Pass the remote: the ups and downs of building a distributed global sales team with Time Doctor’s Liam Martin

Collin Stewart, CEO

27 March 2019

Building a remote workforce isn’t for everybody. Building a remote workforce isn’t for everybody. 

Despite all of the tools at our disposal that connect far-flung colleagues – Zoom and Slack to name just two wildly popular apps – the idea of team members dispersed across the globe can be a difficult concept for managers, executives, and founder alike.

There’s something comfortable about having the team work together in an office – or offices, depending on how big your company is. Colleagues get to know each other, feed of on another’s success, and bond during the challenging stretches. Of course, it’s also an easy way of keeping an eye on the team.

But, establishing a remote team – and a remote sales development team, at that – can have huge benefits: in particular, entrenched team members in growing markets, capitalizing on regions that a centralized team might otherwise struggle to expand in.

Of course, there’s also just great talent to be harnessed across the globe (and having great talent on your team is always a plus). The trick, however, is figuring out how to harness that talent, build a cohesive unit, and keep everyone engaged…all the time.

“We have always been fully distributed. I’m in Canada, my co-founder is in Australia – that is as distributed as it can get. There are different options for building remote teams. For example, you can be distributed from a departmental level, like having the CTO and development team completely distributed and separate from the organization,” says Liam Martin, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“When you have the CTO, CEO, and CMO are all in one place, that’s when everyone starts to converge on one particular area. It’s because people on the outside feel more lonely when it comes to decision making. What we suggest: listen to your distributed employees, and make them part of the decision making process.”

Remote workers are hard workers

An important consideration when building a remote sales development team (or any team, for that matter), is understanding just how hard remote employees work. There is some negative sentiment towards remote workers – they just hang out on the beach, trying to be millionaires, for instance. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth, says Martin.
There is a qualitative difference between remote workers and “digital nomads.” Remote workers are trained, skilled professionals, that just aren’t located in the same place as their boss or company.

“I have yet to see one person that is able to live that type of “easy” lifestyle. Anyone that thinks that passive income exists either don’t understand the term, or is living on the labour that they invested early on in their lives. I’m trying to rid the remote discussion of this theme,” says Martin.

“Anyone who thinks that they can have a business or a job where they don’t have to work, but it will sustain them, will be replaced by someone who wants it more.”

Tough lessons from building a remote SDR team

Although Martin has now built a successful remote sales development workforce – with SDRs in Colombia, the United States, Canada, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and Barcelona – it hasn’t always been this way.

In fact, Martin struggled at first to build an efficient and successful remote sales team.

“I read Predictable Revenue and realized how quantifiable sales development was. I realized sales people – especially on the front end – could really help build my business. Then, I went to SaaStr and had my eyes opened more and more. I came back home and realized that we needed a Customer Success team, as well as an outbound and inbound team,” says Martin.

“I was the first Account Executive on that team, and I had a couple of SDRs booking meetings. It was a complete experiment in enterprise sales. And we had a lot of success. So, I figured, this was now our model. But, realized that it was founder-based magic. I had been there from day one and could sell the product quite well, even though I’m not a good sales professional.”

Martin realized he needed to continue building his sales machine, and, to do so, he needed a sales manager to oversee a growing contingent of SDRs (at that time, based in South East Asia, a growing market for Martin’s business).

So, he hired an experienced SDR manager from the Bay Area to oversee the department. The team was busy right away, executing on a flurry of emails and calls, but brought in little in the way of sales. Despite that early warning sign (an issue many in-house sales teams also face, to be fair), Martin continued to invest in the team, figuring the closed deals would follow suit.

He was wrong.

“That manager eventually quit. But, I spent months training them, and had to juggle other responsibilities in the business. So, I just had a sales team collecting dust. I decided to take them on, and I would manage them. I would not waste that investment,” says Martin.

“That started my year of sales stupidity. I was not ready to manage a sales team. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Martin tried other tactics as well to get the team to succeed (like letting a top performer from team take), but nothing worked. Eventually, he had to fire most of the team.

(Editor’s note: we chatted with upCurve Cloud’s Joey Maller about how keeps his remote sales team aligned. You can listen to that in-depth chat here, or read about it here)

Building culture…and keeping the sales team connected

Although that early experience was tough, Martin was determined to try again. He knew he had a killer product, he knew he could train people to sell it, and he was convinced having people located in strategic regions around the world would help grow the business in markets he couldn’t do alone.

So what was he missing?

Turns out, it was a period of non-remote training and team building. To get a disparate team aligned, they needed some time together, and some formal sales training.

“When we started to rebuild our sales team, we decided to open an office, and fly in our sales team in to meet our new sales manager so they can work together for about three months. It was an extra $20,000 investment per rep. But our goal in those 90 days was to get them to the point where they were hitting their commissions,” says Martin.

“If they don’t, they go home without a job. If they do, they go home with a job. In the vast majority of cases, it has worked. Having them interact directly has been what has put them over the top.”

But that first, three-month bootcamp isn’t the only training the company decided to instill. Now, they have team members, when time permits, hop on to Zoom calls so they can listen to how their colleagues handle different scenarios. This has allowed the team to proactively discuss foundational elements of prospecting such as objection handling. The chance to listen, dissect, learn, and iterate has been invaluable.

“We also have a video game evening, or morning, depending on when everyone is free. The team just gets together to play games,” adds Martin, with a laugh.

“But, what we do for any game we play, we make sure that teamspeak is on. Everyone can be chatting. And, we have noticed that people talk about sales, ask for help, and share what they have learned during those times. It’s another avenue for team building and development. That kind of collaboration is huge. We have not cracked building or perfecting remote work culture. I’m sure in a couple of years, we will have changed up a lot of what we are doing now.”

For more on Martin’s experience with remote work culture – including some interesting tips on how to share your personality preferences with colleagues you don’t meet in-person, as well as his thoughts the challenges of marketers running sales teams – check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

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