Between customer meetings and industry events, sales pros are often out of the office, but that’s a lot different than knowing you’re rarely going to see them at all.
If you’re managing a sales team or are the owner of a small to medium-sized business (SMB), you may have gotten used to stockpiling a mental checklist of important issues or questions to ask sales reps once they return to their desks. This could include the status of a particular deal, how close they are to achieving their quota or even just some insight on what customers in the market are saying.
Today, however, forcing employees of any kind to come into the same physical location every day is being challenged by social norms and the availability of cloud technology.
According to a survey by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, for example, remote work has grown by 91% over the past 10 years, and 159% over the last 12 years.
Researchers at Stanford University, meanwhile, conducted a survey of their own which showed there was a 50% decrease in attrition among workers who were allowed to work remotely.
Both those studies represent U.S. rather than Canadian data, and they aren’t specifically focusing on sales reps, but you can easily imagine why the trends might be similar here.
The impact on attrition in particular could be especially valuable to SMBs or organizations of any kind who fear losing sales reps and having to retrain new ones from scratch. For reps, meanwhile, remote work could mean reduced stress.
Of course, it will take more than a few statistics to convince most SMBs to offer fully remote work options for their sales teams. You need to consider the pros and cons first:
If you’re already using a customer relationship management (CRM) system via a software-as-a-service model, your reps already have the most important thing they need to do their work remotely.
Many reps might already be accessing and updating CRM through their smartphone as they move between events and meetings, so in a sense they’re already working remotely anyway. The difference here is that they could potentially get even more done by not having to travel back and forth to the company headquarters.
There’s no reason reps can’t be given a pep talk or guidance on how to improve their performance during a phone call, but many managers or CEOs have preferred to wait until they can have such discussions in a face-to-face setting.
Coaching and managing remotely might feel off-putting because of a perceived lack of intimacy, or because there’s a greater risk of outside distractions. However these are all issues that can be dealt with up front.
If you have a regular check-in or touchpoint with a rep, for example, give them direction on how to choose the right environment to do it remotely. It might be as simple as picking a quiet room, or maybe an area where they could conduct the conversation via video rather than an audio-only interaction.
Companies can’t always afford to be set up in a major metropolitan centre with lots of employee-friendly amenities. Or they may be in a situation where they’re trying to recruit sales reps to an urban area, but the best candidates prefer a suburban or rural lifestyle and don’t want to make the commute.
In those situations, remote work policies give SMBs the potential to attract the reps they want, regardless of their place of residence.
Today, remote work might seem like a nice-to-have or bonus. As such policies become more common, on the other hand, employers might need to explain why they don’t allow remote work to candidates who have come to expect it, especially if they’ve grown up as digital nomads.
There might be some admin jobs or other roles where it would be fine for employees to be working at odd hours in their pyjamas, but sales teams have usually been expected to be presentable and productive whenever their customers are ready to do business.
Remote working means managers and CEOs can’t literally stand over a sales rep’s shoulder to make sure they’re being professional and getting their jobs done, but that’s not where you’re likely to have your biggest impact as a leader anyway.
It may be a bit of a psychological hurdle to overcome, but the comforting thing about remote work is that the data doesn’t lie. Reps aren’t the only ones who can access the CRM, for example, which means you can easily monitor where they are in terms of connecting with prospects, nurturing a deal through a buyer journey or what new leads or opportunities they need to address.
No, you’re not going to have sales reps gathered around the water cooler the way they might if they all come into the same place each morning. They won’t be able to walk over to a nearby cubicle and hand someone a piece of paper. But that’s not the only way to work as a team and to support each other.
The same cloud-based model that has helped make CRM more powerful within sales teams has been applied to spreadsheets, word processing programs and other tools. Sales teams can easily access the same files at the same time with no loss of version control.
Enterprise social networking tools, meanwhile, can also facilitate the kind of conversations where reps ask each other questions, provide advice or even encourage each other.
As you decide whether or not to allow salespeople to work fully remotely, talk to them about each of the pros and cons we’ve outlined here. Are there others that need to be discussed?
Getting honest feedback early on is the best way to ensure you develop a policy and processes that will make employees successful — no matter where and how they work.