5 Ways to Lead a Remote Sales Team During a Pandemic

A virus sweeping across the globe so fast the UN Secretary General called it the biggest challenge since World War Two.

Unemployment benefit applications at an all-time high.

Locked down and glued to their smartphones, the world united around a man with a blonde mullet and leather boots—the Tiger King!

Seriously, could 2020 have brought us anything more unexpected than the mayhem and madness wrought by the coronavirus? If this article had been written only two months ago, the material contained herein would be totally irrelevant. Now, there couldn’t be anything more topical.

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As a sales leader, what can you do to keep your remote sales team performing in probably the toughest period of your career?

Here are 5 ways to lead a remote sales team during a pandemic.

  1. Value the top 10% of your customer base
  2. Change the industries you are targeting
  3. Throw away your expectations
  4. Increase your prospecting
  5. All personnel should inherit a sales quota

lead remote sales team

1. Value the top 10% of your customer base

Let’s play out the worst case scenario. 

Each month you face a substantial customer churn, as more companies try to cut their costs.

Prospecting difficulty reaches a breaking point as people aren’t at their desks to answer office phones or are too stressed personally to think about new projects. 

Where do you turn? 

Your strongest customers today are likely to be your stronger customers tomorrow. Align your account management or customer success teams to place most of their effort into making sure these companies are navigating the crisis positively. Placing your bets on existing customers and strengthening the relationship with them should be the top priority of your sales team.

Despite the current climate, there may be opportunities for your remote inside sales teams to expand the services in these accounts. Do anything to encourage this to happen smoothly; reduce roadblocks around contract terms, pricing, and technical limitations.

2. Change the industries you are targeting

Many of the sectors you were targeting before the pandemic may have been ideal, but given the market conditions, adjustments need to be made. 

Hotels, events, real estate, hospitality, and finance are all examples of sectors which are going through difficult times right now.

Instead, look at other categories like medical devices, solar, logistics, software-as-a-service (SaaS), utilities, and telecommunications, where sales may actually be picking up in a crisis. 

If you have no option to change your core industry, look at switching time zones to focus on geographical locations that have less severe exposure to Covid-19. This works especially well for remote teams, as they can alter their schedule more easily since no commute is involved. 

An alternative is to focus on well-established brands that have the cash reserves to negotiate the current circumstances and are already doing forward planning for 2021. This may increase sales cycle time by shifting focus to larger accounts but could result in an unexpected pay-off toward the end of the crisis.

3. Throw away your expectations 

In leading a conventional sales team, if things aren’t going by the book, then they aren’t scalable. 

Now is the time to ask yourself some tough questions:

Am I willing to reduce list prices in order to secure new opportunities?

Can I bundle in free services or additional licenses in order to make a deal happen?

Can we allow delayed payment for a few months or perhaps create a monthly installment plan instead of requiring payment upfront?

Succeeding in these tough times requires making some concessions on the elements above. For example, perhaps your team may fall short of its quota or experience a reduction in deal size—but if you can keep the new customer acquisitions on plan, would this not be a sacrifice worth making?

4. Increase your remote prospecting 

Building a sales pipeline is going to take more effort than ever before. 

SDRs will receive more “Nos” and face ghosting.

For account executives, a few deals at play will suddenly disappear. With inbound volume reduction in most industries, unproductive work hours need to be avoided at all costs. The last thing your organization needs are reps sitting on their hands waiting for meetings to appear—something that won’t be likely any time soon.

While managing a remote sales team, you must emphasize two key changes.

The first is that all account executives need to dedicate about half of their day to prospecting; they should be receiving a set of target accounts to work on. Even if deal maintenance time is required—given the commute time is now zero for all staff—it is appropriate to encourage and perhaps incentivize extra pipeline creation with this additional time through spiffs, increased benefits, etc. 

Secondly, messaging must be altered to politely address how your product or service can alleviate the new stress created by this current situation. If this communication doesn’t occur and the same sequences/pain points are used as in a regular prospecting call, the reason to engage with you may not be compelling enough for the prospect to spare time for a virtual meeting.

5. All personnel should inherit a sales quota

Every available employee is a potential resource and their actions could make the difference between success and failure. 

Sit down with your leadership and audit your entire staff and their skill sets.

There may be individuals with previous sales experience, customer success staff with strong inter-personal skills or product leaders who can harness their depth of knowledge to serve as strong sales representatives. 

Where possible, gather these personnel and run a two-day remote bootcamp focused on generating opportunities via LinkedIn, phone, and email.

Then for the next three months, each staff member can dedicate 1-2 hours per day toward helping to generate a sales pipeline for the company.

This may seem a little unorthodox, however, over the long term, the cross-functional experience may assist you in fostering innovation across the company as people gain experience on the front lines.

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