Overarching Theme: Strive to Over-Communicate!
Many sales managers struggle to appreciate the frequency and reach required to stay connected with their distant sale teams. Not unlike an intact team in a sales office, a virtual sales culture gets built with or without clear and decisive leadership. Think of great day-to-day coaching best practices…on steroids.
The best distant sales leaders establish rituals and routines that establish clear channels of communication, foster close, professional relationships, and align the the team to a common cause. Of course you need to juggle everyone’s schedules but here are a few distant coaching best practices:
Establish weekly, mandatory team meetings. Have a pre-circulated agenda, expect 100 percent participation, and run them like a Swiss train.
Have daily (yes daily!) huddles. In the hospitality industry these are called pre-shift meetings. At The Ritz-Carlton, the gold standard of hospitality, the “daily line up” is a sacred business ritual. They are quick meetings of 5–10 minutes, maximum. They are doggedly on point. They are inspiring. They are focused. They are opportunities to recognize and reward. They are learning circles. They build high performing teams. Restaurant leaders appreciate the adage “either you run the shift, or the shift runs you.” We’d think it ludicrous for a professional sports coach to instruct her team, “Practice hard today, do your best, and we’ll check in tomorrow.” Disciplined, daily, focused coaching is not micromanaging; it’s what separates great from good.
Establish coaching buddies. Leverage your team resources. Expect coaching pairs to meet (phone is fine) weekly for 10–20 minutes. Respect their autonomy and allow them to craft their focus areas and agenda. It’s a top-down mandate but with localized control. This mechanism builds professional, supportive relationships and helps corral the lone wolves.
Build collaborative learning circles. The problem with most sales training is that they are a “one size fits all” approach. Delegate leadership opportunities to run time-sensitive, sales targeted scenarios that team members may be experiencing. For example, a few of your reps may be struggling with how to overcome a specific sales objection. Think just-in-time learning events. You will be perceived as a highly engaged manager capable of solving problems through delegation and collaborative tactics.
Have standing, sacred 1:1s, in between field visits. On your last visit you and the rep set 1–2 SMART development goals, correct? You were also disciplined and set milestones to measure progress against agreements, right? Biweekly, 15-minute, 1:1s help ensure sales rep is executing on their commitments and to determine if you can be of service. As a dedicated manager, I’m sure you have an “open door policy” but that understanding can easily become a leaky bucket.
Become a master at phone coaching. It can be tempting to multitask, but resist! We have all experienced the emotional withdrawal we make when we sense the person on the other end is reading their emails. When I phone coach I deliberately shut my laptop and swivel my chair to look out the window. Trust is a delicate currency, be mindful.
Provide frequent, 3:1 affirmative to corrective feedback. Commonly known as “catch ‘em doing it right.” This one says easy, does hard. Managers rightfully ask, “How can I provide positive feedback to my people when I rarely observe them in action?” The unpopular answer is you have to work harder. Proactively seek feedback from customers, team members, and cross-collaborative stakeholders. Dig around, find good stuff to share, recognize and reward.
Individualize and use all available (and company legal) channels of communication. Be aware of your biases. Show appropriate flexibility and use team members’ preferred channels when feasible.
Develop a Sales District Newsletter or E-bulletin board. This communication platform aims to raise the information tide, thus floating all ships. Content might include corporate news, shifting strategic focus, learning initiatives, or awards and recognitions.
One resourceful sales manager partnered with his administrative support person, and team members, to create weekly “news blitzes.” For example, each week a team member was required to post a “sales tip/skill of the week.” What’s an approach that would work for your team?
Change Management Tip: Goal success is in part a result of implementing small, incremental improvements and measuring progress. Apply one or two new rituals for 6–8 weeks and dialogue about the impact with your team.
Dedicated and effective sales managers are guided by the words of Winston Churchill—
“Incremental success is better than grandiose failure.”