There was a clear trend of remote working even before COVID. Global Workplace Analytics reported in 2019 that in the last decade and a half, the remote working population has grown 11% faster than the rest of the workforce. This also applies to sales companies and teams, where in the US, about half of all sellers are now on inside sales teams.
So when COVID-19 forced many businesses to implement emergency work-from-home protocols, it would seem that it simply hastened the inevitable. Even so, many sales leaders weren’t prepared for the possibility of working with a remote sales team.
There are a plethora of benefits as well as challenges to remote working, but seeing as how it’s the need of the hour, we must pay attention to it. And one of the most important aspects of remote working – especially for teams that are new to it – is employee engagement.
Disengaged workers take less ownership of their attitude and overall responsibility, and drain productivity from the tea, costing companies in the US up to $500 billion annually.
On the other hand, a Gallup analysis reported that teams that scored the highest on employee engagement were 21% more profitable than teams that scored the lowest.Engaged sales employees stick around longer and are more productive, lowering hiring costs and increasing activity, pipeline, and revenue.
To that end, we’ve put together a list of the 20 best ways to keep your remote sales team engaged. Whether you’re old hat at remote management or 2020 is your first foray, there should be a tip or three you can glean. AWe’ve split these tips up into two broad categories:
- Work related: Ways to keep your team focused on and motivated about work.
- People related: Ways to keep your team members feeling like part of a bigger unit, and maintaining their motivation (and have a little fun).
When you are working remotely, it’s not possible to get immediate feedback, or to stroll over to someone’s desk to relay new information / shoot the sh*t. But good communication is the key to success for any team. When team members work from home, they are in a completely different mind-space than the office.
This set of tips is meant to help keep them on point. Some of these tips may seem obvious for teams that have already been remote, but there’s something for everyone here.
1. Get regular feedback from your team on how their feeling
Things are stressful enough for any sales team, what with calls to make and quotas to hit.. But especially now, emotions are running high, and some people may have difficulty adjusting.
Find out how they are feeling with team surveys, or make time in your 1:1s.. Just keeping your virtual door open often isn’t enough, since many team members won’t feel comfortable speaking out. Providing a regular space to talk is key to getting feedback.
2. Keep your team updated
Regular updates will keep your remote sales team engaged. You’ll have to decide the frequency of these updates, but it will be more than what it was in the office.
Make your updates about more than just sales numbers. Include important updates from other departments and the organization at large. And don’t be afraid to include a little lighthearted humor. The updates are meant to keep your team engaged and reduce stress. If they’re too serious, they might have the opposite effect! We’ve found twice-a-week sales sync and daily standups for our BDRs is what works for us, but every team is different.
3. Keep email conversation to a minimum
Reserve email for sending attachments or summaries. Encourage direct communication whenever possible, either by chat, phone call, or video chat. Remind your SDRs that they should use every available opportunity for direct connection. The Zoom / Slack integration for us makes it fast and easy to Zoom someone.
4. Get everyone on video
This one might seem obvious. It has been the number one way that teams have been communicating in the COVID era, with Zoom now a verb as well as a product. but video chatting is among the best and easiest ways to stay connected among remote teams.
In fact, many companies that have recently shifted to remote work have felt the unexpected benefit of breaking down emotional barriers, and giving colleagues and clients a view into each other’s lives at home. Zoom conferences that have featured a cat walking across the keyboard or a child joining the meeting have led to lighthearted moments that have brought teammates closer together.
5. Establish a routine - and stick with it
A routine with regularly scheduled stand-ups and cadence calls will help keep your team on the same time table while ensuring that you get to see or hear each other at regular intervals.
6. …but let people work hour they want
… but keep your routine pretty light. You don’t want to schedule every possible block of time. Let your team members work whenever best suits them and focus on outcomes over inputs so people can take advantage of forced remote working.
7. Start a buddy system
Assign buddy pairs within your team. Each SDR has an buddy that they can check in with throughout the day in case they can’t wait – or don’t want to wait – for the next team huddle. It's an easy way for them to hold each other accountable, but also help them refine the skills for sales they need to be honing at all times.
In addition, the buddy is someone to celebrate with, vent with, provide tactical support, or simply to lend an ear. The idea is to help your team feel comfortable and supported at all times.
8. Expand the responsibilities of your SDRs
Research has shown that employees are more productive when they work at home, which may mean they are finishing tasks quicker. They may or may not appreciate the extra idle time. Play it by ear, but see if you have bigger responsibilities they can take on and if they are up for it.
9. Create knowledge sharing opportunities
Your remote sales team is on the front lines. Every one of your reps has an insight to share and a story to tell.
Set up brief knowledge sharing sessions led by each of your team members in rotation. These sessions needn’t exceed 5-10 minutes, but it’s a great way to get everyone together and spread individual knowledge.
Alternately, you can ask each member in turn to do a bit of a deep dive on a sales related topic and prepare a 10-minute presentation which the whole team can benefit from.
10. Offer training opportunities
Professionals need to keep learning to stay sharp and on top of the latest market trends. If it’s in your budget, consider offering to pay for Udemy, online courses, or other professional sales training to help make your team better salespeople.
To incentivize the deal, perhaps you could agree to pay for one course of their choice from any category if they complete one sales related course. Or maybe each team member could share the highlights of their course with the rest of the team. Get creative with your training offering.
11. Recognize great work
The same as always, but now it needs to be done with the whole team present on a Zoom conference. If there are physical items involved, like trophies, try and arrange to have them arrive at the recipients’ residence on the day you plan to announce the award.
12. Assist your team with time management
Providing your remote sales team with tools, tips, and training to help them manage their time better is a great motivator. It shows that management cares.
There’s a bunch of great time management tools, and many of them are free. Or suggest a free pomodoro app.. or just tell people to use their kitchen timer.
RescueTime is a tool to help keep people focused on work and make the most efficient use of their time. You can use it to set goals for how you want to spend your time by blocking or limiting distracting websites.
13. Ask-me-anything / town hall meetings
This is something a CEO / CRO can implement. These meetings are held periodically, where any employee can ask any question, with the option to submit questions anonymously.
Having this open dialogue about what’s going on can help ease nerves and remove assumptions. This helps everyone in the short and long term.
People-related ways to keep your remote sales team engaged
Now we get to the more fun aspects of keeping remote SDRs engaged. Your team members have professional goals, but they are also people with personal wants and needs. And one of the most basic human needs is the need to belong to a community, group, or tribe.
Especially in troubled times, humanizing your team interactions is of the utmost importance. It will go a long way in keeping your team happy and reducing stress.
14. Encourage interacting in your new “virtual office”
Whether it’s a team-wide get-together, or just a coffee time chat between two colleagues, encourage your team to share their breaks together over video chat.
Missing out on these candid conversations could lead to feelings of isolation, but maintaining them will keep your remote sales team close in spite of the distance.
15. Donut chats
Donut takes virtual team interaction to the next level. It’s a program that integrates with Slack and has lots of neat ways to help people come together and bond.
You can introduce a new employee to the rest of a team or arrange a meeting of randomly selected SDRs to encourage them to exchange knowledge and cooperate.
It is helping strengthen personal connections in remote companies everywhere, and is especially useful for forging / maintaining connections across teams who don’t interact that muhc day to day.
16. Fun team building exercises
There’s actually a lot you can do together while sitting at home that turns out to be entertaining for everyone. Try a round of “show & tell”. Yes, revisit this beloved relic of your school days – except now you get to show off the cool stuff that you’ve accumulated as an adult.
Or maybe have a session of virtual tours of team members’ work space, or an “MTV Cribs” style tour of their house, or a pet parade.
Of course, these suggestions can’t really be used multiple times, so be creative and think out of the box. Ask your team for suggestions on what the next team building exercise could be. (or just Google it)
17. Quiz circle
Here’s a super way to get everyone involved, and for everyone to say a little bit about themselves. These quizzes are held periodically. On each occasion, one person is the quiz master and presents questions on a topic they like (without getting too obscure, of course. Just because you’ve read all of Tite Kubo’s mangas doesn’t mean everyone has!).
18. Bring in an element of competition
Introduce a game for the whole remote sales team to get involved in, and make it a “serious” competition. Whether it’s a fantasy league (pro sports are back, by the way), an online gaming tournament, or the periodic quizzes we just mentioned. Have a leaderboard or a tournament chart, whatever your team likes, but play it for real.
The folks at Bonusly held this (see chart below) very serious potato competition that they called "Iron Chef: Starch Madness". Colleagues had to prepare potato-based dishes using only what they had on hand, and the team judged the winners using online polls and their imaginations.
19. Employee wellness sessions
You won’t always be able to tell how everyone in your remote sales team is doing. Everyone puts on a good face for Zoom calls, but you can’t walk by their cubicles or catch them off guard in the break room. Be proactive about addressing their mental and physical wellbeing.
Set aside some time especially for the team to take part in this. It could be a group therapy session where people talk about how they are feeling, or just a group stretch/yoga time. Use the opportunity to share some exercises that target the muscles and joints we often take for granted during the working day.
20. Make engagement with your remote sales team a part of company culture
A Gallup report states that only 15% of employees are engaged in the workplace. That’s shockingly low, and is maybe why job tenure is generally getting shorter and shorter This is not a stat that you want to follow, not if you want your SDRs to be happy, productive, and stay with you.
Remote working can be massively beneficial for employers and employees. In fact, there are many companies that have been remote from the very beginning – notable examples being Toggl, Buffer, Gitlab, InVision, Todoist, Basecamp, and Zapier.
But these benefits often come at the cost of a tight knit team. In order to build that camaraderie that really drives team results, your team members need to feel engaged. So whether you’ve had a remote sales team for a while or have recently made the shift to remote work, make team engagement an integral part of your company culture. Your team (and your bottom line) will thank you for it.