Remote work is the new normal for many professionals, and salespeople are being tasked with meeting and exceeding their sales quotas while working from home.
Stellar sales work is possible outside of a traditional company office. As a sales manager, it is important to lead your virtual sales team with the intention of helping them reach their goals while adjusting to a new way to work.
Depending on how your team is used to working, you may need to make some changes to your management approach to set your team up for success. Here, let's explore tips for building a successful virtual sales team, according to sales leaders.
But first — what is a virtual sales team?
What is a virtual sales team?
A virtual sales team is a team of salespeople who work entirely remotely. This means there is no common office space; instead, each sales rep works from their desired location. Some of your sales reps might live in California, while others are based in Massachusetts.
A virtual sales team is different than a hybrid team — a model in which each employee chooses whether they're remote or in-person at a physical office space. Virtual sales teams don't have the option of in-person.
The pandemic sped up the transition for many teams from in-person to remote, but it looks like virtual sales is here to stay. In fact, Salesforce found roughly half (46%) of sales reps say they'll be selling virtually moving forward.
Many companies see the benefits of a virtual workforce: Including the ability to access talent from anywhere, and the cost-effectiveness of not paying for an office space. Plus, many employees prefer the remote lifestyle.
However, virtual sales teams have unique challenges, such as fostering the energy of a sales floor through Zoom and other virtual tools.
Let's explore a few challenges specific to virtual sales teams, next.
Virtual Sales Team Challenges
Working remotely can be challenging for sales teams, and for managers who are used to working with employees face-to-face, there can be some uncertainty around how to support employees in a virtual setting. Some challenges virtual sales managers face include:
- Knowing when to turn off: Feeling pressured to be accessible or working at all times.
- Keeping employees engaged: Ensuring team members feel supported and productive when working from afar.
- Barriers to collaboration: In the absence of face-to-face interaction and close proximity, creating opportunities to collaborate can feel few and far between.
Additionally, Mark Birch, AWS' Principal Startup Advocate, told me he believes enabling the same sales floor communication dynamics in a virtual setting to be one of the biggest challenges remote sales leaders face.
Birch says, "The shift to remote was a serious change in mental modes for sales leadership ... Many sales leaders feel the in-person experience is the best way for reps to learn from each other, because being in the presence of other reps creates a sense of competitive dynamics."
Additionally, there are a few unique selling challenges your reps likely experience when pitching to prospects virtually. For instance, only 26% of buyers believe sellers are skilled at leading a thorough needs discovery virtually — and 84% of buyers say sellers are ineffective at explaining ROI virtually.
The selling process changes in a virtual landscape, so it's vital you provide unique training materials for your virtual team.
To help your team combat these challenges, we asked HubSpot sales managers how they'd suggest building and managing a virtual sales team. Here's what they had to say.
How to Build and Lead a Virtual Sales Team
- Establish clear communication channels.
- Ensure your hiring process includes questions specific to virtual selling.
- Create consistent routines and schedules.
- Set measurable goals and KPIs.
- Make time for remote team-building.
- Look for creative opportunities to build relationships.
- Focus on remote-specific sales enablement strategies.
- Empower your reps to find their individual workflows.
1. Establish clear communication channels.
According to HubSpot’s 2020 Remote Work Report, 43% of remote workers say they have a harder time participating in meetings when everyone is remote, and 39% feel their companies could have improved the transition to remote work if they'd provided better tools and platforms for communication and collaboration.
For employees who are used to speaking face-to-face with their manager and colleagues to ask a question or get feedback on a problem, working remotely can be especially challenging.
To lead a successful virtual sales team, strong communication should be a top priority. When reps are used to being able to swing by their manager or a colleague’s desk to exchange information, digital tools can create accessibility in the absence of proximity.
This is not to say employees should be accessible at all times (in fact, we don’t recommend taking that approach). It does mean all members of your team need to know how to get ahold of you as their manager, or one another as colleagues, through the appropriate channels at the appropriate times.
For example, your reps may want to use email to send you messages that don’t need an immediate response. A chat tool such as Slack can be used for sending brief messages that need an immediate response, or for appropriate social conversations. And video conferencing software such as Zoom can be used for one-on-one meetings and calls that provide the face-to-face element phone calls lack.
When it comes to communicating with remote team members, it is better to over-communicate than under-communicate. If you see a message come through that you aren’t able to get to right away, let the sender know you saw it and will address it when you complete your current task. Or if you do need to step away from work and use a tool such as Slack, set a status letting others know you are away from your desk so they know you won’t be providing an immediate response.
Establishing clear communication norms with your sales reps so they know the best way to get ahold of you and one another via the proper channels.
Additionally, creating an environment of transparency and trust is vital to succeeding virtually.
As FullFunnel's Director of Digital Marketing Fabiana Vilsan told me, "We have seen sales teams be more willing to share what is traditionally thought of as 'bad news' because we establish clear lines of communication to talk through both opportunities and potential challenges. Despite everyone being remote, this has allowed us to project a more accurate pipeline, provide constructive and critical feedback, and identify coachable moments to elevate growth."
2. Ensure your hiring process includes questions specific to virtual selling.
One of the easiest ways to build a successful virtual sales team is to ensure you're hiring the right people.
Not every in-person sales rep will be able to transition seamlessly to a fully remote sales role. One major deterrent to a sales rep's success in virtual sales is how self-motivated they are. If they don't feel motivated without the buzz of an in-office atmosphere, they're likely not going to perform well on your virtual team.
To hire the right virtual sales reps, consider asking additional questions during the interview process that focus on qualities you need to be successful in a remote role, such as:
- How do you perceive the discovery process to change in a virtual environment?
- How comfortable are you selling virtually? Do you have past experience selling in a virtual work environment?
- What projects have you completed under your own supervisions —whether at work or personally?
- When you're able to make extra time in your role, do you ever do anything to make your job more efficient/easier?
- What motivates you to go to work every day?
These questions will help you uncover how self-motivated and self-sufficient your candidate is — both critical qualities for virtual sellers who don't have the pressure of a boss looking over their shoulder.
3. Create consistent routines and schedules.
According to HubSpot Senior Sales Manager Tiki Biswal, consistent schedules and routines are essential for managing a virtual sales team. He says,
"If you don’t have regularly scheduled one-on-one’s, deal reviews, and coffee chats, it will be hard to ensure that your remote reps are getting the time and attention they need. I recommend setting a regular schedule for these events to keep in communication.
One hack that I used with one of my remote reps — I would let him know whenever I was commuting to and from work, and make myself available for a phone call. That created an additional hour and a half per day that my remote rep had my undivided attention."
As you build a virtual sales team, you'll want to determine an appropriate cadence of check-ins and reviews to accommodate the challenges of virtual selling. Be as consistent as possible to provide support to virtual reps when needed.
Get more time management tips here:
4. Set measurable goals and KPIs.
Do your reps know exactly what performance metrics they are being measured on? Do your current organizational goals reflect the business climate and your new organizational structure? If not, now is the time to get crystal clear on the metrics and KPIs your team should be measuring.
HubSpot Senior Sales Manager Alison Bridgman relies on data to drive development conversations with her reps. She says:
"Lean into trust and data. Just because you can't walk by someone's desk doesn't mean they aren't working. Use data and reporting to track how reps are progressing towards their goals and help them set themselves up for success."
5. Make time for remote team-building.
Loneliness and a sense of disconnect from colleagues is a true concern for remote workers. In fact, 20% of full-time remote workers report feeling lonely daily, and 35% of full-time remote workers say they feel lonely two to three days per week.
Help create opportunities for your virtual sales team to connect and get to know one another. This can include setting up optional virtual watercooler meetings, virtual co-working time using video conferencing software, or even adding ice-breakers or engaging activities to your standing meetings.
6. Look for creative opportunities to build relationships.
Building trust with your employees is essential for success. According to Business Insider, employees who trust their managers have less stress, more energy, and record fewer sick days than those who don’t.
For HubSpot Senior Sales Manager Tiki Biswal, building trust with his reps is a major focus area. He says:
"While adjusting to remote sales management, my greatest challenge was truly getting to know my remote reps early on. A big part of goal-setting with your reps is understanding what drives and motivates them. This takes a bit more time when working remotely and as the manager, I take the responsibility of building that relationship.
Scheduling virtual ‘coffee’ breaks on Zoom has been really helpful and carving out time to simply have a non-work conversation is crucial. This replaces the organic conversations that happen during the day with the people that sit next to you."
Several teams at HubSpot also like utilizing a "how to work with me" guide created to help managers and colleagues understand one another’s work styles and habits. Having this information on hand is helpful for open communication and building trust.
Here is some helpful information you and your reps can include in your "how to work with me" guides:
- What qualities I value
- Current focus or goal I’m working on
- My work hours and time zone
- The best way to communicate with me over non-urgent issues (for example, specify if you prefer to be contacted via email, Slack, phone, etc.)
- How I give and receive feedback
- Things I love to talk about
Making sure you always keep the boundaries and work styles of both you and the employee in mind, look for opportunities to continue building trust with your reps even when you aren’t working side-by-side.
7. Focus on remote-specific sales enablement strategies.
Part of being an effective manager is ensuring your employees have the tools and resources they need to succeed. Now is a good time to ensure you have a solid sales enablement plan in place.
Here are a few ways you can promote sales enablement for your remote sales team:
- Catalog and optimize sales content — Make sure your reps have access to the information they need when they need it. For virtual teams, this often means having a clear electronic asset management system.
- Utilize video for training purposes — Although a rep can’t swing by your desk with their laptop to get help with a CRM function, they can share their screen with you on a video call to quickly resolve their question or learn a new skill.
- Refine the sales process — Review your current sales process to ensure there isn’t any unnecessary friction for your reps. It is worthwhile to periodically walk through the steps a rep took to close a recent deal and to work with them to identify areas of simplification.
8. Empower your reps to find their individual workflows.
If you want your team to be successful while selling virtually, empower them to own their success and to work how they see fit to reach their goals. According to Alison Bridgman,
"Working from home was a big transition for most and it has required my team to build new schedules and habits. Checking in on how that is going for each rep was crucial to helping them feel productive. It has also empowered them to have a normal routine where they can turn work on and off."
Remote sales teams can also benefit from sharing best practices among reps as they discover new tools and tactics that can be helpful for their colleagues as well.
9. Replicate the in-person dynamics you see on a sales floor for a virtual team.
One of the biggest challenges with virtual selling is the loss of in-person collaboration you see on an office's sales floor.
To combat this, Mark Birch told me he suggests doubling down on sales incentives to get reps more excited about work.
Additionally, he suggests pairing two or three reps together to create mini-cohorts. "Having smaller teams can give you a sense of closeness to people you can trust," Birch says.
While in-person dynamics can't be transferred entirely to a virtual sales team, you can still find opportunities for rapport-building, collaboration, and incentives to keep your employees happy and engaged.
(Read more of Birch's tips in How to Scale Your Sales Team Effectively, According to AWS' Startup Advocate.)
Virtual Sales Training
Finally, to build a successful virtual sales team, you'll want to invest in regular sales trainings with a specific focus on virtual selling.
Keep in mind: Virtual selling doesn't just mean sales reps are working with each other virtually ... It also means sales reps are working virtually with prospects and customers. So you'll want to provide your sales reps with the tools necessary to succeed in sales even when in-person rapport building is off the table.
A few trainings that might be helpful for your virtual sales team include:
- Creating clean, cohesive slide decks and presenting effectively
- Communication skills in a virtual environment (role-play between team members via Zoom, followed up with tactical feedback, could be helpful for this)
- In-depth trainings of virtual tools, such as Zoom, to understand functionality
Additionally, encouraging sales reps to act as consultant rather than pushy salesperson is vital for succeeding virtually. Consider investing in a training such as the Sandler System to leverage these skills.
You'll also want to take the time to teach your team advanced selling skills, which are necessary for the success of a virtual team.
Though working virtually can be a major shift for some sales teams, with some flexibility and willingness to adapt, they can still reach their goals. For more tips on crushing remote sales, check out this post.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May, 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.