Five Keys to Sustaining and Growing the Performance of Remote Revenue Teams

The coronavirus pandemic has forced billions of people worldwide to remain at home – creating globally displaced selling teams and accelerating the formal adoption of virtual selling channels.  Few organizations were prepared for this scale of employee dispersion.  Sales executives are struggling to adapt to having most or all of their salespeople, call center representatives, and customer support agents working remotely and digitally. 

As the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis rages, sales forces are coping with cratering (or surging) demand, distracted or unreachable buyers, uncertain economic prospects, and plenty of personal uncertainty to boot. They will lunge at technology suddenly indispensable in a social distancing selling environment,” according to Bob Kelly, Chairman of the Sales Management Association who is hosting a conference on sales productivity on May 6th.

Kelly warns sales leaders to be smart about where and how to use technology to improve the productivity of remote selling teams. “The push to remote selling has exposed many of the flaws in CRM and sales technology that have so far failed to provide sales leaders the visibility and leverage they will need to remain productive in the crisis and make the transition to remote virtual selling,” warns Kelly.  After three decades of lukewarm adoption of CRM and sales enablement, Bob sees the coronavirus as a catalyst to finally shove sales organizations to intelligently adopt and leverage technology at scale. “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked in terms of sales technology adoption and the ability to rely on their sales technology infrastructure to guide remote selling efforts,” warns Kelly, invoking Warren Buffets advice. “In most cases, these technologies are not providing sellers the visibility and agility they will need to adapt to the new environment – as currently deployed and adopted.”   As evidence of this, the recent SMA research report Unlocking CRMs Value studyrevealed that most firms CRM implementations suffer from lower than acceptable ROI, unsatisfactory user adoption, and lots of unrealized potential.

This underperformance of sales technology will seriously impair productivity and make visibility into selling activity the Achilles heel of remote selling. This will render sales managers blind and “swimming naked” because they are unable to manage, measure and coach revenue teams they cannot see

The faculty at the Revenue Enablement Institute has identified five things sales leaders must do today to sustain and improve remote sales team productivity in the crisis and set the stage for selling effectively in the recovery.

Accelerate the speed of communication. Communication is critical in a crisis where sales teams are dealing with market disruption and uncertainty about their priorities, their pipeline and their personal situation. This starts with communicating a new plan to displaced revenue teams.  But to lead effectively in a remote setting, managers must also find ways to accelerate the speed of communication to ensure they inform the entire selling team with fast, transparent, and inclusive information about all client activity and engagement. This gives remote salespeople purpose and direction, and it allows managers to delegate authority without giving up control and accountability to support quick actions and decision-making by front line sales employees.

General (ret) Stanley McChrystal – who will be speaking on Leading Selling Teams In A Crisis at the SMA productivity conference – strongly emphasizes the critical importance of speeding up communications in the face of a crisis.  He advises sales managers to dramatically increase the cadence of communications from weekly to daily updates to create a shared consciousness and common purpose across the entire revenue team. This will help information to cascade down quickly to sellers at the edge of the organizations who must make fast decisions and engage customers with the right messages, solutions and help.

Micheal Smith, a Managing Director at Blue Ridge Partners echoes the importance of accelerating the cadence of communications to get sales teams to focus on a tight set of execution priorities and address rising customer expectations for fast and complete communications. “With the advent of digital buying, clients have become increasingly unwilling to wait for answers, information, and advice,” reports Smith, who has coached over 80 leadership teams on ways to adapt effectively to remote selling in the last several months. “The shift to remote work will only accelerate this trend. Your customers are going to expect answers in minutes or hours not days or weeks.”  He also agrees that sales leaders need to create a sales war room mindset. “In a crisis, most of the sales team will freeze-up and lose focus.  It’s critical to rally the team, help them understand the challenge, and get them back to doing what they do best — engaging, supporting and selling to customers. This will require sales managers to take a more hands-on sales management approach – Not weekly one-on-ones but daily – with huddle calls every morning to keep people focused.”

Give your sales teams the basic tools they need to effectively sell remotely.  As a priority, sales leaders must give their revenue teams the tools they need to adapt to virtual selling in the crisis. This includes properly equipping their virtual reps with the basics they will need to operate effectively in a remote environment – unified communications, network access hardware, collaboration platforms, and sales enablement tools. 

This sounds fundamental, but most organizations are ill equipped for remote selling at scale. Less than 6% of enterprise work forces were formally equipped for telecommuting at the start of the year. Like Y2K and similar disruptive events – the coronavirus pandemic will force companies to upgrade their infrastructure by equipping their remote sales reps with unified communications to give them the bandwidth and flexibility, and capability to deliver superior customer experiences while reducing costs in the post-COVID environment. As an illustration, AT&T experienced a 400% increase in the use of online collaboration tools from home and business users and a sharp rise in video traffic over mobile networks since the crisis began a few short weeks ago. This foreshadows the growing importance of networked hardware, unified communications and collaboration tools in remote selling. “Network performance is becoming more tightly linked to employee performance as the economy becomes more virtual and more customers engage in digital and virtual channels,” forecasts Mo Katibeh, the CMO of AT&T.

Virtual Infrastructure

Likewise, sales enablement capabilities are now essential tools for remote sales teams.  Any organization can leverage sales enablement technology as a “force multiplier” to expand seller capacity by first freeing up 10-30% more sales face time by automating planning, content selection and CRM reporting tasks. Properly deployed, sales enablement technology will support better selling time allocation and help realize the full potential of under-performing CRM and sales technology investments.

Get better visibility into buyer and seller activity to stop flying blind. Another top priority is to stop flying blind by getting better control over your customer engagement and buyer activity data. This is essential because it gives sales managers the visibility they need to better manage, measure, coach and empower remote revenue teams at the edge of the organizations with the information they need to engage customers and make the right decisions faster. “To make the greatest use of scarce time we must equip sellers with better information about where the buyer is positioned in the buying cycle and meet them there with the information, content, and plays the buyer needs much faster,” reports Michael Smith.

Unfortunately, the lack of visibility into pipeline activity, seller actions, buyer engagement and account health are the “Achilles heel” of remote selling productivity. Visibility is an urgent issue for the simple reason you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t measure what you can’t see.  For virtual channels to be effective, you must find ways to inform the entire selling team with fast, transparent, and inclusive information about all client activity and engagement.

The early findings of our own Covid-19 Remote Selling Productivity study confirm this. The lack of visibility into pipeline activity, account health, and seller actions were identified as the top obstacles to remote selling productivity according to a survey of sales leaders and managers. 

This finding is corroborated by industry research and experts on the front lines. For example, SMA research also confirms the importance of using sales technology to get better visibility to all members of the revenue team . “To adapt to this crisis sales leaders must find ways to unlock the untapped value potential of CRM by eliminating the top obstacles to adoption, which include ease of data input, assistance managing the pipeline, ease of use, and creating a single source of sales force information,” warns Bob Kelly. “Sales leaders must do their part to make this transformation happen. Right now, 95% of sales managers and practitioners cite the lack of management encouragement to adopt these technologies as a big part of the problem.” 

Jeff McKittrick, the VP of Sales Business Capabilities at Hitachi Vantara reinforces the critical role of sales leadership in using technology as a force multiplier that provides visibility, productivity and speed rather than expensive technology overhead.  “The trick has always been management’s commitment to leveraging sales automation technology in the selling process by providing the right incentives, culture, and user experience to get salespeople to use these tools,” shares McKittrick.

Bob Kelly, who has been tracking sales management trends for decades, anticipates the pressure to respond to the coronavirus will provide sales leaders a “ tipping point” in their efforts to become adaptable, technology-enabled, and learning agile. “The response to the coronavirus crisis has created a “shoving point” that will force sales managers to truly rely on technology or be left behind. That shove will send many reeling. But I ultimately believe most sales forces, or their managers will rise to the challenge and adapt to challenging markets, re organize with heightened purpose, and remake their organizations in a more remote selling model.”

Double down with hyper-focused pipeline and relationship building.  Waiting out the crisis and hoping for some semblance of the status quo is not an option. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, every organization needs to double down and move forward – whether they are lucky enough to be exploiting advantages the post-Covid economy gives them, defending customer relationships, or pivoting to become part of the solution.  Short term demand may become scarcer, but getting the attention of work at home buyers represents an opportunity. Buyers will remember who steps up in the crisis when things are bad.  Surviving in the short term and succeeding in the next normal will require extremely productive and focused relationship and pipeline building for the third and fourth quarter to make the best use of time and attention right now.

“Sales leaders need to be much more disciplined and focused in how they respond to the crisis,” advises Stanley McChrystal, in a recent webinar on leading remote teams in a crisis.  Leaders must act in the crisis and play offense, regardless of their situation or whether they have a complete plan. “Companies that wait it out will be punished,” warns McChrystal. 

Data and insights will play a major role in achieving this level of hyper-focus with limited resources and reduced selling budgets. “You cannot afford to waste precious sales time on the wrong leads, customers and prospects in this environment,” warns Michael Smith. “Sellers need to focus their limited time on opportunities that can actually close, and sustaining relationships with key customers and the most valuable prospects. Achieving this hyper-focus will require information that supports trusted advisor interactions and much more scientific management of accounts. This means using sales AI to better qualify leads based on real engagement data and support schedules that assign accounts with greater specificity based on actions required or real revenue potential. This is going to force sales operations to shift the focus of their sales technology stacks and systems from reporting on workflow to driving workflow.”

Create a new playbook for virtual selling.  The dramatic pivot to remote selling will bring the growing disconnect  between tried and true “old school” field selling practices and “new school” digital buying to a flash point. Sales managers and sales effectiveness leaders will have their work cut out for them over the next several months, according to Bob Kelly. “They will be forced to adapt their organizations to unaccustomed modes of selling, learning, and collaborating,” predicts Kelly. “Sales managers will have to redesign sales process and selling messages, restructure sales roles, replace suddenly obsolete activity models, incentives, and territory assignments. They will retrain the salespeople who must make sense of these changes, then retrain them again as fluid strategies evolve.”

Michael Smith agrees that sales leaders need to write a new playbook for virtual selling based on experience helping over 100 businesses improve their selling performance.  “Veteran/traditional field sellers will not be immediately comfortable with virtual selling as the tools of the trade  change.  Many will struggle to quickly shift from face-to-face relationship building and advice over time, to using digital communication channels and virtual, video and collaboration platforms to deliver answers to new school digital clients who want answers in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks,” according to Smith. “This will force sales organizations to update or create new sales playbooks to be specific about what is expected of everyone in their new virtual sales roles – including activity expectations, scripts, and time allocation. These new plays will ensure traditional field sellers are comfortable with video skills and the presentations, videos, demos, and content they will need to be effective in a remote environment.”

To learn more about how sales leaders are adapting to the new buying reality and the impact of remote selling on sales team productivity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Revenue Enablement institute will share the early findings from the COVID-19 Remote Sales Productivity Study in a speech at the Sales Management Association Sales Productivity Conference on May 6th.

We invite sales management and operations leaders to:

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