Making sales calls isn’t easy. Making sales calls after waking up at the crack of dawn, riding an hour-long commute and then sitting cramped up in a cubicle – doesn’t make it easier. There are definite merits to letting your inside sales team work-from-home. But it’s important not to overlook the challenges.
Are work-from-home sales teams productive? What ground rules should managers follow to ensure happy and productive remote workers?
Can sales representatives be productive while working remotely?
“There is no question of remote workers being unproductive,” says Remya Lakshmanan, a senior program advisor at a successful Edtech startup. Over the past four years, Remya has managed profitable inside sales while working remotely, from home, both in the US and in India. She tells us that many employees at her company get the option of working from home, though they may check in to the office as and when they want to. “We’ve converted equally or far more than those who work from the office.”
“There is a lot of time saved. Even from the company’s point of view. One to one and half hours to commute, settling down, taking tea breaks and lunch breaks are something that you wouldn’t have to do. You’re in a much healthier state of mind when you are working from home, in your comfort zone.”
Studies reiterate this. A Stanford research study found that there was a 13% increase in productivity when call center employees were allowed to work from home.
What are the challenges of managing a remote sales team?
When working from home, staying connected, motivated and consistent are the big challenges. Is your work-from-home staff feeling isolated, ignored or forgotten? What can a manager do to maximize the productivity of their sales development representatives?
6 Insider tips for maximizing your work-from-home sales team’s productivity
1. Manage time efficiently.
The most obvious point to start with is time management. A remote worker must learn to micromanage their time. It can take them a few months to learn how to do this. One key is to schedule calls to prospects when they are free to talk. This will depend on your geography and sector. For example, in her sector, in India, Remya found that it was best to talk to leads in their evening, on their commute home.
Our contact center metrics support this. We found that answer rates for our outbound calls were highest between 5 to 7 p.m (45.77%). In the US and other regions, however, she recommends using text messages and emails to fix appointments. Cold calling mostly meant that “you’re not even going to get a human on the other side..it will go through to voicemail almost always. More formalized invites to talk are better.” She recommends sending calendar invites and fixing appointments before calling, to save time. (Also read: Call Scheduling)
2. Be consistent
Being home 9 to 5 gives you a lot of independence. There is no one to check in on you. If you are not consistent, you can end up with loads of incomplete work. Management can help by setting up standardized procedures. For example, calling inbound leads within 6 hours of a brochure download. Or deciding how many calls need to be made over 3 hours, 24 hours or 3 days.
Remya stresses that ensuring follow up and callback times are especially important: Deciding when a second call or third call should be made. Or deciding when to declare that a lead is no longer interested, and turn it cold. Standardized procedures may be met with a bit of resistance initially, but technology makes it easy to capture data, and figure out what’s working for us and what’s not.” (Also read: 9 ways to automate sales tasks to improve consistency.)
The biggest role of management is to motivate their sales teams. Remya explains, “It is very important for us to feel motivated. When prospects convert, we feel motivated, and we are on a high. But it’s also important that when things aren’t working out, we continue feeling motivated and part of the team. That’s one thing you lose out when you’re working remotely.” She goes on to say that motivation doesn’t necessarily mean throwing incentives. Often it’s just a simple act of recognition for good work that can help.
6. Use the right metrics
While technology like your contact center software is great for tracking your agents. It’s important to use the right metrics to measure performance. If you measure performance on conversions alone or use methods like wallboards to create unhealthy competition, you can end up de-motivating your staff. Looking at conversions alone can blindside you to other good work being done. There are other signs that your representative is doing a good job. For example, consistently calling prospects within a few hours of their filling a lead form. Or earning a prospect’s trust, so that they feel free to communicate what their obstacles are. (Also read: How speech analytics can tell if my customer is happy or not)
7. Take extra effort to build connections
Feeling isolated is one of the definite downsides to working from home. Management can take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen. Weekly conversations, pipeline calls, and training calls can help. “Training calls are a great opportunity for newbies to learn, and for experienced reps to refresh their knowledge. Pipeline calls let you have weekly conversations on roadblocks and concerns.” Says Remya.
She also suggests encouraging your remote workers to reach out to colleagues. “It’s possible to build strong, cooperative teams. There are people I have interacted with in the past four years: I have not seen their faces, but I feel very connected to them professionally. I can reach out to them with problems and doubts.”
8. Ensure good voice quality
Nothing spoils a conversation more than poor call quality. Ensure that all your work-from-home agents have access to high-quality internet connectivity. It is a good idea to invest in high quality, noise-canceling Bluetooth headsets for your sales staff. Because having a call drop or being unable to hear your prospect isn’t just annoying, it severely damages to your chances of conversion. Ensuring you have good, responsive tech support is also important. Having local tech support helps because then they are available during your work hours. (Also read: A guide to ensuring high voice quality when calling overseas)
A Gallup survey found that 43% of US workers work remotely in some capacity. Enabling work from home options for your staff enables them to have a better quality of life. It also helps you expand your pool of talent. As Remya says “It is a great time to invest in yourself if you are working from home and you have the flexibility to do the calling as and when you prefer to. You can manage your time and keep some time for yourself. In other workplaces, people struggle to make time, and the weekend is all the time that they get for their family and all their personal things. I want to learn Spanish for example, I could schedule a time to make that happen during the weekday.” Is it worth it? Yes, of course.