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How to build a remote sales team: 7-step process for success

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Last updated
December 11, 2020

Building a remote sales team presents its own unique challenges to sales managers and founders.

What skills should a remote salesperson have? How do you screen for the right qualities and values? What should the hiring process look like for a remote sales team? How do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’?

When your virtual sales team functions as a group, builds their skills collaboratively, and closes deals like there’s no tomorrow, you know you’ve made the right hires.

But, how do you get to that point?

In this chapter, we’re going to discuss:

  • How to build a remote sales team in 6 easy steps
  • Building a virtual sales team checklist
  • 5 advanced strategies for building a killer remote sales team

How to build a remote sales team in 7 easy steps

Building a sales team from the ground up takes time and skill, especially for new startups.

However, building a remote sales team requires you to dig even deeper into the qualities, skills, and experience that you expect from candidates.

How can you build a remote sales team? How do you redefine the hiring process for remote and decide on the best candidate?

Psst… Looking for specific tips to start scaling your startup sales team from 0 to 25 reps? Download the Sales Hiring Playbook for tips on recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding the best reps for your team.

Step 1: Define your key requirements for a remote sales team

When you set out to hire new sales reps, the first thing you need to think about is: What requirements do we list in the job post?

This is where a lot of remote hiring processes go askew. Many companies make a lengthy list of ‘requirements’ that have little to do with success in this particular role.

Here’s some novel hiring advice from sales expert and consultant Jim Keenan:

“Companies need to ask the people in the actual position to create the hiring criteria because they know exactly what skills they leverage to be successful. Then look for those skills. Hiring managers need to take an audit of the actual skills and capabilities the job requires to be kick-ass at it and then hire for those traits.”

So, talk to the person (or people) in your company currently responsible for sales. What would they define as required skills to succeed in their role?

Next, think about the requirements you have that are specific to a remote setting. For example: Do you need reps to be available during specific hours of the day in a certain time zone?

Finally, it’s essential to think about what we call ‘remote fit’. Basically, this involves three main ideas:

  • Having at least some remote work experience: Whether they are moving from a fully remote position, have freelanced remotely, or were working some days per week from home, it’s good for a remote sales candidate to have some experience working from home.
  • Diving into remote work with the right motivations: You don’t want to be the company someone uses to experiment with remote work and set up a completely different lifestyle. Understand how thoughtful this candidate has been in choosing the remote work life.
  • Having their own remote work setup: Regardless of whether someone has worked remotely, they need to have the discipline and processes in place to start working for you remotely. In the hiring process, trying to understand what remote work looks like for this candidate.

Step 2: Hire proactively, not reactively

Reactive hiring is the result of poor planning and an urgent need to fill a role.

Here’s what normally happens: The sales hire isn’t a good fit for the role, and ends up costing you much more or failing completely, meaning you’ll need to start the hiring process all over again.

To avoid this mistake, hire proactively.

Whether you’re a startup founder, sales manager, or VP of sales, it’s your job to understand your current needs and forecast future needs.

A sales director must forecast to see how much revenue and profit are coming in this quarter or this year, as well as forecasting demand for what you’re selling. These forecasts will also tell you how much of a workload will be coming up for your current sales team and whether you’ll need to start hiring in the near future. Check out our collection of sales forecasting templates.

So, when making your sales plans, keep in mind the capacity of your current team and forecast when you’ll need to start hiring more sales reps. Then, you’ll be able to start the hiring process early and get the right talent, rather than hiring in a panic and grabbing the first person who will say yes.

Step 3: Hire experienced sales professionals

One question that almost all newly remote sales managers ask me is: How do I know if my people are actually working?

Here’s the answer: Hire people you can trust.

On a remote sales team, managers can’t be constantly on the backs of their reps, looking over their shoulders to make sure they’re doing things right. You need to be able to lead without micromanaging.

That’s why you want to hire salespeople who have some sales experience, preferably at least one year.

These people have a strong understanding of what makes a good sales professional. They’re more mature, have a strong track record of being disciplined, and are consistent with their work.

You want to hire go-getters. They will dominate prospecting, following up, solving problems, and thinking outside the box to get the deal closed.

Hiring a more experienced rep also shortens the onboarding process, since you won’t need to train them in specific sales skills. However, to ensure a smooth transition and set them up for success, it's important to have an onboarding process checklist in place.

All this said, there is an exception to be made. If you're a fledging, bootstrapped startup and can't afford to hire seasoned sales reps, you can try to take a leap of faith and hire inexperienced salespeople. Check out our sales hiring guide for startups for a basic hiring framework. But realize that you'll have to be a lot more involved in the sales process.

In the end, it will depend more on you as the manager: How much time and energy are you willing to put into making this sales team top-notch?

Step 4: Hire for culture fit and communication skills

One of our core company values at Close is: Build a house you want to live in.

Your business is a home for the people who work there. Especially in a remote setting, it’s important to get culture fit right. So, define the values your company wants to promote internally and hire for the right fit.

Of course, variety and diversity in culture, background, and personality are important on a sales team. That said, here are three qualities you must look for in a remote sales candidate:

First, coachability. The right candidate isn’t afraid of taking feedback on their work. They’re not only eager to get their paycheck every month, but also to improve their sales skills. This makes them humble enough to take counsel and agile enough to use that counsel in their day-to-day work.

Second, communication. When your team is working remotely, asynchronous communication via email and other methods is commonplace. During the hiring process, take note of how well candidates communicate with you in written form.

Yes, we know that salespeople will generally be speaking on the phone or via videoconferencing. But their communication with the team and with you as the sales manager will not always be spoken. Make sure the candidate can express themselves well in written form, and that they can take in and apply written instructions.

Third, ownership and accountability. Does this candidate own up to their mistakes, or are they the type of salesperson who comes into an interview telling you they’ve never missed quota? Someone who is willing to admit their failures and work to improve themselves is a salesperson who will succeed.

Says Adam Kay, VP of Sales at Paddle:

“It’s those sales reps that come into an interview and say: ‘I missed Q4, but let me tell you why. Let me tell you what I did to make sure that that’s not going to happen again’. We all miss quotas, we all miss deals. If I can take accountability for my development, for my learnings, and for my failings, then that shows me that they’ve got an open mind to work in this collaborative environment I’m trying to build.”

But let’s face it: in an interview, how do you encourage a candidate to be open and honest about their mistakes?

Simply put, if you expect honesty, you must give honesty. Don’t exaggerate the role or the company. If you expect the person applying for a job to tell you a real, no-BS weakness about themselves, lead by revealing a real negative about your own company first. Be real with your sales candidate, and they’ll reciprocate.

Step 5: Define a scoring system for candidates

Many times in the hiring process, you come up with several candidates who are equally qualified for the role.

So, how do you decide who to offer the role to?

As you define essential qualities, skills, and experience, set up a scoring system to define top candidates. (If you’ve ever done lead scoring, you’ll understand how this works.) This is an exercise you can do with your team or with anyone else who is directly involved in the hiring process or final decision.

For example, having some remote work experience can add 20 points to a candidate’s score, plus an additional 10 points for every year of experience. Then, every year of sales experience adds another 10 points, while having the right culture fit gives them another 40 points.

Set up your scoring system based on the qualities, experience, and values that matter most to you and your team. Then, you’ll end up with a candidate that’s the best of the best, plus several other top choices. Save these top candidates in case your first choice doesn’t accept, or keep in touch with them so you can contact them down the road when you’re expanding your sales team again.

Step 6: Set up a more rigorous hiring process

Remote hiring sales reps is definitely harder than doing it in person. When you're face to face with a candidate in the room, you pick up on non-verbal clues and will be able to get a sense for who this person really is much faster than you will be able to do when communicating with them via email and video calls. That's why the remote hiring process should be a bit more rigorous. This will show you which candidates really fit your company and team without the advantage of meeting them in person.

Start with an online form where candidates answer specific questions and attach their resume. Remember that a stellar resume doesn’t always equal the best candidate: Even their answers to your preliminary questions will tell you a lot about their personality, communication style, and eagerness for the job.

Next, pick the best candidates to go through the interview process. To build a remote sales team that collaborates well, it’s important for candidates to click with those they’ll be working with. So, a remote hiring process will normally include multiple interviews with several people on the team, including the hiring manager, a trusted team member, and possibly a company exec.

Of course, all sales hires must go through a sales role-play. Have your candidates sell you something, whether it’s your product or something they’ve sold in the past. This is a true test of their skills as a salesperson and will tell you much more than their resume can.

Finally, remote sales hiring processes normally include a take-home project. This hiring homework will test their skills off-camera and will give you a good idea of how well they work when they’re on their own. For example, you could have them write a cold email to a potential prospect.

Step 7: Keep a written record of your processes

The potential for chaos grows exponentially in a remote setting.

Since remote work usually equals less communication than an in-office setting, it’s even more important to keep everything written down.

Information about your target audience, ideal customer profiles, sales process, sales cycles, lead generation tactics, and more may be common knowledge to the rest of your team or company. But new hires are coming in with no information and no background: And you can’t expect them to just wing it.

That’s why keeping a written record of everything is essential to building a remote sales team. When your processes are well-documented, new hires will be able to quickly catch up and jump into the process alongside the rest of their team.

Pro tip: Want to get a head start on creating this documentation for new hires? Download the Sales Enablement Toolkit for 8 customizable templates, include cold emails, competitor comparisons, battle cards, sales scripts, and more!

Building a virtual sales team checklist: things to consider

If you’re looking for the TL;DR version of how to hire a remote sales team, here’s a quick checklist you can refer back to and set up a more successful hiring process:

  • Write a list of hiring criteria alongside people who are currently in this position: Current sales team members have a clearer picture of what skills, experience, and qualities are necessary for success in their role.
  • Ask your A-Players to help you recruit top talent: Your best salespeople probably know other top salespeople. Use your team to help you find top talent, and see if you can steal them away for your team.
  • List up to 5 main qualities to fit your company culture: These can include essential values that are part of your company culture, as well as essential remote qualities such as self-discipline, accountability, or communication skills.
  • Identify red flags to watch out for: Knowing what qualities you want can also help you define what you don’t want. Talk to your team to set a list of red flags to look out for when talking to remote sales candidates
  • Understand the experience needed for each sales role hire: Each sales role requires a different level of experience. Think about what you expect from a particular role, and understand how much sales experience they must have to fit your current (and future) sales needs.
  • Think about the questions you want to ask their references: Don’t waste precious time with the candidate’s references chatting about general impressions. Explain the role you’re hiring for, and ask specific questions about the candidate’s competencies, such as: Were they accountable in performing tasks? Did they get along well with management and coworkers? How did they handle criticism?
  • Decide how you will set up your role-play sales situation remotely: Adapt your sales role-play to your own unique sales process. Whether that means roleplaying a product demo over Zoom or making a cold call, this will show you not only how well the rep sells, but also how well they know the tools they’ll be using in the virtual sales process.
  • Define who has key decision-making power for the hire: Know in advance who has a say in the hiring decision. Then, work with those people to develop your candidate scoring system, and speak together during the process to discuss the candidates that are being interviewed.

5 advanced strategies for building a killer remote sales team

Want to take your virtual sales team up a notch? Here are 5 methods you can use to level-up your sales team and make remote an advantage.

1. Set clear expectations

Why you have to do this for remote sales: When your sales team knows what is expected from them, they are more likely to deliver.

People can learn a lot from context.

As a sales leader, you need to be explicit about what the remote worker must bring forward. The parameters, details, and details of each task must be clear enough that everybody knows what needs to happen.

A poll of German workers found that when managers set expectations, held employees accountable for meeting them, and responded quickly when team members needed help, the workers took more initiative and had better performance.

Expectations should be about sales quotas and processes. You need to keep track of and monitor your internal sales goals. As a sales leader, you need to use a sales leaderboard to have an understanding of the activity going on and if expectations are being met.

Without clear expectations, things can get complicated. There is no easy way to measure success and evaluate team performance, without agreed-upon standards.

2. Promote employee engagement

Why you have to do this for remote sales: Virtual sales teams may feel disengaged due to the distance, so managers must work harder to promote engagement on their teams.

It can be common for remote sales workers to feel less engaged and disconnected from your company since they are not in a traditional office or with a group of colleagues. This can harm their morale and productivity. And ultimately, maintaining company morale is one of the cornerstones of high-performing sales teams.

You might want to consider implementing a chat channel for your sales team. This tactic will mimic the idea of having a “gong bell” in the office that would get banged when a deal is closed. Instead, the channel would put a notification in the channel every time a sale is made.

Engage remote employees better by integrating Slack with Close CRM

Congratulate each other across the sales team in your team chat. Consider sharing insight behind the sale, such as sharing any challenges or lessons learned, so your colleagues can learn from it.

Pro tip: Want to set up automated celebration messages for each new deal, call, or demo? Integrate Close CRM with Slack to get automated messages like the one above and celebrate with your team.

Consider encouraging pods. This involves two sales reps working together (the best and worst of the team) to try to reach their quota. The pod with the best result gets a price. With this, it can help encourage more engagement across the sales team.

When your remote team cares about what they do, they are likely to provide excellent work because they are happy and engaged.

Companies have an opportunity to boost their employees’ experience into one that allows them to feel engaged.

3. Provide the right tools

Why you have to do this for remote sales: Sales leaders need to equip remote sales teams with the tools necessary to help them be successful.

To make it easier for their remote employees to have a flexible and stress-free environment, businesses are incorporating tools to help replace the office touch with technology.

For example, having a CRM is critical for sales teams to follow up with leads and for leaders to track their progress. A CRM allows remote teams to update it with prospects, leads, and existing clients as often as needed.

I pity the fool who doesn’t use CRM

A remote sales-friendly CRM to stay on top of your work and connect with your team.

You want to familiarize yourself with a set of tools your team can use to help become more productive and accomplish their work on time. These tools cover all the bases a remote team needs. From remote chat to project management to video conferencing to cloud storage, there are so many options out there.

Many of these tools are essential to good remote work. They can make your work more transparent and available to your remote team at any time.

Pro tip: Want to learn about our top recommendations for remote sales tools? Jump ahead to Chapter 4 to see how high-performing sales teams are using tech to close more deals, stay connected, and motivate each other to perform better.

4. Be a collaborative leader

Why you have to do this for remote sales: Collaboration, rather than micro-managing, is a way to win new hires over and keep them eager and excited for work.

Remote sales teams should be led. As a collaborative leader, you work to build a team that puts their all into the job. Encourage your reps to speak up with their own ideas, test new ways of selling or pitching, and prove why certain processes or methods work better than others.

Being a collaborative leader also involves talking to your reps when creating new sales processes, building better pitches, updating your ideal customer profiles, and more. Involving your virtual sales team on different projects builds a more cooperative spirit on the team.

5. Excel at onboarding

Why you have to do this for remote sales: You spend a great amount of time hiring A-players, but spending at least double that amount of time onboarding them is really important to integrating them into your team and helping them do a great job.

In-office, you can walk new hires around the sales floor, introduce them to whoever you meet in the halls, make plans to grab lunch with them, and get them used to the team and the office.

In-office onboarding has the flexibility to be a bit more haphazard. Remote onboarding should be more process-driven because everything is done online, and often across different time zones. d the office.

Your goal with remote onboarding is to get new hires acquainted with their work and with the team. Don’t let this be a repeat of their first day in a new school as a kid. It’s your job to make them feel welcome from day 1.

Remote team welcome message via Slack

Build a virtual sales team you can be proud of

Build a house you want to live in by making the right remote sales hires and effectively onboarding and managing them.

Leaders that make the extra effort will see the benefits of a remote sales team that boosts productivity and closes more deals.

A remote sales team gives you the advantage of having a sales presence in many places. And if you do things right, it’s not too hard to see success.

If you’re thinking about building a remote sales team or shifting your current team to a remote one, these strategies are just what you need to get started.

But, once you’ve built your sales team, how do you manage them effectively in a remote setting? Jump to Chapter 2 to find out →

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