In today’s mobile economy, workforces are increasingly deployed remotely, and sales teams are becoming increasingly virtual. By 2020, half of full-time employees are expected to be working remotely, and three-quarters of all employees are expected to not be working in traditional offices. As this trend impacts sales, building a strong and effective virtual sales team is becoming a vital asset for many companies. However, establishing and enforcing sales processes in a virtual environment presents some challenges above and beyond those of a traditional workplace. Goal-setting, hiring, communications and accountability are all areas where small business owners and sales managers must make adjustments to adapt to the challenges of a virtual sales environment. Here are some tips for establishing an effective online sales team and achieving optimal productivity levels, building from the ground up.
How Do You Know You Need a Virtual Sales Team?
A preliminary question to address is whether you truly need a virtual sales team. A number of variables factor into this decision. These include the location of your workers, the location of your target market and the location of your sales transactions.
With respect to the location of your workers, a key consideration is whether your on-premise sales force is sufficient for achieving your sales goals. Even if this is the case, you might also consider whether adding a virtual sales force would increase your sales efficiency or volume. Another consideration is whether hiring remote representatives would help you cut costs, such as the cost of renting office space or travel costs.
With respect to the location of your target market, whether your prospects are local or remote factors into the equation. A related consideration is whether you are targeting brick-and-mortar or online prospects, or similarly, whether you are seeking to increase your online sales presence.
The issue of the location of your sales transactions is closely related to that of the location of your target market. A virtual sales force makes the most sense when the bulk of your transactions occur online. However, you might also deploy remote sales representatives equipped with tablets for point-of-sale transactions in certain industries and situations.
Set and Enforce Realistic Goals
Setting sales goals is crucial for measuring sales success and keeping your sales team motivated in any environment, including a virtual environment. However, research has shown that most companies fail to achieve their sales goals in part because they set unrealistic goals. Typically, sales goals are set based on upper management’s financial goals for the company, which are important, but do not necessarily reflect what is feasible for a sales team. Research published in Harvard Business Review has shown that when sales representatives are faced with unrealistic goals they view as unattainable, they tend to lose motivation and underperform. Setting lower, more realistic sales goals that your team can actually achieve correlates with better sales results, the research shows.
Setting realistic sales goals starts with defining behaviors that can be measured and managed. For instance, how many prospecting calls are your team members currently making per day? How many sales meetings are they scheduling per week? How many follow-up calls are they averaging per closing attempt? Take some baseline measurements to identify where your team is currently at, and use them as the basis for extrapolating toward realistic improvements.
Not every sales team member has equal experience and ability, so to be realistic, your goals should be customized for individual representatives. Communicate your goals for your team and your representatives clearly in a way that promotes transparency and accountability by letting team members see actual goals and performance numbers. A sales app that includes a feature for setting goals and managing access permissions will enable you to communicate goals to your team members through a central online dashboard.
Improve Your Hiring Process
To build a successful virtual sales team, it’s vital to hire the right people. Hiring employees remotely poses some challenges. In addition to the remote nature of the hiring process, the remote nature of the work needs to be taken into consideration. Virtual employees need to be more self-motivated than on-premise workers. They also need to be comfortable doing sales in a virtual environment. A common mistake companies make is hiring a sales representative who has performed well in a traditional sales setting on the assumption that they will perform equally well under remote supervision.
To address these issues, during the hiring process it’s important to ask pointed questions that will help you determine the level of self-motivation candidates have and the level of supervision they will need. Ask them about projects they’ve completed successfully under their own supervision, whether in their work or other areas of their life. Find out if they have any experience working in a remote environment.
Invest in Video Conferencing Tools
To support you during the hiring process and to support your employees during the virtual sales process, it can be extremely helpful to invest in video conferencing tools. Video conferencing lets your recruiters see candidates’ body language during interviews. It likewise lets your sales managers communicate face-to-face with representatives during team meetings and lets sales representatives engage prospects more personally during remote sales meetings. Available video conferencing tools include popular programs such as Skype for Business and Cisco WebEx.
Encourage Regular, Recurring Meetings with Team Members
Sales representatives in all environments need frequent meetings for motivation, and this is even more true in a virtual environment where face-to-face support from other team members is minimal. To keep your team members motivated, it’s essential to schedule regular, recurring meetings.
Use daily touch points as the foundation for regular communication with team members. For instance, your sales manager might kick off each Monday by sending out an email congratulating team members for sales successes they had the previous week. Fridays can be used to solicit weekly feedback and updates from team members. Quarterly performance reviews and weekly or monthly team conferences will help build your team’s morale and promote achievement of sales team goals.