Remote selling is the new normal for a lot of revenue teams. But is it right for every business? This article explores the pros and cons of remote sales teams, how to build one, and how to manage remote sales reps.
Thinking about hiring a remote sales team?
Working from home is nothing new. Even before you-know-what, many sales teams already did their jobs from the comfort of their homes and sweatpants.
But moving a team from the office to work from home isn’t the same as building a virtual sales team from scratch, or adding to one.
This article will discuss the nuances and unique complexities of building a remote sales team. It will break down:
The pros and cons of a remote sales team
A step-by-step sales hiring process for building a remote team
Tips for effectively managing virtual teams
Plus how to set clear goals and provide your team with the tools they need to succeed.
First, let’s dive into the reasons behind why to hire remote sales team.
Why Build a Sales Team Remotely?
While there are both benefits and drawbacks to a remote team, which we’ll explore in more depth below, overall there are several reasons why a remote team can give you a strategic advantage.
This is especially true in progressive industries like technology and SaaS. These tech-first companies already have the infrastructure required to do work remotely, and the flexibility to do so is often a compelling benefit for top talent.
Let’s explore three reasons for building a remote sales team: expanded talent pool, enhanced flexibility, and efficiency.
Access to a wider talent pool
Time zones and geographical barriers are irrelevant for remote teams. This means you can cast a much wider net than you usually would and tap into a global talent pool.
There are two important considerations to keep in mind:
Ensuring there’s sufficient time zone overlap between team members so they're online at the same time as each other and, more importantly, prospective customers.
Adhering to local tax and labour laws so you’re hiring stays compliant. Services like Deel and Omnipresent take care of compliance and insurance red tape, and are quite affordable.
Hiring from a world-wide talent pool allows you to seek individuals with specific skills and experience. Remote recruitment lets you find individuals who not only possess these niche skills but also bring the diverse perspectives and strategies vital for innovative problem-solving and understanding varied market needs.
Flexibility and scalability
The best businesses are adaptable. They possess the ability to quickly respond to market changes and customer demands.
A remote sales team, unbound by location, offers this flexibility.
It allows for scaling the team size up or down based on current business needs without the constraints and expenses of physical office space. Remote reps can also be strategically positioned in key geographies in time zones closer to ideal customers.
Remote teams can significantly reduce overhead costs.
Physical offices can be downsized or eliminated entirely, replaced with co-working spaces and rented boardrooms as they’re needed. Without the need for a physical office, expenses like rent, utilities, and supplies diminish, allowing more budget allocation to core business areas and initiatives.
Top Companies With Remote Sales Teams
When looking for a remote sales position, a quick search for remote Sales jobs on LinkedIn reveals over 30,000 open roles. Needless to say, opportunities abound.
Yet some businesses have carved a name for themselves as the best remote companies to work for, championing WFH long before it was cool. Here are a few that stand out:
GitLab – Often cited as the world’s largest remote company, GitLab is a DevOps platform that boasts team members in more than 65 countries. The freedom to work when and where you want—provided there’s good internet—is a major reason sales pros seek to work here.
Apollo – A recent (and giant) series D funding round has seen Apollo.io balloon to 1,300 employees as they work to cement themselves as category leader in the hyper competitive business of big data. Sales reps work remotely to add even more customers to the list of 160,000 already using the platform.
Zapier – With 800 remote employees across almost 40 countries, Zapier has been fully remote since it was founded in 2011. Reps provide Zapier’s slick automation and integration software to enterprise organizations in tandem with a PLG motion designed to acquire smaller businesses.
Benefits of Remote Sales Teams
Despite widespread doubt and skepticism about the effectiveness and productivity of remote sales teams, the last few years have shown that these concerns were largely unfounded.
There are several key benefits of working remotely for both sales professionals and the leaders and managers who oversee them.
Let’s start with a look at the upsides of WFH for salespeople.
Improved work-life balance
Need to drop the kids off at school or dip out for an appointment? When you work from home, it’s all good.
The significant improvements in work-life balance by not needing to be in an office stem from an implicit trust that sales professionals can effectively manage their own schedules and responsibilities. The lack of a strict and often arbitrary office schedule leads to higher job satisfaction and lower burnout rates, which in turn benefits the company because there’s not as much turnover.
In the fast-paced world of sales, a healthy work-life balance is quickly proving to be an essential component of a high-performing team.
Flexible working hours
An extension of work-life balance, the ability to choose when you work allows reps to do their best work.
When customer or prospect meetings fall outside the regular 9-5 working hours, it’s far easier to accommodate when you work from home rather than needing to be in the office. Similarly, if a lunchtime walk or workout is key to a productive afternoon, a flexible schedule makes this possible.
The flexibility to work at peak productivity times naturally leads to higher productivity.
Access to wider opportunities
Just as a global talent pool allows companies to recruit top-grade talent who fit their needs precisely, a global company pool empowers sales professionals to seek opportunities with organizations where they’re a great fit.
This is a win-win. Reps can look beyond the horizons of their city or region for a company with a mission or product that really resonates with them. Likewise, for companies, finding individuals who not only have the skills and experience required to excel but a true passion and drive for what it is you do makes for an incredibly positive work environment and culture.
Now let’s explore the benefits of a remote sales team for sales leaders.
Countless studies and surveys show that working from home can increase productivity.
Quieter environments, fewer distractions, absence of a daily commute, and the ability to work during peak productivity times are commonly attributed as the main reasons.
Working from home can help reduce common stressors and time sinks that hamper productivity, like getting stuck in traffic or on packed public transport—which can ruin someone’s day before it even starts. A more focused, comfortable, and personalized work environment creates fewer distractions, which in turn create more opportunities for extended periods of focus, and, by extension, a more productive team.
As we outlined above, a remote team is cheaper than one that works from an office.
The tools and technology that a remote sales team requires to do their work is a tiny fraction of the cost of an office downtown.This cost-effectiveness can be especially beneficial for smaller businesses or startups that are looking to maximize their resources.
For a sales manager and leaders at larger companies, this reduction in overhead is still a benefit. Obviously, the cost of rent/utilities/etc. doesn’t come out of your pocket. But it does come out of your budget.
When these overheads are lower, more resources can therefore be allocated to your team and initiatives.
Cons of Remote Sales Teams
Remote sales teams aren't without their drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some key downsides, starting with those that affect salespeople most.
Hard to switch off
It can be hard not to bring work home when you work at home. The blurring of work and home life can lead to overwork, stress, and burnout when not adequately managed.
Establishing a dedicated part of your home from which to work or frequenting a favourite laptop-friendly cafe can help mitigate the challenges that arise with working from home.
Need for human interaction
Sales is a very human profession, and often attracts people who like the company of others.
Working remotely can get lonely, and sales reps may feel isolated from their teammates. This can impact their mental well-being and overall job satisfaction and lead to decreased motivation.
Misunderstandings and delays in communication can occur more frequently without face-to-face interactions. Poor internet connection, inadequate audio and video technology, and
Now let’s dig into potential drawbacks of remote work for sales leaders.
Limited team cohesion
A strong team culture and camaraderie is a vital part of a high-performing sales team. Promoting and nurturing this team spirit can be much harder when working remotely and having to rely on virtual communication rather than face to face interaction.
Sales comes with its fair share of ups and downs. When reps are surrounded with their peers who go through the same peaks and troughs that they do, it can make tolerating the hard times more bearable and celebrating the victories even better.
Lack of direct supervision
Sales leaders may find it challenging to monitor and guide the daily activities of their team members remotely.
Without the ability to physically oversee reps’ daily practice and activity, leaders must adopt a shift in management style that emphasizes trust and effective virtual communication. The focus should be more on outcomes and less on direct oversight.
It can be a jarring shift for leaders who are used to the hustle and energy of the sales floor, yet with the right approach it can lead to a more autonomous, responsible, and empowered sales force.
The key is balancing trust and accountability, making sure team members are clear on their objectives and have the resources they need to achieve them.
Difficulty training and onboarding
Training and onboarding remotely can add additional layers of complexity for both new reps and sales leaders.
Remote training often lacks the immediacy and personal touch of face-to-face sessions. Good coaching is as much about what isn’t said as what is, so a lot can be lost in translation in a virtual setting.
This can become problematic in both training and upskilling reps already on the team as well as onboarding and ramping new ones.
How to Build a Remote Sales Team
Deciding that a remote team is the right move is one thing. Building it and starting to hire remote sales representatives remote reps is another thing entirely.
The hiring process for virtual sales teams is too extensive to encapsulate in a single article. So while this list won’t be exhaustive, it will lay out the top things to keep in mind when recruiting remote sales representatives.
The most important differences between hiring remote vs in-office candidates is the presence of attributes that are essential for success in a remote setting.
Define key requirements: Skills and experience are, of course, necessary considerations. But so are non-obvious traits required to excel in a remote setting. Self-motivation, organization, time management, and excellent communication skills in a virtual format are key to remote success.
Commission structure: Fluctuations in the tech job market and the global talent pool most companies now have access to have made compensation difficult to pin down. In short, commission structures for remote sales reps should be compelling and appealing, and are usually a mix of base salary and commission to ensure stability while incentivizing performance.
Consider elements unique to remote: How you show up online, over Zoom and other video conferencing tools, and with both customers and teammates, is the new handshake. During the interview process, gauge a candidate’s comfort with digital communication tools while being sure to ask questions about their ability to work independently and manage time effectively.
How to Manage Remote Sales Reps
Managing a remote sales team effectively involves adapting your management style to suit the unique challenges and opportunities of remote work.
Here are some fundamentals to keep in mind.
Set clear goals and expectations
A must for any sales team, setting clear goals is a non-negotiable for a successful virtual sales team.
Alongside concrete targets is an expectation of the activities required to get there, such as a daily target of cold calls for a sales development rep (SDR) tasked with booking outbound meetings.
Following this example, if meetings booked is the goal, then making cold calls, email outreach, and social selling are the activities required to get there. These activities can be set as key performance indicators (KPIs) and monitored on a daily or weekly basis.
💡For example: If an SDR has a quota of 10 new meetings a week, and knows that her cold calls convert at 1%, then making 1,000 calls a week is the logical activity goal.
Overcommunication > undercommunication
Effective communication is the cornerstone of managing a remote sales team.
You don’t want to micro-manage or fill your reps calendars with too many meetings, but you do want to make sure there are clear and regular communication channels.
For some teams, short daily standups (less than 15-minute) help uncover blockers and give the rest of the team visibility into what’s being worked on. If every day is too much, then a weekly regular meeting in combination with impromptu huddles and check-ins—plus the direct line provided by Slack or Teams—is usually a good cadence.
In short, feel out what works best for you and your team by experimenting with different cadences and formats and listening to team feedback.
Keep reps motivated
This topic is worthy of a stand-alone article, but at the heart of it is fostering a strong team culture.
Sales is a team sport. Reps feed off the energy of each other’s wins and help support one another during the down times. It’s imperative that you encourage regular interactions to support day-to-day motivation.
Longer term benefits like annual offsites and team/company retreats are also a fantastic perk that gives remote employees something to look forward to.
Provide the necessary tools and resources
Ensure your team has what they need to do their jobs.
This can range from important tech and tools to training resources, and also adequate home equipment and a comfortable workstation.
Surveys can be useful at larger orgs to ensure reps have what they need. On smaller teams the easiest thing is just to ask.
Encourage work-life balance
People have lives outside of work. The ability to jump on the treadmill after lunch or run a quick errand is one of the perks of working remotely.
A healthy work-life balance is super important in a remote setting where the lines can blur. Encouraging your team to set boundaries between work and personal time, like when they’re online and working, can not only support the wellbeing of your team but can also go a long way to prevent burnout.
“In some ways, one of the biggest lasting legacies of the pandemic will be the shift to work from home.”
Even though we’ve seen more and more return-to-office mandates, working remotely and in a hybrid arrangement seems to be here to stay.
Selling remotely is not without its challenges. But it also offers significant advantages for both sales professionals and revenue leaders alike.
Access to global talent, lower overhead costs, and a happier workforce are key benefits for employers and leaders, while the flexibility, improved work-life balance, and access to more opportunities provided by remote working keep remote employees happy.
When implemented correctly, and with the right tools and resources in place, a remote sales force can prove a strategic asset for your company.