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How to manage remote sales teams and motivate SDRs

The idea of having employees working in different locations around the world was once the domain of large multinational companies.

With increased networking and digitalisation, more and more companies are taking advantage of the opportunities to recruit the best talent from around the world.

Recruitment is now a global network. Sometimes the idea of remote working is less about bringing in international staff and more about letting employees work from home.

But successfully managing remote teams presents huge challenges for companies. Earlier this year, it was reported that IBM was reversing its policy on remote working and banning telecommuting, telling employees they must either work at a main location or quit.

Does this mean it’s impossible to effectively manage remote sales teams?

Of course it doesn’t. The key to success lies in how the team is set up properly.

So how is it possible to motivate your Sales Development Reps (SDRs) when they are on the other side of the globe?

How do you ensure they are contributing to the business rather than watching Netflix at your expense? And are there times when you shouldn’t use a remote sales team?

Advantages and disadvantages of remote sales teams

Let’s first take a look at some of the main advantages:
Lower costs. The big advantage of using remote teams is the savings. Office costs are a huge expense that cannot be underestimated. While there is an enormous urban-rural divide, the best brains live in the cities and want short commutes, as numerous studies have repeatedly shown for years. Yet it is precisely here that rents are highest. We all know the reports about property prices not rising steadily, which did not take a breather even in the Covid-19 pandemic. Thus, for many companies, saving office space appears to be an extremely attractive option.

Unparalleled access to top talent:
When you build a remote team, you have the opportunity to hire the best people from around the world. There are millions of talented people out there who are overlooked. Imagine how powerful your sales team can be when it’s not limited to the talent in your region.

Get the best work out of your team. Many people worry that remote workers will only do the bare minimum. They probably think this because most people in offices don’t work the whole time they are there. However, my experience is that people who have the opportunity to work on their own terms do their best work. This means that your remote team may very well perform better than the one chained to their office.

However, that doesn’t mean that leading a remote sales team doesn’t come with challenges. I have found that the two biggest drawbacks are a lack of knowledge sharing and communication difficulties.

No matter how well you have things set up, nothing can replace sitting next to a group of your colleagues and sharing feedback from a meeting and with clients.

It can also be difficult to build up a sufficient level of trust, especially in the first few months. While many people can work remotely without problems, it is not for everyone. In many cases, a successful home office fails because of a lack of equipment or the wrong equipment.

You can never know with 100 per cent certainty how someone will work. Even with the best intentions, it can be especially difficult to make the transition if it is your first remote position.

Using Sales Development Reps to boost your sales

A key member of a sales team, remote or otherwise, is the Sales Development Rep (SDR). Simply put, their job is to generate leads for the inside sales team.

Their focus is on targeting the right type of prospect for your business, not on closing the sale.

In my experience, this is one of the most difficult positions to fill and train for. One reason for this is that the job is constantly changing. Usually the sales process looks something like this:

Qualify and contact your lead

  • Go through your exploratory questions/fact finding to make sure your prospect is a good fit for your company
  • Go through the cycle of requirements and product fit
  • Discuss details such as pricing
  • Close the sale

With most SDRs, there is a whole new set of technologies that most typical sales people have never seen or used. The workflow is constantly changing. Most SDRs also have the disadvantage of not knowing how technology is sold or bought.

The SDR role comes with a lot of training, and many companies don’t have a dedicated SDR manager to properly scale this team.

Despite the challenges, I would recommend that you seriously consider hiring an SDR once you have 2-3 employees. You want your sales team to focus on sales, not acquisition.

I know there are differing opinions on this, and not everyone will agree, but I’ve never understood why sales managers want their highest paid sales people to spend 25-50% of their day doing the work of an SDR. It just doesn’t make sense.

The companies that get it right understand the value of an SDR and its ROI to the organisation.

One solution I have seen with many companies is to hire outsourced as the first SDR.

The cost is the same (if not lower) than hiring an in-house SDR, but now you get all the knowledge sharing and experience of a professional managing your campaigns. Everyone is happy.

Your VP has one less person to train and get through the first three months to figure out if this hire is working or not. The sales team is pumped full of leads and you’ve dramatically increased the chances of reaching your goals.

Once the model works for you, you can start building the team internally.

Building your remote dream team

When looking for the right people to join your team, practical experience is invaluable.

For example, someone who has sold a similar order value or sales cycle.

In addition, character and personal drive are crucial. It’s always better when an employee truly believes in the product and thus wants to solve a real problem for the customer, rather than just closing a deal.

This is not part of our culture at Proceeds; we don’t push for the hard sell with our foot in the door. Rather, we seek to understand our clients’ businesses and educate them to help them achieve their goals. If we can’t do that for our prospects, we don’t deserve their business.

An often overlooked aspect of attracting the right talent to your business is showing your passion for it.

If you can’t show enthusiasm for your business, how can you expect a potential employee to want to work for you?

When it comes to team size, there is no one size fits all. You hire when the business requires it.

As the business grows, the number of remote workers is likely to increase.

It’s important to follow the same process you would when hiring in-house. Too often I see companies that reduce the hiring process to a quick Skype call and offer letter. This is not enough. You can use a pre-employment aptitude test to assess your applicants’ cognitive abilities and essential skills.

Make sure you have adequate training for remote workers. If you don’t already have a training manual for new employees, wait until you do.

Have your training manual ready before you hire new staff. Alternatively, allow two weeks on site for training and getting to know the staff and work procedures.

This way, your new employees will feel part of the team from day one and understand the people and business practices of your company.

How to manage remote workers

Active management is central to a high-performing team. For remote teams, this means regular communication. Fortunately, today’s technology makes this cheap and easy.

Nothing beats calling and talking to your team members. Sometimes that means picking up the phone.

We also have a CRM set up with excellent activity reports. It’s also easier to track sales team performance against other teams as the results are easy to interpret: How many leads were contacted? How many sales were made?

However, you have to be careful not to overdo it. Building a great remote sales team without trust is impossible.

To keep productivity high, you need to hold everyone accountable. We look for people who can self-manage and take responsibility. Your remote team will not work if you are constantly watching over them.

So often I hear people worry about how they can be sure the team is working and how you can trust them. That’s an understandable concern. That’s why you need to hold your external staff just as accountable as everyone else in your organisation. Make sure your expectations are defined and then provide easy methods of communication.

Make your remote teams part of the company

Die besten Unternehmen stellen sicher, dass Remote-Teams genauso Teil des Unternehmens sind wie jeder Mitarbeiter. Wir wollen nie, dass es zu einer „sie gegen uns“-Haltung kommt.

Ja, Remote-Vertriebsteams können ein wichtiger Bestandteil Ihres Unternehmens sein, wenn Sie sie richtig einrichten und führen. Machen Sie Kommunikation zu einer Priorität und geben Sie konstruktives Feedback.

Ziehen Sie die Mitarbeiter mit klaren Zielen und Erwartungen zur Verantwortung. Bauen Sie Vertrauen auf, das in beide Richtungen geht. Erkennen Sie die Arbeit Ihres Remote-Teams an und belohnen Sie ihre Bemühungen. Im Gegenzug werden sie auch Sie belohnen.