Challenges of the Sales Leader #3

Remote and mobile sales teams.

doing business on the move

out of sight does not mean out of mind

Is managing remote and mobile sales people really different to managing people who are entirely or largely office based?  Does it deserve an article of its own?  The answer to both is yes.

When considering this question the starting point has to be another question; what, if anything, makes managing any sales people different to managing other employees?  There are in my experience several factors that make managing sales people if not unique quite different to most other management tasks in business.  However, when considering these factors there are parallels between sales management and, for example, sports team management and leadership in some aspects of the armed forces.

The key difference in the management task emanates from the nature of the job being done by sales people when compared to other types of work.  Most jobs involve people following a routine which may be defined by a professional discipline such as; lawyer, accountant, engineer or HR professional.

Whether supported by a professional qualification or not, most employees do a job which follows a routine, set of procedures within an overall process.  The accounts department will probably have regular routines for the day, week, month and quarter.  Within the department the payroll person or the credit control person will have a regular pattern of work that provides structure to their working day.

Being office based people have regular access to their manager and also have the support and camaraderie of working with colleagues.  Working in a job with regular recurring activities provides structure and a degree of security for the employees.  Typically such employees know what to do in most circumstances as a result of the routine which means they will have tackled most problems before and therefore do not need support from their manager in most cases.

So, to those remote and mobile sales people.

What is different in their working lives compared to office based people?

  • Although some of what a sales person does is routine; make calls, attend meetings, write proposals, etc., each new customer is different to all the rest.  Different because the people within the customer are different.
  • Each customer will have different approaches, style, culture which makes each a new challenge for the sales person.  In effect each new customer is a little like joining a new company; the sale person has to learn new “rules of engagement” for most new customers.
  • Each new customer situation is rather like a game for a sports team where the opposing team presents a new challenge to that encountered in the previous matches.  So the coach prepares the team for the next match, helping them to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team and developing strategies to win the game.

All of the above applies to all sales people regardless of whether they are office or remotely based.  However, if they are office based, they can have regular contact with their manager and colleagues enabling both informal and formal support.

Assuming the sales people are experienced and skilled in their profession then the level of support required is mainly focused on coaching around individual customer situations, team training in new techniques and sales meetings where the team members can reinforce each other.  Giving this sort of support to remote sales people is quite a challenge.  If the manager has, say, ten sales people spread across the UK, they will typically only see each person once per month and once more in a monthly team meeting.  To deal with this you need to …

  •  Ensure you are aware of their diary and plan calls around prospect and customer events.  Being aware of what they are doing makes them feel you care and it also provides structure for the telephone conversations you will have
  • Schedule regular telephone contact; ideally daily.
  • Make the effort to meet individually at least twice per month and on at least one of these occasions, formally review their pipeline.
  • Make time to join the sales person in selected sales appointments.  Make sure it includes ones they’re confident about so you can see them working well and thus better help them with those they’re less comfortable with.  Don’t wait to be invited.
  • Organise team events such as webinars, weekly training and rah-rah sessions.
  • Hold monthly sales meetings when, amongst other things; you can provide an update on achievements for the previous month and they can individually present their plans for the coming months.

For the dedicated sales manager the above, even with a team of ten, is perfectly achievable provided you do not allow your time, while you are in the office, to be hijacked by non sales management activities.  However, in today’s world of business many sales leaders also have other important jobs to do such as being the MD.  For the sales leader who wears multiple hats we would recommend you get a dedicated sales manager once the sales team gets to five or more people, or their geography becomes too diverse, prior to that you should be able to deliver the recommended management regime.  Alternatively, you could create a structure within the team where some of the more experienced people take on the role of supporting and coaching two or three less experienced colleagues and your main focus would then mainly be on the two senior people.