Week four of lockdown and no sign of normality returning any time soon.
People are starting to accept that we’re in this for the long haul. Life is changing in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine even a few short weeks ago. And companies are having to adapt to entirely new ways of operating, particularly around remote work.
This presents challenges as well as opportunities. I firmly believe that if companies can use this time wisely, the coronavirus crisis may be transformational. Nothing focuses and sharpens the mind more than survival. My own track record scaling up companies through past recessions proves that it can be done. But it needs laser focus on the things that matter.
The engine of your company’s recovery will be sales. But the challenge of keeping remote sales teams prospecting from home is a big one. If you rolled into this crisis with a decent pipeline, you’ve got a head start. One of my clients has an 18-month order book but their customers (UK housebuilders) have by and large stopped working. They’re taking this time to plan global expansion. At the other end of the scale, another client has 12 weeks of delivery lined up but, from week 13, there’s nothing. They need a massive push on future sales.
So how do they do this? How do you make remote sales teams more successful?
Just because you can’t go to the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t get fit in your own house. Similarly, just because you can’t go out and see customers doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at selling remotely and honing your technique. So often I go into companies and they tell me they have x, y or z issue that’s causing low sales output. But when I delve a bit more deeply, it’s clear that their sales teams are doing next to no activity. That is the real reason. This low level of activity has over time become the norm.
Use the time freed up by the current crisis to encourage collaboration. Get your remote sales reps into teams of three or four to strategise. You’re looking for ideas around sales activity. What’s realistic? What would a successful day of remote sales look like? What are the rules and time frame? Make it competitive.
Over the years, I’ve worked with Pareto Law who put graduates into IT sales jobs. They have Wednesday as a cold call day. Their sales team works collaboratively all through the day to book appointments for the rest of the week. Every hour, they have a booby prize. It might be to strip to your underpants and run around the building. Or take a shot of tequila. The sales team decides. The person with the least appointments gets the booby prize and picks the next one.
Try to make sales activity fun and collaborative. You could split your daily remote sales target into hourly goals. Have Zoom running through-out so the remote team feels like they’re working together. They can log in on the hour, every hour, and then take a break. Get the sales team back together each time to look at what worked, what didn’t and what needs to change. Then go again. Track numbers at every stage and award booby prizes to the lowest performer. It’s this deliberate, collaborative remote sales activity that will yield results.
Remote sales teams should work together every day to set realistic goals for their activity. Who are they going to talk to? How many calls can they make today? What’s the prize when they hit the target? What kind of celebration can they look forward to? Goals should be activity rather than revenue-based. And because your team is now working remotely, these targets are likely to be different from previous office-based ones.
Maybe you start the day with a dataset of 100 researched prospects. In the old world, this could have resulted in 25 calls every day with a target of five meaningful conversations. Honestly, I don’t know how close to this you can achieve at the moment. In the last week, I’ve spoken to a few sales guys who are still hitting their numbers and having good success at connecting with prospects. Your mileage may vary. If you’ve got a remote sales team of five or six people, there’ll always be one who pulls ahead. You need to focus on why and how you get the others up to the same level.
Also important is a regular rhythm of remote daily huddles to maintain momentum and I’d suggest having these twice, at the beginning and end of each day. Make praise and recognition a fundamental part of these. Use them to review targets and if they aren’t right, re-set. Just get the activity going and keep it going for the next month.
It’s a fact that most people are more focused in the mornings. Suggest to your remote sales team that they tackle their calls early on and save admin and prep for the afternoon. Far better to get up and do the hardest tasks first, getting a hit from the results they achieve. Self-discipline is important – no emails before lunchtime! And leave remote internal meetings (apart from huddles) until the afternoon.
It’s not easy to get hold of people at the moment. Because many customers are now working from home, they may be harder to reach. This requires persistence and creativity. Your remote sales team may have rung fifty numbers and got through to no-one. They’ll need to come at prospects from a variety of different angles. Say they’ve identified five or six directors at their target business. All of these people need to be hit on the same day with multiple phone, email and LinkedIn messages. It’s this persistence that will reap results.
Ah yes – tracking. Absolutely critical. ‘What gets measured gets managed’ – this is so true. Make sure your remote sales team can see their data in real-time. If their target is 50 calls in an average day, by mid-morning they’ll need to know where they’re at compared to everyone else. Visibility of daily performance will motivate and spur them on.
Is your CRM system being used properly? If not, you’re not alone. I see this time and time again in the organisations I visit. Every call needs to be properly recorded and the data source for all activity should come from the CRM. Sales teams are often negative about their CRM because it’s not been properly integrated. If yours is shit, use this crisis as a motivation to buy a new one and implement it while you’re not in the office.
At the moment, it feels a bit like prospecting between Christmas and New Year. You assume no-one will be at their desks so the whole sales team is on holiday. My experience has often been different. I was talking to my PA this morning who’d been making diary management calls this week. Every single person she spoke with gave her more time than normal. They seemed genuinely pleased to be talking to another human being and no one seemed rushed. Like that quiet, post-Christmas period, people are currently in a different headspace so this is a golden opportunity to build relationships.
Prospects have got time and so has your remote sales team. Encourage them to ask about the customer’s business and how it’s being impacted by the current crisis. Maybe they could share common ground about the challenges of remote work and isolation. How are their families coping? Human contact has never been as important as it is now.
The context for sales is relationships. One body of research says that people won’t commit until they’ve had at least seven contacts from you or spent seven hours building trust. Prospects may not be in a position to buy anything at the moment, but any time spent on deepening relationships will pay dividends in the future. None of my clients has a business built on transactional sales.
The remote set-up can be much more productive – your sales team can do five meetings in a day instead of one. I remember when I started at Rackspace, I was convinced our telesales model wouldn’t work. I was used to running field sales teams. Would UK companies be happy making large purchases over the phone? I was totally wrong. We were way more successful. The biggest deal we sold whilst I was MD was worth $54,000 per month to an Israeli firm that we’d never met.
Many families are seeing the current lockdown as an opportunity to have a good old clear-out and de-clutter. In the same way, companies can use this time to beef up their sales messaging and training.
I suspect the best salespeople in any organisation aren’t phased by the new remote working arrangements as they already have good habits in place. But most salespeople haven’t been taught how to sell and many managers are lax at training their teams. There’s a general reluctance to role play and instead, teams practice on real prospects. This is madness! Practice on each other and refine your messaging before you destroy a good pipeline. Pool your resources and expertise.
Don’t bother with training if a member of your team is C-list. Total waste of time! You need to make some hard decisions and weed out the deadwood. But for the better performers, take a leaf out of the US Navy’s book. They set up ‘Top Gun’ school for pilots. At the time, they were suffering from unacceptable losses in Vietnam. So they suspended the air war and set up this training facility, using their best pilots as trainers. In the same way, you could identify your top performers and use them to train up the more average B-Players.
The doomsters will try and suck you in. They’re saying the pandemic is making sales impossible because nobody’s buying. It’s really hard but it’s not impossible. In fact, now’s the time to double down and do twice the effort. There are deals out there to be won. If your remote sales team can pull this off, it’ll be like a six-pointer in a relegation battle. The tide will turn, maybe sooner than you think. And your company will be well placed to reap the rewards of the positivity bounce.
Dominic has spent 14 years working in sales, marketing and business management within the IT sector. He has held executive positions at Peer 1 Hosting, IT Lab and Rackspace. At Peer 1 he built the UK business to £30m run rate in 5 years. He won many awards for creating a great place to work. At Rackspace Dominic built the UK company from four to 150 staff, and increased annual revenues from £595,000 to £25 million in just four years. Under his management, Rackspace was recognised as one of the most outstanding workplaces in Europe, and won several service awards for its Fanatical Support TM. Dominic has a BSc in Agricultural and Food Marketing from Newcastle and a MBA from Sheffield Business School. Dominic is also a regular public speaker on creating great places to work and achieving continuous client satisfaction and an assessor on the Sunday Times Customer Experience Awards.