Remote Sales Management Perils and Ways to Adapt

While remote work has been like entering a new frontier for most of us, it’s been the Wild Wild West for sales managers. If you thought wrangling a salesforce and keeping salespeople motivated and on task was difficult before, this remote work landscape has removed all sense of order. Rules of conduct and methods of accountability have gone out the window, and there’s nothing that could have prepared sales managers to handle this territorial-less sales environment. Challenged with adapting age-old processes to digital solutions overnight—while managing a completely remote team of sales cowboys—remote sales management has become like sheriffing a town of outlaws all looking to heist one bank.


Sales managers have their hands full. Deals are smaller and harder to close. Traditional outreach strategies are no longer sufficient. Traditional processes for managing entirely remote teams aren’t working. As a result, Chief Revenue Officers (CROs) and managers have to adapt everything they’ve learned to a new way of leading, motivating, and managing. Anything to create a sales cycle.


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The Bottom Line


For starters, sales are currently facing one of the most challenging and unpredictable environments ever seen. With large scale turnover and decreased upfront cash in sales, deals are shrinking in both volume and value. Half of B2B companies have reduced their budgets by over 40%, and there’s been a 30% decrease in total contract value costs. With enterprises spending roughly $300B less than they did in 2019, IT spend is expected to drop by 8% in 2020


The pressure to close in a shrinking market is coupled with the demands for leading a wholly remote and 100% digital salesforce. This is forcing sales leadership to manage their teams by trial and error. 


From Physical to Digital


CROs face something they have not trained to deal with ever in their career: managing a salesforce without a physical territory. Suddenly, regional and territorial reps have moved to all digital interactions. Sales management, which has developed systems and processes for a physical world, is forced to adopt such systems and processes for a completely digital environment. Where managers could once anticipate daily in-person interactions, they now must guide territory trained sales reps in digital outreach programs. These programs don’t develop overnight. And neither do their required workflows.


Reps, who once would focus energy on meeting and finding commonality with prospects on location or at conferences and events, are now challenged to do so entirely from behind a screen. Now reps have to develop new skills. Using Zoom and screen share to connect with prospects may seem like an easy fix, but capturing and holding a prospect’s attention without being in the same room is no walk in the park. 


There’s a New Buyer in Town


And perhaps more importantly, these new outreach programs have also had to be adjusted for new buyer behavior simultaneously. On top of spending being down, buyers are also adapting to decision making from behind the screen. 


The buyer has been evolving for years now away from relationship-based decision making. The buyer has learned how to buy without a salesperson. Buyers today do the majority of the research on their own. Why? Because they can. Enabled by analysts or experts in the field, buyers seek out the answers to their questions using Google, far more than contacting reps. Injecting yourself in the inquisition process is key to ensuring you are a part of that research. 


Managing for Change


Years of establishing sales operational processes have now been rendered irrelevant by remote teams and new buyer behavior. But, many sales leaders are still pressing their people with the same age-old methods. Desperate to create a sales cycle, most leaders encourage mass outreach to capture at least a percentage or two of engagement. But with this informed-buyer behavior, focused on research first, leaders must adopt new styles of sales and leading salespeople.


More focused buying requires more focused selling. In this sense, salespeople may find more success becoming educated marketers. To adapt to meet buyers where they are, sellers need to learn to position themselves as experts in their field. 


From this perspective, it’s not about pushing your reps to bombard prospects with outreach; it’s about cultivating meaningful engagement. Although it’s certainly not easy to make this adjustment, and the pressure to close deals has never been higher, now is the time to upskill your teams and prepare for the new sales normal. This new normal will de-prioritize volume of outreach and will find success in focused, valuable engagements with customers already driven deep in the pipeline. 


How the West can be won


Here are some ways to create meaningful engagements:


  • Stop policing your reps. The sheriff attitude attracts criminal behavior. Motivate by measuring meaningful events versus outreach. 
  • Use visual tools to engage prospects and encourage two-way conversation.
  • Deploy different marketing methods and inject your salespeople: Invest in bottoms-up, product-led selling, and targeted marketing programs.
  • Plan smaller events with your C-suite to capture more qualified leads. Reps can drive prospects to events and follow up thereafter. 
  • If you don’t have enough warm leads for your Business Development Representatives (BDR), consider switching BDRs to customer success managers (CSMs) to focus on adoption, retention, and renewal.


CROs and sales managers have spent their careers working within specific processes, and now those processes are irrelevant. So, too, buyers have changed, and new sales practices are demanded. And this challenge doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Looking ahead, B2B companies expect digital interactions to be two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions. 34% of executives will keep sales roles 100% virtual after the COVID-19 pandemic. 


The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It would appear that unless new management strategies and sales practices are adopted, many businesses could go by the wayside. By investing in your people, upskilling sales reps, and adopting innovative virtual tools to support them, you can prepare yourself to meet the buyer where they are. If not, if you remain attached to old processes and systems, you risk being left behind as others step into the new world.


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About the Author

Brett Jackson
Brett Jackson
Copywriter, Life Coach, and Former Professional Athlete
Brett is a copywriter, life coach and former professional athlete. He uses his teamwork and leadership experiences from Major League Baseball to write about topics that enable healthier and happier lifestyles.

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