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How sales teams can maintain customer relationships while working remotely

My job is to ensure every customer gets the most value out of Salesforce, but my passion is establishing and building trust.

My job is to ensure every customer gets the most value out of Salesforce, but my passion is establishing and building trust. As the Chief Adoption Officer, I spend more than half my time meeting with customers all around the world. It’s that face-to-face interaction that helps me help them.

On any given day, I’m landing in a new city with a packed schedule, shuffling from plane to car to client meeting to hotel, and then back the other way. That all changed overnight.

As worries over the coronavirus escalated, out of an abundance of caution, Salesforce asked many of us to start working from home. I went from knowing where I was going to be every single day for the next four months to scrambling to set up my next meeting over video.

So what should sales leaders do to deepen our connections with customers during a time when digital communication becomes the only form of communication? What do we tell our teams when they’re cooped up at home? And how do we be there for our people without physically being there?

Below are a few practices I’ve implemented these past few weeks to maintain strong customer relationships and build new ones, even while I’m not on the road. I hope that with this, you too will be able to strengthen your bonds during these trying times. 

Listen to your team


Let’s be realistic. Your team members aren’t going to be thinking about how they can help their customers if they’re worried about what’s happening at home.

First and foremost, focus on building an inclusive, empathetic culture from the top down. Your team is watching to see how you react. Show them you care. Open up a team call or one-on-one with a personal story and invite them to share their own. Then probe deeper: 

  • How can I help? 

  • What boundaries can I respect? 

  • What are the things we should all agree on as a team?

One of the first things I did at home was organise a call twice a week with my team just to talk. This led us to create a Quip doc, where we could collect our thoughts and share what we’ve learned. You can also try inviting people to virtual happy hour. You’d be surprised to find how nice it feels – even when it’s just 15 minutes in front of a webcam.

At Salesforce, we’re helping our employees redefine their work through a variety of tools and channels – but no matter what technology you have at your disposal, every leader can be empathetic and listen. That creates team members who are ready to do the same.

Listen to your customers


Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This is a time for deep listening. It’s important now more than ever. Remind your teams to really hear what their customers are concerned about and to show that they’re really there for them.

How do you do this? Set up a virtual coffee. Talk about what they’re facing. Brainstorm how to work together. Propose ideas that could solve their problems now.

One customer recently told us they needed an emergency preparedness portal to communicate with their customers. Our team turned around a prototype in two days. That customer may or may not ultimately sign a deal with us, but they’ll remember we helped them when they needed it most.

While many things feel uncertain right now, people still need to do business. Contracts are still being written. And pain points still need to be solved. Listen to your customers with empathy, and you’ll end up creating true value for them.


Respect your customers’ time


Building relationships is a fundamental part of sales and customer success. Of course, treating a prospect to dinner isn’t possible right now.

Sometimes, the best way to show respect is to be mindful of your customers’ time. Don’t let small talk overstay its welcome. Keep agendas tight and focused so your customers can get back to their work and home priorities.

If a customer made time to meet with you, treat the meeting start time like a covenant. Take careful notes, send follow-ups and, again, focus on how you can help.

Learn together


Quite frankly, I don’t have all the answers. But one thing is true no matter the situation: we are stronger when we work together, when we double down on our relationships and our community.

This month, in response to the coronavirus, we hosted our very first online only World Tour, an event that normally brings our customers physically together for a day of learning and networking. We had 10 days to change our plans from an in-person event to a virtual one.

When we were transparent with our customers about the switch to digital, we received an outpouring of support. While we were dealing with our new reality, so were our customers. Together, we came out the other side better than ever.

Find more advice for leadership, remote work, leading your business and more in the Leading Through Change series – our community is sharing insights and expertise to help businesses survive and thrive.

Leading Through Change

Helping business manage in crisis.

Polly Sumner

Polly Sumner is the Chief Adoption Officer at Salesforce, where she’s responsible for customer success and ensuring that each and every customer gets maximum value from our products and services. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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