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Conversion to a virtual distribution model

A large part of a sales team’s motivation comes from a sense of cohesion and camaraderie. Cheering each other up in the office is an important part of a salesperson’s daily routine.

But then came Covid-19. Overnight, sales teams were sent home to work from the home office. “Classic” teamwork was turned on its head.

Panicked companies, worried about their future, put orders on hold. In sectors particularly affected by the pandemic, companies laid off their employees or put them on short-time work. For sales teams, the usual processes for sales, delivery and customer service changed without warning.

While the economic forecast is uncertain, sales managers should not downsize their teams. There are ways to adapt to the new way of working, and guide staff through this unprecedented time.

As lockdowns around the world begin to ease, there is a possibility that some salespeople will return to the office. However, there is nothing to suggest that there will be a return to business as usual in the foreseeable future. Home office is likely to be the “new norm” for some time to come.

There are so many rules in the everyday office structure, plus both written and unwritten expectations. Much of this has had to change, from cyber security to communication channels.

Working from home is a completely new situation and the changes are unsettling for many. How sales managers lead and motivate their sales teams in the new world of telecommuting will ultimately determine their success.

So how can sales managers successfully motivate sales teams in the new normal working scenario?

Moving to a virtual sales model

Traditional face-to-face interactions are increasingly being replaced by video conferencing. Even if only temporarily, the pandemic has forced us into a kind of dystopian virtual world. We live and breathe on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and other such channels.

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

A McKinsey and Company report on the transformation of sales says that B2B salespeople have responded with astonishing speed: Some 90 per cent have moved to working remotely via video conferencing or telephone.

The McKinsey report offers some useful insights into what will determine the potential success of a new virtual sales model. The effectiveness of remote working is not simply determined by the shift to digital channels. Success will depend on how salespeople are deployed to work across channels and how they are supported to navigate the new sales processes so they can confidently redesign the customer experience.

Leadership is key


This includes enabling employees 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 work practices and expectations. Practicalities such as safety, access to applications, process instructions and designating contacts for any issues are critical to help employees transition to the new telework rules. Personnel and other policies will also need to be revised. Some standardisation and structure will help sales staff feel more confident about working remotely.

Sales managers need to use this as an opportunity to review processes. Sales teams may need to temporarily focus less on sales and more on supporting and helping clients and building relationships. Services need to be re-evaluated with a longer-term perspective. Sales people will not feel motivated if revenue targets are unattainable.

Communication is the foundation for everything


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

Sales managers need to schedule regular phone calls with each team member. They need to find out how each employee is doing:

Do they have a family?

Is it difficult to make phone calls at certain times?

When do they start work and when do they finish?

Do they take proper breaks? (There is no chatting at the water cooler at home).

Work-life balance is even more important now that the line between home and work is becoming blurred.

Celebrate small successes


Praise is even more important for employees who work remotely. It is very easy for more reticent team members to slip under the radar when working from home. In the current climate, sales will not be easy. Sales is a tough job even in the best of times. Home office also makes public recognition harder.

In a downturn, a bad sales day is not necessarily a bad sales day. Relationship building and good customer calls are very important right now. Sales people need to find out how they can support customers. Are there partner companies that 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 dropped significantly.

Review incentive schemes

Encourage activity and review any compensation plans or commission schemes. Offering small daily or weekly cash rewards or meal cards could be a welcome incentive. Setting smaller sales targets and celebrating small successes will help build 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 cakes, lunchtime chats and after-work drinks help these relationship threads to germinate 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 candidly about the need for sales leaders to be “people first” and “sales managers second” in the pandemic. In the current climate, sales are down. It is up to sales managers to deflect concerns about the numbers away from the CEO and other members of the leadership team.

It is very easy to question staff 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 be made to maintain the trust relationship when staff work remotely.

Motivating the sales team depends on knowing what your salespeople need. Listening to your employees is key. Why not find out how your remote team is doing with a WeThrive employee engagement survey? Find out what you’re missing and reset your strategy for recovery and growth.