As the Covid pandemic enters its third year, it’s clear the world will never again be as it was before the spring of 2020. Employees all across organizations experienced extended WFH for the first time — coming to grips with the difficulties (and delights) that have been familiar to remote salespeople for years. If you’re a veteran of remote sales, you have a leg up on office-bound peers, perfecting behaviors that seem foreign to them. If you’re newly liberated from your cubicle, don’t panic: You can not only survive, but thrive, in the new environment. And if this isn’t your first remote rodeo, adapting your skills to account for Covid-related changes can supercharge your performance.
Here’s the best advice to do just that.
Here are 10 tips on how sales reps can be successful working remotely:
1. Island Time
Remember the old saying, “no man is an island?” If you’ve worked in remote sales, you know that’s not true. Selling is by nature a lonely endeavour. Even if you have a support team, at the end of the day, it’s you and the client, mano a mano. By all means, lean into and take all of the support your organization is capable of giving, but also be self-sufficient. That means mapping and mastering your own sales process, attaining a black belt in digital kung fu so you can find and maintain your own online tools, track your own sales funnel and — unless you’re the lucky beneficiary of a robust lead-gen operation — find your own targets.
2. Office Space
Maybe your “office” is just a laptop and a phone. Doesn’t matter. You need a dedicated space where you go to work. It can be an isolated nook in an apartment. Maybe you have a giant walk-in closet that can be repurposed If you’re lucky enough to have a spare bedroom, set it up with comfortable work tools: An ergonomic chair, an efficient desk, some shelves for filing and holding notebooks. When you’re in there, you’re working. When you’re not in there, don’t be working. This helps separate personal and professional and cues your brain to get ready to rumble when you enter the space.
3. Narrowed Focus
As a wise man once said, “All things being equal, I’d rather work near my refrigerator.” Working remotely usually means working from home, with all of the perks — and pitfalls — that entails. Your first priority is to tame the distractions. This is harder than it sounds. We live in a distracted world, bombarded by Tweets, twangs, emails, Slack messages. When you’re working remotely from home, that volume only goes up with dogs barking at mail carriers, doorbells ringing with deliveries and possibly kids crying in the background.
Either you take control of these things or they will control you. Do this: Keep a separate notebook handy and for a week, write down everything that diverts your attention from work as it happens. You go into the bedroom to grab a sweater and notice the full laundry hamper, then think “It won’t take but a minute to start the wash.” Write that down, along with the time it actually took to start the wash — which was more than a minute. At the end of the week, read the list and add up the time spent on non-work activities during your workday. This includes pausing next to the TV to catch a minute of news, the time it took to rearrange the refrigerator shelf when you went to look for a cold drink and exchanging pleasantries with the Amazon delivery guy.
Now start paying attention to what you’re paying attention to. You don’t have to run to the door when the bell rings. You shouldn’t have the TV on in the background. Keep the kids in daycare (if it’s open) or hire a sitter to come in. Don’t get sidetracked by domestic tasks. Focus on your sales process.
4. Office Rules
Figure out when you’re going to do your work, make a schedule and stick to it. If that’s 7 am until 3 pm, fine. If it’s 10 am until 6 pm, also fine. During those hours, commit to not spending time on personal calls or emails, stay off of social media, turn off the television. Don’t make any playdates (for your kids or yourself) during those hours. The converse is also true: When you’re “off,” be off. Keep the personal and professional times separate. Having work bleed over into your personal hours is one reason you’ll be tempted to start doing personal things during your work hours. If you’ve trained yourself to turn the computer off and walk away, you can ignore the laundry because you know you’ll do it tonight when you get “home” from the “office.”
5. Line Up
The cell phone is at once incredibly useful and also the biggest impediment to getting things done. While it’s convenient to just have all of your messages come to the same device, that means — at a minimum — taking the time to glance at the screen when it bings or dings. Consider getting a work-only line to add to your cellphone and train everyone to call you on that number. Set a distinctive ringtone and alert sound for that number. Then train yourself to only respond to incoming calls/texts/emails sent to that number. The things hitting your personal phone you can take care of during breaks — as you would in an office setting. Most cell providers will add an extra line to your phone for around $10 a month. It’s a small price for increasing your productivity.
6. Process Makes Perfect
If you’re accustomed to having others provide the structure and process for your sales, take control. When you have concentrated, uninterrupted time — probably on a weekend — shut off all of your devices. Go outside on the patio. Grab a notebook and pen and think through how you sell, from start to finish: Prospecting, qualifying, contact, follow-up, pitching, closing, post-close handoff. If your company has a CRM (like Salesforce or Outreach), learn to use it to its full potential. It can probably keep track of your prospects, where each one is in the sales funnel, last contact, next steps and even send alerts. If it doesn’t, consider subscribing to one yourself (Salesforce has a single seat option for $25/mo) or use another workflow tool to formalize your process in digital form. Yes, it takes time to type in names and messaging data, the time you could use on phone calls. But that time will more than pay off in higher sales (and more commissions). Allow time in your schedule to “clean up” your tools every day. The most effective time is at the end of the day. An hour before you “close shop” put the day’s activities into your tool. That will also prep your mind to be thinking about tomorrow’s tasks — what’s important, what’s not, the best way to make that pitch.
7. Stock the Shelves
You need things to do your job: Sell sheets, presentations, price lists, videos. If your company doesn’t have a central repository for these things — a GoogleDrive folder, a shared DropBox — make one of your own. That will save countless hours searching random folders for that updated product specification sheet.
8. Multitasking Is A Myth: Learn to Single task
Set aside time in your day to do each of the things in your process. Yes, people will return calls you made earlier in the day in the middle of the time you allocated for prospecting, but don’t be tempted to “multitask” while prospecting and talking simultaneously.
The idea that humans can do more than one thing at a time — and be truly effective at both — is pure, unadulterated horse hockey. Modern neuroscientists have confirmed what Publius Syrus said 2000 years ago: “To do two things at once is to do neither.”
Bottom line is, your brain just doesn’t work that way. When you’re multitasking, you’re not actually doing two things at once, your brain is just switching back and forth from one task to another very quickly. So far, so good. However, when task switching, the brain is still partially occupied with the first task even as it tackles the second. This is called “attention residue” and it prevents the brain from focusing its full energy on either task, slowing both down and reducing accuracy. Want to see the research yourself?
9. Emphasis on Communication
Having both worked remotely and managed remote workers, I can’t emphasize enough your need to communicate effectively with home base, wherever/whoever that is. Make time Friday afternoons to write a brief, bulleted summary of things you did since Monday along with a forecast of things you plan to accomplish the following week. Remember not to predict the unpredictable. Instead of writing “Close the Williams deal,” write “Appointment is set to talk with Mike at Williams to press for a sale.” That way, when Mike doesn’t pick up the phone or some event prevents Mike from saying yes, you show that you are maintaining your schedule, whether or not you get the desired outcome. In reporting this, if Mike doesn’t close, write why he couldn’t or wouldn’t in your summary along with what you plan to counter the objection.
10. The Upside
The lack of face-to-face communication in sales is a major, seismic shift. Getting in to see someone in person is rare, and the opportunity to schmooze them over a pricey dinner is even rarer. While that will likely ease up in the coming months, you may find that your customers are more than happy to continue seeing you virtually as it’s less of an interruption in their work. Leverage the fudge out of that. You can make many more virtual appearances than physical ones in a day. Just be in your neatly organized office space, dressed for success, prepared and on time. Now, go get ‘em.
Put these 10 tips to use and visit the Peak Sales Blog for the latest actionable insights on how to advance your sales career.
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