Remote Sales — Blow Up Convention

Since I started writing about my remote work experience at Articulate a few years ago, much has been covered on the topic of ‘remote’. One set of topics I’ve craved to read more about are helpful tips by functional area. Having led a number of the front and back-office teams at Articulate over the last four years, I thought I’d make some attempt to highlight my observations by function.

Let’s start with the front office, and sales specifically. And I’m not talking about “Field Sales” (which, let’s face it, was the original remote team). My experience relates to what I see more and more companies attempting which is to build distributed inside sales teams….the iconic, headset wearing, high-five giving, bell-ringing inside sales team can absolutely be successfully recreated in a remote environment, but the playbook is not the same as what we’ve come to learn in the office.

Here are four takeaways I’d share having worked with an amazing team that grew our revenues significantly (go team!):

First Recommendation: reinvent the hiring profile — Much of what I’ve seen and experienced with office-based inside sales reminds me of a bee-hive. It’s a collective of extroverted, hard-working individuals who figure out what to do and how to do it from the close interactions with others around them. They thrive on the energy of the hive.

In remote, you need individuals who thrive on their own independence and autonomy and who like figuring things out on their own. It doesn’t mean you need (or want) lone wolfs… but you do need a high degree of self-sufficiency. And you likely need to hire less extroverted (especially if they haven’t worked remote sales before) or you’re likely to end up with employees who leave because they’re looking for more “community” or “energy” with their job.

I also like to look for sales talent with a high degree of process orientation (can be hard to find), because you face natural challenges keeping everyone on the same page (see systems below). Ideally all inside reps are process oriented, but in an environment where you rely on the data trail more than the cubicle conversations, a bias towards process is critical.

The iconic, headset wearing, high-five giving, bell-ringing inside sales team can absolutely be successfully recreated in a remote environment, but the playbook is not the same as what we’ve come to learn in the office.

Second Recommendation: focus as much on customer as on revenue — after trying a number of incentive systems, we backed off individual performance systems and instead comped (and managed) around two KPIs… 1) team revenue performance and, 2) customer satisfaction (as judged by 30-day post purchase CSAT). I know many may dismiss this as too light-weight, but we found this to be a magic mix for our remote team.

A team based revenue target, rather than individual targets, was of immense help in pulling people across different geographies and timezones towards a common goal. Let’s face it… a Slack-bot closed-won emoji simply doesn’t replace the real-world smack of a bell and the subsequent high-fives. Our attempts with hyper-transparent, individually based metrics more often resulted in negative team drag. Aligning people around a shared goal was extremely helpful to build a team culture in remote.

Second, using customer success as a KPI to reward reps became essential. CSAT became a grounding mantra for our sales team that created tangible goodness. We used it as a rally cry to ensure we were doing the right thing not just Ωfor the customer but for the business. It became the perfect counterpart to the revenue KPI.

Revenue on its own can be hard enough for office-based cultures to build around. Of course it’s important, but inevitably you set targets/quota too high, or too low. Remote teams can unhinge without something like CSAT to counterbalance the revenue obsession.

A team based revenue target, rather than individual targets, was of immense help in pulling people across different geographies and timezones towards a common goal.

Third Recommendation: Slack — I hate to continue to pile on to the general Slack adulation, but it really does an extraordinary job of nailing most communication needs of the remote workforce. With Slack, you have this nice sense of being closely in touch while not being bothersome. For sales teams in particular, this is critical. You need to be close to your team, but not in their way. It’s there when you need it. And Slack has a bunch of great sales plug-ins to enable easy sharing of wins, customer support issues, and customer success. +1 for Slack.

Last Recommendation: invest in sales ops, training and processes — We didn’t invest in Sales Ops as much as we should have, but with remote sales teams, training process and systems are extremely important to keep the team running tight. We ran most all of our data and processes in and around Salesforce, which made things a lot easier in terms of system implementation and data integrity. Building efficient workflows were essential in helping reps feel efficient and effective.

In addition to GDocs, we were able to dogfood our own amazing online training tool, Rise, to easily train everyone. With remote, easy and effective training, that you can keep up to date easily becomes essential. My shameless plug here is that it is all finally possible with Rise.

There are more tips and tricks operating sales in a remote environment, but these are the key learnings I’ve taken away so far. I’d be interested in what other advice and suggestions people have around remote sales.