How to Manage a Small Sales Team Virtually

Oct 8, 2020
Author: Sarah Hicks

IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF US THE ENTIRE TIME

We may be new to the virtual sales management model, but Rene Zamora, a recent guest on the Predictable Revenue Podcast, has been managing sales teams virtually since 2006. His team has offered fractional sales managers as a service (SMAAS?) for years and has discovered the many reasons companies choose a virtual model. Chief among them are:

  1. Companies have tried to hire internally and they’ve tried to grow and scale their sales on their own but they haven’t quite cracked it, so they’re looking for a different approach
  2. They’ve hit a ceiling with their current team and process
  3. They’re looking for someone qualified and experienced, and don’t want to be limited to the type of sales leaders they can attract if they’re looking to hire in house

Since Rene had this dialed even before the world was forced into it, we decided to ask him how he does it.  

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

The virtual approach forced Rene to be disciplined in improving his sales management habits – the habits every sales manager needs in any environment – and one of the first things he learned is that sales leaders should never do anything they hired someone else to do.

It’s easy for managers to fall back on their own sales experience, and to demonstrate to their salespeople the best way to do things or even to do things for them. But this approach doesn’t enable or empower the salesperson and, in fact, makes them less effective at their role. In a virtual environment, sales leaders don’t have that option. They are forced to trust that their salespeople are doing the work, and in order to coach effectively, their salespeople need to trust them enough to share, voluntarily, what’s working and what’s not. 

TRUST BUILDERS

Getting salespeople to trust you as a virtual sales manager:

As far as Rene is concerned, this piece starts with hiring. He only hires sales managers with high integrity, who are transparent and don’t feel like they have anything to prove. As a sales manager, Rene makes a point of never correcting an individual in a team setting. While it’s okay to draw attention on a team call to something the whole team needs to work on, any 1 on 1 coaching moments should be left for 1 on 1s. Besides that, positioning oneself as a problem-solver and supporting your salespeople is a great way to build trust with your team. 

Trusting your salespeople:

Trust is required the other way around, too. This can be tough for some leaders. Especially when moving from an in-person to a virtual format, losing visual indicators that your salespeople are doing their work can make you less trustful on a subconscious level. To combat that, you need to let the numbers speak for themselves, and make sure your people trust you enough to tell you everything. Rene suggests you figure out why you don’t trust that the work is being done, bring it up, and address the issue either with your salespeople or with yourself, but don’t let it linger.

And don’t forget that moving to a virtual environment might be a difficult transition for some of your salespeople. So while they still need to get the job done, you have to be more sensitive and understanding of each of your salespeople’s new circumstances as they adjust. 

CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS

I know that at this point you guys have already been doing the whole virtual management thing for the past 6 months, so you’ve probably got a lot of the kinks worked out. But let’s look at some of the key areas teams struggle with when they move to the new model.

SALES MANAGER SUPPORT:

Challenge: One of the benefits of having the team altogether in one room was a sales rep’s ability to tap their manager on the shoulder whenever they had a question or needed support. 

Solution: Be in agreement about which channels you use for team communication, and make sure they work. And for questions that don’t need immediate answers, have your salespeople jot them all down throughout the day and save them for one message, email, or call. By doing this, you empower your rep to try to get things done on their own. They may fail a couple of times, but bringing up these questions all at once means better strategic conversations, and you get the opportunity to help the rep solve the underlying issues, rather than doing the work for them.

LEARNING FROM PEERS:

Challenge: When salespeople are all in the same room, they learn from each other. They discuss objections and overhear other rep’s conversations or coaching moments. 

Solution: Start every weekly team meeting by going around the virtual room with the question “what’s going right?”. This not only gets everyone involved in the conversation, but it allows salespeople to share their own and learn from others’ successes and achievements. Your job as a sales manager is to facilitate this learning by digging deeper. Ask questions like “what went well?”, “what was great about it?”, and “why?”. Your role is not to direct or to teach, but to spark the conversation between your reps who actually have the most relevant, current, hands-on experience.

ENGAGEMENT:

Challenge: With in-person team meetings, there’s nowhere to hide. A manager can easily tell who is paying attention, and involve everyone in the conversation. 

Solution: First, take care of the tech. If there are any issues, get them fixed, then make sure everyone at the meeting has their camera on. Besides that, facilitation is key. Talk less, ask more. Of course, you should interject and coach when it’s appropriate, but your job is not to be a motivator of your salespeople. They decide on their own every day if they are motivated or not, and if they aren’t, then they may be the wrong person for the team.

1 ON 1s:

Challenge: Seeing your salespeople in the office makes organizing 1 on 1s very simple. You know what they’ve been struggling with, you overheard how they handled an objection, and they brought a couple of things up throughout the week that they mentioned they’d like to discuss.

Solution: Structure this meeting. Give every salesperson an individual sales plan at the beginning of each year, complete with a vision or intent statement, specific objectives and KPIs, and action plans to achieve them. Then, while you will certainly touch on pipeline in your 1 on 1s, use this time predominantly as a progress check for the sales plan. Have your salespeople come prepared with the plan updated and the numbers in place, and gear all your coaching around these numbers. As for the ideal frequency of a 1 on 1, Rene believes it to be monthly. He asserts that your employees are very capable people, and we should both allow and expect them to be, rather than over-monitoring them.

COACHING CALLS:

Challenge: Sales managers can sit beside their reps and listen in on calls, offering live feedback and coaching, and, of course, hop in and save a deal if need be.

Solution: You can shadow this call over zoom/phone, but Rene asserts that you shouldn’t be there to help close more business but to empower your rep to close more business. This means keeping your mouth shut more, and then tackling issues after the call because it’s better to lose a few deals in the short term to gain more in the long term. If you can’t be there to shadow the call, trust your reps to tell you the full story, and make sure they trust that you have their best interests at heart when critiquing them.

ALL THIS FREE TIME 

So you’re putting out fewer fires during the day because your reps don’t need to use you as a crutch, your calendar isn’t packed with directionless 1 on 1s, and you’re not sitting in on every call trying to save deals. What the heck are you doing with all your spare time? Here’s what Rene suggests:

  • You document your processes so you can scale your team and ramp the next person faster
  • You know everything you need to communicate to your team, from new products to pricing 
  • You over-communicating these things to your team, letting them know what’s coming around the curve, and what you and the senior leadership team are working on
  • You ensure your salespeople’s environment is as effective as possible, from tools and resources to coaching and training.

PARADIGM SHIFT

We’ve confirmed that virtual sales management is great. So why don’t more people manage like this already? Rene reckons it’s because this model is a paradigm shift. It just doesn’t make common sense that you could have a sales manager, not in the room with their people, spending less time managing their people and still doing it more effectively. But, like the rise of the smartphone, people will catch on, and soon this model will be commonplace. 

FOR THE OWNER/SALES LEADER

Rene knows so much about effective sales management that he wrote the book on it: Part-Time Sales Management: For Small Business Sales Teams. It was written for small business owners that both lack time and sales management knowledge, and details a unique and proven approach to growing a company’s sales while investing only 10-20 hours a month in sales management. Here are the 5 key areas on which Rene thinks you should focus:

BELIEF: Your beliefs and your team’s need to align so there is no time or energy wasted on assumptions.

EXPECTATIONS: You need to set clear expectations as a leader down to the sales department, down to your salespeople and all the way down to the activity level. Make it clear what the sales team is expected to deliver to the company, and how to get there.

ACCOUNTABLE ENVIRONMENT: Hold your people accountable, and enable them to be capable.

MEETINGS: Maintain a regular meeting cadence. Don’t cancel, always reschedule.

CONVERSATIONS: Conversations demonstrate to your people that you care about them. If you take the time to genuinely listen to your people they will bug you less, exaggerate less, and trust you more. 

CONCLUSION 

Rene Zamora has been doing virtual sales management since before it was cool, and as both a fractional sales manager himself and a manager of sales managers, he’s certainly learned a few important tips and tricks along the way. Most important among them is trust. Trust is the foundation of any effective virtual sales team, and when a trusting sales manager works with salespeople they can trust – everything else comes naturally.

EDITOR’S NOTE

More on sales teams working from home: Why sales teams should WFH, permanently with Gabriel Moncayo

How to get things done as a sales leader when your team is a little bigger than Rene’s might be: Manage a large sales team virtually with Armand Farrokh

How the way you communicate impacts everything: Communicating effectively in a virtual environment with Dr. Ethan Becker

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