How do I lead and manage a virtual or remote sales team?

More and more organisations are adopting virtual teaming and remote working. They are doing this to achieve wider reach and tighter integration, reduce their carbon footprint, decentralise operations and allow their staff to benefit from less travel and more home working.

This type of work environment has been around in sales teams for a long time, and with the advent of technology, a sales person may not even have to come into the ‘office’ for weeks.

The personal and organisational pay-off when virtual teaming is successful is considerable, but so are the risks. Due to their particular stresses, these teams are more likely to fragment and fail than face-to-face teams. (The challenges and stresses faced by remote teams vary greatly to head office or larger branch staff and therefore remote teams are more likely to fragment and fail).

Sales teams, in particular, are at risk. Hiring or creating a group of ‘lone wolves’ who are individually focused and lacking in team work and collaboration can totally fragment a team, thus making communication, collaboration of ideas and management of these people difficult. Managers of these remote teams can often find it easier not to deal with challenges or issues faced by remote staff and the issues become exacerbated when they are out of sight and out of mind.

While we can virtually work from anywhere, for example I am writing this piece while my sons take swimming lessons, the need to create connections and work through communication challenges becomes even more important.

  • To reduce those risks, managers and leaders need skills and approaches beyond those familiar in the face-to-face workplace. A number of areas need to be considered:
  • To recognise how remote management differs from face-to-face management with respect to goals, communication, accountability, teamwork and culture.
  • To recognise the need to have very clear job descriptions and performance expectations broken down into specific activities over a week, month and quarter.
  • How to select and train people to be self-managed, self-disciplined and proactive.
  • What communication tools to select for effective remote collaboration.
  • How to lead often-reluctant team members to use these tools to communicate effectively and regularly.
  • To know when travel is essential, or desirable, or a waste of time and money.
  • How to manage work at a distance, knowing when remote control is suitable and when it’s demotivating.
  • How to align diverse and distant individuals to common team goals and methods.
  • How to lead your team in building a social fabric for integration not separation.
  • How to build your own quality relationships with team members even if you cannot be face-to-face all the time.
  • How to combat isolation while building commitment.
  • How to build mutual trust with and within the team.
  • How to achieve presence without being present.
  • How to help team members work productively.

Working with remote teams has it challenges but it can also be very rewarding – if you get it right. The experience I had working with and coaching 30 regional managers stationed around regional and rural Australia as part of a large sales transformation project, showed me the power of regular and purposeful, albeit remote, communication.

Every month, for six months, we connected via telephone in small groups – four managers and I. Our topic was the ongoing development of their sales teams, and in turn, their development as sales leaders.  The hourly conversations were lively, purposeful, rich and engaging. The value we all received from our participation was immense. The regular attendance by these managers was testament to the value they were receiving from the interactions. They wanted to be a part of it. It served them well and they kept coming back.

We all need to keep in touch and social media can form a part of your virtual team communication. Connecting by actually speaking with each other in person, even if via the phone or Skype, is very important, especially with virtual teams.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to www.barrett.com.au.

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