Managing the Remote Sales Force: Part One

For six years I was a part of a national sales team and each of my coworkers were responsible for sales across a multi-state territory. We were geographically disbursed across the country and all worked from a home office. Over those years I worked for three different directors/VPs and — as a result — gained valuable firsthand insight on how to help manage a remote or field sales force.

Let’s start by covering some of the basics. 1) Structure Their Work Day Working from home is a difficult thing. There are many distractions, potentially even more than at a regular office. There are distractions from family and personal phone calls, in addition to the temptation to take care of personal items such as chores and errands during the workday. Such diversions are more easily succumbed to in a ’work at home‘ environment because there is no peer pressure from fellow coworkers or supervisors to stay on task. Set your expectations for your salespeople early and then enforce them; remember to emphasize the fact that working from home is a full time job, and successful sales often require even more hours than a typical 8-5. 2) Invest in the Salesperson’s Working Environment. Giving your team the right tools to work remotely or in the field is critical to maintaining the expectations of a professional work situation. At the very least, every salesperson should be encouraged to designate a separate room or closed-off area of their house to work in. Working at the kitchen table or in the den is not ideal, mostly due to the potential for distractions mentioned above. The home office should have a desk and docking station or something similar. A large monitor, keyboard and mouse to attach to their laptops may also be ergonomically wise investments. Invest in a quality all-in-one printer; especially if the items they are printing will be offered to your clients or customers. With that all-in-one unit, the salesperson should be asked to not maintain a local file for the customer unless necessary. Train them on how to scan something to their laptop or make a copy and send all originals to the home office. For situations that call for a large amount of printing, I might suggest using a FedEx Office. Through their online system, I was able to order a print job, have it professionally bound with high-quality materials and arrange for it to be shipped to my destination. A cost analysis should be done to see if shipping costs are more expensive than just having your team member pick up what is needed at the local store. For most companies, a FedEx Office can set up a corporate discount for printing (I was part of an organization that in some cases received as much as 40% off services). When it comes to a phone line, there are many options but I would not let someone work from their personal home phone number. I would install a new phone line that would be billed directly to the company. This gives the company control of where the call is directed and what message is given in the event an employee leaves the organization. In addition, try and set up a ‘No Answer Transfer’ feature in the phone line; this will allow unanswered calls to be transferred to the central corporate voicemail system. This will allow the employee to receive voicemails internally from coworkers and be able to forward voicemails as needed. Another benefit of this feature is that when a customer or prospect calls, they will be able to “zero-out” for further assistance, rather than dial another number! It will reinforce the remote employee’s role as part of the organization, rather than a separate unit. If your company relies on faxes, I am a huge fan of an E-fax for a remote employee rather than a traditional fax. Yes, they should have their own inbound E-fax number, only because remote- and field-based salespeople work odd hours, and receiving a fax directly can be critical. Additionally, a field employee will not have to worry about if they have a fax waiting for them at home — they can see it in email or blackberry and proceed accordingly. Organizations should embrace the remote or field employee. From an overhead perspective, it can be cost-effective and often reduces travel costs. I have known many companies to put the hometown of the remote employee on their marketing materials, displayed as ”offices around the country”. Managing and driving results is the more difficult task. In coming weeks, we will address how to set expectations and hold field reps accountable for their time and performance.

Published on March 26, 2009

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