Managing a sales team is a challenging job. The hour-by-hour demands of interruptions, putting out fires, meeting deadlines, and reaching goals can push the most basic tenets of sales management 101 on the back burner. But all good managers know that the care and feeding of salespeople is essential business.
Sales can be a lonely job, and sales reps all have a need to be recognized for their efforts, to commiserate, and laugh with others who understand what it’s like to get beat up all day. If you have a sales staff coming into a single office daily, they have camaraderie to lean on for team-building; it happens naturally. Often, top performers will edge each other's sales results up. They motivate each other, as well as others on the team.
Now, consider you have a team that covers a large geographic area. There are a few reps who work in the main office but others work from their homes in towns that can be hundreds of miles away. These remote reps are the face of the station in their communities, which means they work long hours and have additional demands beyond the average salesperson. How do you create a sense of teamwork with this team as well as the social outlet that all salespeople need? And how do you create an environment of healthy competition that is your ally in getting the most out of your people?
Sales managers with remote teams from a variety of markets offer these team-building secrets:
1. Check in weekly.
If possible, gather for a weekly meeting at “home base” where each person shares who they are meeting with and who are their finalists. This serves to spur ideas, creates accountability and provide a competitive edge. (“If they can do it, I can do it!”)
2. Facilitate face-time and team bonding.
One manager I spoke with has a large local team as well as far-flung remote staff. They employ a combination of tactics to build camaraderie. They hold bi-weekly sales meetings for everyone; the remote staff join via Webex to allow for audio and visual connection. They also invite guests from outside the sales department to speak to facilitate additional team-building beyond their core group. Finally, the manager holds weekly one-on-one meetings with each member of the team.
Remote staff benefit from an annual retreat in which the sales manager and even upper management travel to the market. The group has dinner on Sunday night and spends Monday in an all-day meeting. The remote staff look forward to this and it definitely lets them feel the love!
Meeting in person creates key opportunities to have fun face-to-face and learn new things. Creating memories together can be a powerful force throughout the year.
3. Speak up.
One market I spoke to has a very small staff covering an extremely large area. With the silos that exist, it is hard to know what everyone is doing. When asked how they get the recognition they need, the answer was, “Sometimes you just have to ask for it!” Sadly, I think this applies to too many sales teams.
As with any team, praise publicly when people have wins and success. This is especially important with staff who aren't physically present on a daily basis.
4. Use pictures to create incentives.
One sales manager of a completely remote staff sends out photos of a clipboard showing the orders that come in each week. The sellers vie to be “on the board;” the photos help activate their competitive drive. They also send emails of congratulations to each other. This team also prioritizes a weekly in-person meeting to maintain a personal connection.
5. Recruit self-starters and don't micro-manage.
Working alone most of the time is not the right fit for everyone. Spend enough time in the recruitment process to find someone who will thrive on their own. Look for demonstrated ability to work autonomously and a strong sense of responsibility.
As a manager, don't track every minute of staff time. Hire people who thrive working independently, and manage them accordingly, by focusing activity and outcome.