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  • Tracy Ring

4 management strategies to empower your remote sales team in 2021

Managing a sales team presents unique challenges. Throw in a newly remote workforce, plus a global pandemic, and it can be downright daunting. 

According to Owl Lab’s State of Remote Work 2020 report, 70% of full-time U.S. workers shifted to remote work due to COVID, with 80% expecting to continue remote work at least part-time. The good news is that 75 percent of those remote workers reported being similarly or more productive when WFH.  

As a manager, your outlook might be slightly different (or, unfortunately, less hopeful) as you have more responsibility to shoulder. A recent international survey found that 40% of supervisors or managers expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely. 

On the bright side, the research also suggests better quality management improves employee well-being and performance. For remote sales teams, especially, the key to success is empowering your staff. 

With 2021 in the near future and remote work here to stay, the following four management strategies can help you set your team up for success. 

1. Encourage overall wellness 

Being effective and excited about your job starts with the individual, their overall health, and mindset. It’s pretty difficult to speak to prospects and clients all day (let alone close deals) when you’re not feeling your best. 

Moreover, remote work, especially at the outset, can cause dips in physical and emotional wellness. During COVID, 44% of remote workers reported a decline in mental health. Another report found that 91% of WFH employees experienced moderate to extreme stress, with 43% becoming physically ill due to stress. 

As the experts at HealthMarkets explain, “The body responds to stress on several levels—our muscles tense; blood pressure rises; adrenaline, epinephrine, and cortisol are released, our hearts beat faster, we breathe harder (sometimes hyperventilating), and digestion is put off balance.”  

Performance starts with wellness. To be at the top of their game, your staff can’t be sick, anxious, or unbalanced. As a manager and leader, encourage your team members to prioritize their physical and mental health in 2021. 

In their guide, Exercise Your Way Into the Flow, Hubgets lays out the scientific research that connects physical fitness with increased focus, energy, and presence. “A consistent exercise regime is essential to accessing the flow both at work and in anything else that you do. It leads to higher productivity, effectiveness, and performance.”

Here are a few ways to champion health and wellness for your team: 

  • Explain the relationship between overall well-being and performance via email or team meeting to set the stage. Use some of the above stats!
  • Try a remote exercise or fitness challenge to promote more activity and movement during the day.
  • Remember to support work-life balance. Set an example of taking appropriate time off or not emailing and expecting answers at off-hours. 

2. Perfect the right balance of communication 

If your organization recently went remote, it can be challenging to find the right balance for communication. (It’s even tricky for WFH veterans). You want your employees to feel supported by and connected to you, but not smothered. 

You’re not the only one who faces this problem. A study from the Institute of Leadership and Management found that 88% of remote workers struggle with inconsistent working practices and miscommunication, while 83% feel overwhelmed by emails.

Kate Cooper, head of research for the Institute, offered advice based on that study’s results. “Email is a real problem for remote teams, with overuse consuming huge amounts of time and energy. We found that a lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and even paranoia. Regular, scheduled daily or weekly team meetings by video and audio can reduce inefficient email dialogue while also enabling a greater sense of shared identity, values, and purpose.” 

But how much video chatting is too much? It’s a bit of a Goldilocks scenario, and the answer is to find the right combination for your specific team. To refine your communication balance:

  • Understand the difference between asynchronous (i.e., not expecting an immediate answer) versus synchronous communication (real-time communication and collaboration). 
  • Incorporate pre-recorded video into the mix. Are there updates you want to share with your team but aren’t time-sensitive? Record and send a video that they can watch and respond to at their convenience. 
  • Establish a meeting-free day of the week. This can be a time for head-down work or allowing your team to focus on meeting quotas without internal communications getting in the way. 
  • When in doubt, ask! Poll your staff on their communication preferences. 
  • Always be willing to adapt. During busy seasons or sales pushes, you might need to adjust communication practices.   

3. Offer flexibility and autonomy 

Everyone works differently, especially in our “new normal.” Some people are early risers and most productive in the morning. Others prefer to burn the midnight oil. And some team members might be juggling children at home with virtual school or need to squeeze in lunch-time appointments. 

Adjustable schedules are one of the best perks of WFH.  According to a recent Buffer report, 40% of workers said a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit to remote work, while 14% said more time with family. 

As a manager, make sure you’re allowing your team the autonomy to take advantage of that flexibility. While many businesses likely need to keep a semblance of “core business hours”— when possible, allow for wiggle room in working schedules. 

Check-in with your team about their individual workflow. Ask them when they feel most productive or if they have personal commitments throughout the day.  

Showing you trust your team enough to offer flexible schedules and autonomy empowers them in their role. What’s more, it shows you care about them as a person, not just an employee. Empathy is a powerful driver; 78% of employers confirm that they’d work harder for an empathic leader.  

4. Prioritize learning and  development 

Learning and development isn’t all about new concepts—it can include brushing up on existing workflows. The New Year is the perfect time to check in with your team members and ensure they understand and correctly utilize your current software/tech stack. 

Your organization likely employs multiple digital resources—CRMs, proposal platforms, project or task management tools, communication portals, etc. You’d be surprised how often people might not be using those tools or processes to their full advantage. 

Poll, or survey, your team to pick their brains about your digital tools versus their workflow. Make sure to ask pointed questions and request honest feedback to understand how often they’re using each tool. 

Based on the results, offer a judgment-free opportunity for refresher training on necessary systems. Your company invested in that technology; you should empower your team to understand and use them to improve productivity or efficiency. Depending on your vendor, you could even reach out for a tutorial on new features/functionality. 

To take L&D a step further, have 1:1s with team members to get a feel for their aspirations. Are they looking to make an upward move (or lateral)? Is there another role they’re interested in? Do they want to expand into management? 

Understanding their goals helps you provide learning and development opportunities within your company. (As a bonus, this also increases retention—86% of millennials say career training and development would keep them at their current company). 

Boost your sales teams’ performance in 2021 

The landscape of B2B sales is forever changed. A positive aspect of that evolution is more than three-quarters of both buyers and sellers now prefer digital/remote interaction, according to McKinsey research. To make sure your sales team succeeds in the new remote world, you need to adapt and refine your management style. 

All of the strategies on this list accomplish an essential objective—building a trusting, solid relationship between you and your remote sales teams. Trust is the foundation of a successful remote workforce and a productive and engaged team.

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