How to motivate sales teams working remotely

Motivating remote sales teams

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated.

A big part of a sales team motivation comes from a sense of cohesion and camaraderie. Banter in the office and buoying each other is all part of a normal salesperson’s day.

Then came Covid-19. Overnight, sales teams were sent home to work remotely. The normal teamworking structure was turned on its head.

Panic-stricken companies worried about their future put orders on hold. In certain sectors, some businesses laid off staff and closed. For sales teams, normal avenues for selling, deliveries and servicing customers changed without warning.

The economic forecast is uncertain, but savvy sales leaders aren’t scaling back teams. They’ve picked up the gauntlet, are finding ways to adapt to the new way of work, and are guiding their people through unprecedented times.

As lockdowns around the world begin to ease, there is a glimmer of hope that some people will get back to the office. However, nothing in the foreseeable future indicates there will be a return to ‘business as usual’ anytime soon. Remote working is likely to be the ‘new norm’ for some time to come.

A normal office structure has so many rules in place, both written ones and unwritten expectations. A lot of these have had to change, from cybersecurity to communication channels.

Working from home is a whole new kettle of fish and change for many is unsettling. How sales leaders manage and motivate sales teams in the new remote-working world will ultimately determine success.

So, how can sales leaders successfully motivate sales teams in the new normal work scenario?

Transitioning to a virtual sales model

Traditional face-to-face interactions have moved to videoconferencing. Albeit temporarily, the pandemic has forced us into some sort of dystopian virtual world. We live and breathe on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and other such channels.

So, what does this means for sales? Sales team motivation needs to be put into context.

A report by McKinsey and Company on how sales have changed during Covid-19 says that B2B sellers have reacted with astonishing speed: around 90 percent have transitioned to working remotely via videoconferencing or phone.

The McKinsey report offers some useful insights on what will determine the potential success of a new virtual sales model. The effectiveness of remote working isn’t determined simply by a move to digital channels.  Success relies on how salespeople are deployed to work across different channels and how they are supported to navigate new sales processes so they can confidently reorchestrate the customer experience.

Leadership is key

This involves enabling staff to work effectively and efficiently from home, building and managing new expectations and reviewing how employees are fairly compensated.

Leaders need to provide more individual guidance on working practices and expectations. Practical things like security, access to applications, process instructions and appointing go-to people for any issues are vitally important to help people transition to the new remote working rules. HR and other policies also need to be reviewed. Some standardisation and structure will help sales people to feel more confident working remotely.

Sales leaders need to use this as an opportunity to review processes. Sales teams may temporarily need to focus less on revenue and more on supporting and helping clients and building relationships. Services need to be re-evaluated with a longer-term view. Sales staff won’t feel motivated if sales goals are out of reach.

Communication underpins everything

Without the usual face-to-face office interactions, communication is critical. Leaders should schedule frequent short video meetings to keep sales teams in touch. A dedicated channel for communication between team members should be established so that everyone is on the same page and has visibility over what is going on. Using different tools will only complicate things and will almost certainly alienate some people.

Sales leaders need to schedule regular calls with every individual in the team. They need to find out what each employee’s set up is:

  • Do they have a family?
  • Is it difficult to make calls at certain times?
  • What time are they starting work and finishing?
  • Do they take proper breaks? (there’s no chatting by the water cooler at home).

Work-life balance is even more important right now as the line between home and work becomes blurred.

Employee engagement guide for happy and productive people

Celebrate small wins

Kudos is even more important for people working remotely. It’s very easy for more reserved team members to fall under the radar when they are working from home. In the current climate sales aren’t going to be easy. Sales is a tough job at the best of times. Remote working also makes public recognition harder.

During the crisis, a poor revenue day isn’t necessarily a bad sales day. Building relationships and making great customer calls is essential right now. Salespeople need to be finding out how they can support clients. Are there partnering businesses who can help?

Set realistic expectations

Are the sales quotas set at the beginning of the year really achievable in the current climate? Many sales staff may be worried about their job security, especially if their usual business-win rate has significantly dipped.

Review incentive schemes

Encourage activity and review any compensation plans or commission schemes. Offering small daily or weekly monetary rewards or food cards could be a welcome incentive. Setting smaller sales goals and celebrating small wins will help to inspire confidence in the team. You can still celebrate your star salespeople.

Promote team bonding

In the office, working relationships develop easily in strong teams. Birthday cake, lunch-time chats and drinks after work help these relationship threads to seed and grow. So how do you replace team building activities in remote teams? It takes a lot more effort to keep team bonding alive with people working remotely. Virtual coffees and Zoom drinks are a great way to engage in a more casual way.

Empathise, listen, inspire and encourage

In a webinar on Keeping your sales team motivated and managed through Covid-19, sales leadership expert Michael Wills speaks frankly about the need for sales leaders to be ‘people first’ and ‘sales managers second’ during the pandemic. In the current climate sales numbers are down. It’s up to sales leaders to deflect concerns about figures from the CEO and other members of the leadership team.

It’s very easy to question people’s motivation when you can’t see what they are doing. Even in the office, a culture of trust is an essential ingredient for sales success. Even more effort needs to go into maintaining the trust relationship when people work remotely.

Sales team motivation is reliant on knowing what your sales force needs. Listening to staff is paramount. Why not find out how your remote team is doing with a WeThrive employee engagement survey? Find out what you are missing and reset your strategy for recovery and growth.

Webinar: 5 ways to keep remote teams engaged


Posted by Julia Trevett on July 2, 2020

Julia is a writer for WeThrive. She has a degree in social policy and has contributed hundreds of articles to publications by the Rose Media Group and Platinum Publishing. In the rare moments she's not writing, she's giving her time to a children's disability charity in Sussex.

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