How to Manage a Remote Sales Force: a View from the Trenches
Having worked in sales and sales management for a number of LSPs in both the US and Europe, I have experienced a wide variety of approaches to hiring, training and managing remote—sometimes very remote—salespeople. This article will focus on what LSPs can do to ensure success in their sales team.
While I’ve witnessed some spectacular successes, I’ve heard more than a few sales managers express their frustration about not being able to find the right salesperson to spearhead their launch into a new country or market. Fortunately, the growing respect for and maturity of sales organizations in our industry has helped remote salespeople succeed and has mitigated sales staff turnover.
So how do you go about creating a sales force that is highly motivated, engaged and able to achieve or even over-achieve its sales targets? It all comes down to choosing the right candidate, training them properly, and providing ongoing support and motivation.
Hiring: Choosing the Right Team Members
Let’s face it, even when managed well, some salespeople are not cut out for working remotely, and they need the interaction that comes with being based in an office. Someone can be the best salesperson in the world who has always achieved sales targets, but could fail in a less structured, remote environment. But how can you tell?
In my experience, the sales interview process focuses solely on obvious questions such as “how much business can you close” with very little attention paid to “how do you function in a remote environment?” This is a particularly important line of questioning when establishing a presence in a new market or country. Asking a few simple questions can help you to ascertain this:
Beyond assessing a salesperson’s ability to work remotely, I’ve also heard many discussions about whether it is better to send someone from HQ to open a new, remote office or whether hiring locally will achieve greater success. I’ve experienced and seen success in both cases, but there are pluses and minuses for each strategy and much of it boils down to the available candidates, their particular skill sets and the corporate culture of the hiring company.
Sending a Salesperson Abroad
Being an American working in a remote sales office in London, I do have a particular bias that it is possible for a non-local to be successful in a remote office in a foreign country. I’ve seen many others succeed in similar circumstances in both the US and in Europe. I’ve also seen many challenging circumstances and even failures, which I believe were in large part due to unrealistic expectations and a lack of preparation on the part of the hiring company.
I imagine the majority of people who are sent abroad to sell in a foreign country originate from the LSP’s HQ or home market and that they are sent on the belief that their company expertise will help them do well selling abroad. After all, they understand the LSP’s value proposition, know how to navigate internally to get what they need and usually have access to key decision makers from their experience with the company.
However, I have also seen people underestimate the challenges of working remotely in a foreign country (including myself!). Selling in a foreign market and coping with remote employment does present very real challenges. It can be a very isolating experience for someone accustomed to working in the company HQ with all its support and familiarity. Even the simplest tasks can become a quite a challenge if you don’t understand how things work. For example, when I relocated to London for the first time from Dallas, I was surprised to find out how long it took for a phone line and broadband to be installed. It was not days; it was weeks! I spent a lot of time (and money) working from a local internet cafe trying to be productive until I had proper internet access.
Although the vast majority of people in our industry have international experience and understand that things are done differently, in my experience this understanding only goes so far. Understanding sources of information, leads, business groups, and frankly, how to sell, takes a lot of effort and a deeper understanding of the market and business practices. This can greatly increase ramp-up time and cost of sales if underestimated.
Local salespeople, on the other hand, don’t have to think about such issues. They know how to get things done, what works and what doesn’t. They have established sources of information and they understand the nuances of doing business in their home market. Their challenge is to understand the company for which they work.
Hiring locally should (in theory) provide you with immediate access to the market in which you want to sell.
However, hiring locally means you, the LSP, will need to integrate the new hire into the company, and quickly! Most LSPs have thankfully gotten beyond providing a phone and computer and assuming that’s enough to “get selling.” Fortunately most LSPs routinely train their remote salespeople on why their service offering is unique and why buyers in the new market should buy from them over another company. A new hire absolutely needs to know this in order to be successful, so training is essential. It is also critical that HQ and other personnel are aware that this new salesperson exists (hopefully have met) so they are not surprised when the salesperson asks for support.
I strongly believe that many remote employment arrangements -- particularly when hiring locally -- don’t work out because there is a discrepancy between what the LSP thinks they want (or what they are willing to pay for) and what they get. This is particularly the case when the remote employee is opening a brand new office in a new country that is 7-10 time zones away from HQ.
Some questions LSPs should be asking themselves in order to determine whether they are prepared for the challenges of managing remote salespeople:
Training: On-boarding Your Remote Salespeople
The remainder of the training focused on production process and technology, which enabled me to meet and build a rapport with production team leads, departmental heads, project managers and support staff. I was required to shadow various staff to learn how we did things and why and then had to manage a few projects myself so I could experience not just production, but also the systems in place that kept the company running on a day-to-day basis. By the time I was released into the world of selling, I could explain our processes and technology quite thoroughly. It was excellent!
All of these attributes served to keep me engaged with the company and motivated me to help the company achieve its broader goals. I truly felt like an important part of the company and not a “remote employee.”
Jessica Rathke works in business development
for Jonckers Translation
& Engineering and is currently based in London. A native of Texas,
Jessica has previously worked on sales teams of McElroy Translation, Conversis
Published - March 2011
This article was originally published in GALAxy newsletter:
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