starting time, lunch, end of the day, and meetings are all built into their day in an office. When you remove the company cultural calendar, sellers will struggle to manage their time effectively. Creating good habits in the sales team will help with momentum and focus. Start by telling them to keep any standard morning routine. If they got up at six for a run, great, do that. If they pick up breakfast, encourage them to do that, but showering and putting on clothes (not necessarily work clothes) helps. The idea is to keep a consistent schedule. Next, have them schedule chunks of time in 45 to 55 minutes increments. Every hour they should have a break. Installing chrome apps as timer25 helps. Have them follow a loose schedule by chunking the day into three or four distinct parts with deliverables due.
An example is having all their prospecting done in the morning before 10 AM or all client connections completed before noon. Give them a specific and tangible deliverable for the morning and afternoon that they can log and discuss with you. Providing goals based on the time of day will help keep their focus in the right places. You can even make a game out of it by creating a Spar account and having them put in a dollar when they miss a goal. Use the funds for a welcome back lunch.
The remaining five hours a day that people are not productive are useful for mental health. As a manager, you need to have a consistent connection with your team, but the communication I am discussing is interdepartmental and group communication. Commiserating around the water cooler, lunches, peer-to-peer socializing all keep people engaged and happy with their job. It also helps the salespeople by creating an outlet for anxiety and issues. Working away from the mothership triggers two emotions, paranoia, and isolation.
- Paranoia wiggles its way into your employee’s brain when remote. With the office shut down, decision making is more insular and focused on immediate needs. Quick decision making does leave some people from the decision tree. Team members will feel purposefully avoided. In-office, these feelings are momentary, but when remote, you are planting a seed of paranoia. Unfortunately, remote employees will fester on these minor details. This seed will grow to cause significant strain on the relationship and create animosity. The best way to address this is to hit it head-on with a statement saying we are not in SOP. We will do our best to continue our standard business practices, but some people are not consulted who normally would during this time. Not being a part of a decision does not reflect on your position or insights. We are doing our best to address problems as they arise.
- Isolation – We know sales is a head game. When you are hitting quota, life is grand. When you are not hitting quota and struggling, the time around the water cooler visiting with other sellers or team members keeps salespeople sane. As their manager, you need to create scenarios where people are engaging without you. Have three to four sellers in small groups to discuss best practices or work on a small project to create interaction between the team members. You need to actively facilitate connections between team members to ensure mental health and comradery. Even for 30 minutes a day, openly discussing sales with someone other than a manager is a key for them to stay mentally healthy.
Supporting your sales team during this time means more than helping them achieve quota; it is helping them manage the new situation and keeping them engaged during difficult times. You want to position yourself for success continually. Sometimes that is not closing sales, but creating an opportunity for sales.
- A big red flag is when they start showering late at night
- Do not overschedule
- Do not mistake creating busywork for sales work
- Encourage them to do things outside of work during the day, like walking the dog or folding laundry to decompress
- Reinforce your end goal and expectations
- Make sure they turn off email, DM’s, social, phone and any other distracting items during the day to focus