Navigating the Virtual Distance: Managing Remote Sales Teams

Having a remote sales team can be an incredibly beneficial arrangement for both employer and employee, but some sales managers may be hesitant to consider this as a possibility. Remote teams mean less frequent communication, less opportunity for ad-hoc collaboration and less control over your team’s day-to-day activities.

While these are all valid concerns, they shouldn’t immediately discourage managers from the idea altogether because after all, sales is more about what you get done rather than when you do it. This guide will go through a few key benefits to having a remote sales team, and will discuss tools, tips and tech to help navigate the challenges in order to build a successful, self-sufficient team of remote reps.

For those who are still sceptical about the possibility of remote reps, here are three significant benefits of working remotely:

1) Boosted productivity

A global survey titled ‘Flexibility Drives Productivity’ (commissioned by Regus) found that 73% of respondents in Australia said their company is more productive, directly as a result of more flexible working. 

For remote reps in particular, there are three key benefits:

  • Less time wasted visiting clients or travelling to demos
    • Videoconferencing and cloud-based collaboration solutions offer instant connection to anyone, anywhere.
  • Wider talent pool
    • As you’re not restricted by location, you can find the best people for your team, no matter where they are.
  • Empowered employees
    • When you give your reps the power to schedule their own days, track their own progress and ultimately create their own successes, they’re likely to be more motivated and organised.

2) A healthier staff

According to Direct Health Solutions, more than 88 million days are lost to the Australian economy due to absenteeism, costing $27.5 billion yearly in sick leave costs and lost productivity. These are rather alarming numbers, but what can working remotely do to help this?

A remote sales team will typically:

  • Have more control over their work-life balance
  • Be less stressed in general
  • Take less sick days
    • Stress and anxiety-related health issues account for more sick days than you’d think – about 3.2 days per worker per year – and by giving them autonomy over their work days, they will be able to manage this stress more directly.

3) Higher staff retention

Remote workers are 50% less likely to quit their jobs because:

  • They are, on the whole, happier and more satisfied with their job, so they have less reasons to seek out opportunities elsewhere.
  • They have the opportunity to spend more time with their family.
  • They have more control over their daily working lives and are able to work in the environment that makes them most comfortable.

But despite the great number of advantages to having a remote sales team, there are a few creases to iron out in order to keep things working smoothly.

The challenges and how to overcome them

Remote sales team communication

1) Communicating effectively (building trust)

One of the hardest challenges with managing a team of remote reps is establishing channels of communication and – more importantly – trust. Since managers can’t casually check up on their team throughout the day or witness them working in person, how can they set up a system of communication to encourage trust and efficiency that doesn’t disrupt their reps’ workdays? How do they trust their remote reps to work a market they don’t understand?

  • Hire the right people. This is obviously easier said than done, but in the case of remote reps, you need to be sure that these individuals are self-starters. You need to know exactly what you want out of the applicant (i.e. make it very clear what their responsibilities and targets will be), and you need to make sure that applicant has the right personality, experience and drive to sell remotely. If you’ve put the work in to find the right people, it will make communicating with them and trusting them much easier.
  • Have an internal messaging system like HipChat to keep in contact throughout the day. You can also use it like a virtual watercooler – somewhere for the team to share funny anecdotes, baby animal videos, new music or anything that’s not specifically work-related. This will also help create a team dynamic, despite the distance.
  • Provide frequent remote training sessions via GoToTraining to introduce new tactics, build confidence and inspire productivity, since in-person mentoring isn’t possible. A tool like GoToTraining lets you record your sessions (so your reps can re-watch if need be), distribute handouts or supplemental information and collaborate with attendees.

2) Different time zones

Working across different time zones can be a hassle at first, but once you work out a rhythm, it’s entirely manageable.

  • Don’t always make your remote reps work around your schedule for team meetings or catch-ups: there are a bunch of time zone converter apps that will help you figure out the best times to chat.

Here are just a few to try out:

3) Organisation

Another challenge with managing a remote sales team – in fact, it’s a struggle with any remote team! – is organisation: working out an effective system to ensure that your reps remain organised and in control of their short-term (and long-term) goals.

Remote working organisation

  • Find a good customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce, Zoho CRM or Insightly to track your team’s progress. You’ll be able to have a clear overview of leads gathered, customer information, accounting information and more.
  • Empower your reps to organise themselves: invest in software and tools that all your reps are able to access remotely. Many remote reps like using their own devices (as it is familiar interface to work with), so consider implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. But make sure you double check that any collaboration tools you’re using have apps that are available to download on a range of mobile devices, not just with one operating system.

4) Distance  

It’s easy to assume that physical distance is the only thing separating in-person teams from remote ones, but there is another kind of distance to take into consideration. Virtual distance, or distance felt through digital devices, screens and technology in general, can be little things, like a miscommunication about a project or a slight delay in the video feed on a conference call. These sound harmless, but they can accumulate over time and lead to bigger concerns such as feelings of isolation and professional burnout. So how do you as a manager help your remote sales reps feel ‘virtually close’?

  • Have regular one-on-one videoconferences with your remote reps. Sure, these can be about their sales performance, but more importantly, take this time to check in with the person, not the employee. You want to make them feel like more than a means to hit a sales target. Ask about their families, hobbies and interests, and don’t multitask: block out your diary, go somewhere where you won’t be tempted to work on something else and have pen and paper ready to take notes. This will help your employees feel a valued member of the team (and therefore make them more motivated to succeed) and allows for more personal, effective coaching.

5) Team culture

This point builds off the previous one, but having a social community within your remote team plays a huge part in boosting productivity, reducing conflict and battling virtual distance.

  • If you can afford it, get the whole team together in one place once a year. Focus less on the ‘forced fun’ side of team building, like ice breakers and workshops, and instead just take the time to hang out and get to know one another.
  • Music is a great thing to bond over, so consider creating shared playlists on Spotify where everyone can contribute.
  • Regularly recognise and celebrate hard work – no one likes feeling underappreciated!

Managing a remote sales team can be hard work – it will take some time to establish a routine that equips reps with the software, resources and coaching they need while letting them hit their targets. But through collaboration tools, regular communication and, above all, trust and transparency, you’ll be able to build a strong, successful remote team.

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