No matter the size of your organization, sales leaders always wear (at least) three hats: leader, manager, and coach —
- You have to lead your team and point them in the right direction
- You have to manage your team to make sure the work’s getting done
- You have to coach your team to make sure the work’s getting done with excellence
When COVID-19 hit and companies pivoted to fully remote sales teams, sales leaders quickly realized that their approach to all three of these critical roles completely changed.
We have to keep our teams and their families safe. But at the same time, business doesn’t stop. And managing a remote sales team is very different from managing a team that’s physically in the office.
At our inaugural MOMENTUM conference, we got to hear from three top-notch speakers about how their remote coaching programs have been adapted — and even flourished — in these unprecedented times.
This post summarizes some of the most exciting moments of that presentation, but it only scratches the surface. To watch the full recording, click here.
How to Approach Remote Sales Coaching
Thanks to COVID-19, sales managers have lost proximity to their reps and the dense learning environments that have always been central to traditional sales coaching.
Any manager has to learn how to take their tried-and-true coaching strategies and apply them to a remote sales team. But how do you decide what needs to change, and what needs to stay the same?
According to Kristen Twining, Vice President of Inside Sales at FireMon, these are some of the core areas where her team focused:
- Consistency. Protect your calendar. Don’t let your one-on-one Zoom calls get pushed, especially since that’s probably the only face time you’ll have.
- Expectations. Set clear expectations for each coaching session. These aren’t opportunities to do forecasts or discuss the pipeline. You should be 100% focused on the salesperson and their development in specific skills (emails, sales calls, demos, etc.).
- Compassion. These are uncertain times for everyone. It’s important to remind them that just because the world is different, that doesn’t mean everything stops, and that doesn’t mean their careers and development have to stop.
- Empathy. We’re all going through many of the same challenges. Now more than ever, it’s easier to put yourself in your rep’s shows. The more empathetic you are, the more open they’ll be to receiving your coaching.
- Collaboration. Sales is a team sport, especially now. So make sure to encourage peer-to-peer recognition and encouragement.
Kim “Sarge” Harrington, Vice President of Sales at XINNIX, with over two decades of experience in the United States Marine Corps and California Highway Patrol, underscored the importance of empathy and collaboration. He mentioned drawing from his own experience of being a young remote employee and dealing with the challenges of distractions and productivity. “I use that experience and bring it into each coaching session,” he said.
One of things he mentioned was how much more connected some of his team felt during this time. “Our company was a hybrid model,” he said. “Half were remote employees and half were at the headquarters. One of the first things we realized when everyone went remote, is that the people that were remote before felt more connected to the company when everyone was remote.”
What hasn’t changed, however, is that collaboration is key to success in sales coaching in a remote environment. “As we used to say in the Marine Corps: It’s not about the individual, it’s about the mission.”
How to Build Your Sales Coaching Culture in a Remote Environment
As any sales manager knows, there are multiple “fields of play” involved in the sales process:
- The game field, which is when the rep is on the sales floor actually making their calls;
- The practice field, where the sales rep’s actual training happens
- The locker room, where reps get their heads straight before going out to the practice field — where morale, attitude, and culture are all shaped and nurtured
How you behave in the locker room impacts how you perform in practice, which impacts how you play. This is why culture is so important for any team.
But for the remote sales team, culture can be difficult to nurture.
This is why it’s important to promote ownership of culture across all of your team members, regardless of whether they’re the entry-level recruit or the CRO.
Harrington touched on this exact point, bringing in his Marine Corps experience. “Every Marine is a leader,” he said. “Every single Marine — whether you’re a private or a four-star general.”
Kim Gordon, Senior Manager of Sales Operations at Avalara, said that the change in schedule has actually afforded her more time to sit and connect with her remote team. “Before, I went into the office one or two days a week and did a lot of traveling,” she said.
“But once we all became remote, I actually found that I started to have more conversations with the reps. That actually started to increase morale because they felt listened to and heard.”
Twining added that it’s important to gamify the experience to break through the mundane. “Whether you’re doing blitz days or specific contests,” she said, “Always find a way to increase that competition by getting people excited. I found myself almost becoming a Chief Creative Officer because I had to find new things to keep the team really engaged.”
She then went on to emphasize the importance of transparency. “The more you can connect with your people and be open and honest with them, the better. Now, there are always going to be things as leaders that we cannot share, but it’s really important to share the things we can.”
How to Use Data in Remote Sales Coaching
In the best of times, data-powered insights are very helpful in sales coaching. But in these times, when your opportunities to observe reps’ behaviors are limited, it’s absolutely critical.
One of Gordon’s initiatives has been to create reports and dashboards for coaches to identify exactly where reps are in relation to their activities and metrics. “One of the big things that I’ve found with this shift in moving to a remote work environment,” she said. “Is that even though we do produce more potential, we’re not making as many opportunities or connections.”
Gordon also mentioned that they’re working to solve this problem by surfacing many different metrics, including:
- Are they just mass dialing, or are they staying on the phone?
- Are they customizing emails, or are they just sending mass emails?
- Are they engaging with the customer long enough to make an impact?
When you have data on these deeper metrics, you can get to the heart of why a rep may not be meeting their quota. Then you can coach them accordingly.
As Harrington said, “Sales will always be a numbers game. You always have to know your numbers, where your starting point is, and you have to plan ahead.”
Then he added this final word for those who may be hesitant to utilize data in their sales coaching. “Are you going to be a Rip Van Winkle?” he asked. “Are you going to sleep for twenty years and still use your flip phone? Or are you going to move forward and progress with the times and advance your technology to keep moving forward?”
We find ourselves in difficult and unprecedented times. As we look to the future, it doesn’t look like things are going to go back to normal quickly.
The teams that are going to thrive in this new environment are the teams that can learn how to build relationships with team members outside of a physical environment, prioritize culture-building in a remote context, and use data to identify areas where they can help their people improve.
To hear the full discussion between these three highly knowledgeable sales leaders, click here to access the full presentation.