Sales

Four Easy Ways to Make Remote Employees Work

I had a discussion yesterday with a client about hiring an out of territory sales rep. The company has never done it before and is skeptical a salesperson could be effective in this role.

In the current state, that may be true for them, but continued growth - particularly in niche industries - is eventually going to demand it. Being able to do so earlier will open a wider and more skilled talent pool to the company.

Here are four things that can make it easier and more likely to be successful:

Upgrade Core Technology

This does not need to be expensive. The odds are you already own most of these things, you're just not using them. The following tools are critical:

  1. VOIP Telephony: The phone system should have the ability to have a phone with an internal extension anywhere with internet access and should have a mobile app that allows 
  2. Cloud Apps: Ideally these are web-based, but if you have a Citrix environment or a terminal server, that's just fine. The point is, people should be able to access all of your core applications from the field at any time.
  3. Instant Messenger: You already own this, your employees probably just aren't using it yet.

And the following tools are nice to have:

  1. CRM: If you aren't using it yet you should be anyway - no matter how many salespeople you have. If you are onboarding remote salespeople, CRM will be critical to making them successful - particularly if there are backoffice or internal sales and service folks they will be working on the same customers with.
  2. Collaboration tool like Slack which is a great way to organize subject or project-specific internal conversations
  3. Video Conferencing: You may already own something that offers this as well (Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype) but it takes some heavy management to get people to use it regularly. Video can really shrink the distance between a central team and remote workers.

Organize Your Content

Odds are your information is fragmented across the company. Using a tool like Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, or even Box or Dropbox, organize the information that the prospective employees will need to do their jobs. Your employees should get away from storing things in their own hierarchies and on their own devices anyways.

This exercise will also force you and your employees to rationalize what's really important and identify clear gaps in your documentation. Work to fill these gaps over time as you on-board new employees and get them up to speed.

Institute Management Reporting

"Management by walking around" is a great discipline but in the modern work environment it needs to be paired with some level of regular reporting and data-based analysis.

Work with management to develop the core, key management report - both activity-based and output based - that gives them an understanding of what's happening in their department at a macro level. Ideally, generate these from a centralized system (e.g. CRM, order management, production management) rather than asking people to compile them manually.

Once again, this is just a good management discipline. Regardless of whether you're adding remote workers you should be doing this; but in order to be able to manage remote workers this is absolutely critical.

Hire Millennials

That's right. Seek out and hire millennials.

They will challenge you in some ways - they'll ask for more flexible schedules, they will want more feedback from their managers, and they will want a collaborative and fun work environment. Embrace it.

They will also show you how they can be effective under these alternative arrangements. You will need to work with them to find the balance between flexible and traditional.

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[Breathe] Presence [Breathe]

When I was in big consulting, we were taught how "presence" is critical to providing excellent client service. There were big picture ideas like "make the person know you're listening and want to learn learn more" to tips like "put your phone face down," "take handwritten notes," and "look the presenter in the eye."

As I have worked to get my business up and running over the past four months, I have discovered a subtler, more pervasive element of "presence." It's the presence that builds a community of supporters around you in every facet of your life. When there are other obligations; when you can't figure out how you will catch-up, you still need to "come up for air", so-to-speak - breathe, relax, and remove distractions for a little time to offer your presence to the people around you.

I attended an event recently where there were four sponsoring entities. I know for a fact that two of the entities are struggling - one reputationally and one financially. The other two are doing quite well - strong growth, good brand, community support, etc. Two entities had senior leaders show up to the event, two didn't. Guess who was who.

I'm sure if you spoke with the two who didn't attend they would offer good reasons - I won't even call them excuses, because it's really the judgement they made on tradeoffs of attending or not. No doubt there were other pressing matters they needed to attend to and the individuals may even have made a decision I would agree with if I knew all the details.

But to the people at an event, appearance is binary. They didn't need to be there to have a meaningful discussion or present a new cutting edge viewpoint. They needed to say "hi, thanks for coming", and shake a few hands. They needed to be recognized by a few other attendees. That would have made it feel like they were part of it. Their printed logo on a flyer did not.

The way I have internalized this is to participate in the community as much as possible. Go to events without the intent of selling yourself. Be seen. Say hi. Follow-up with emails or tweets. And don't do it once - go to events where you will see the same people 3, 4, 5 times. Become a known entity. Care about the people you meet.

It takes time but people gradually begin to trust you; to know that you are grateful to get to know them and their interests in the community. Two months ago I doubted I was spending my time in the right places. But as I get further into this journey, I realize that even if I don't make a new connection; even if I only see someone I saw two weeks ago and shake hands and talk for 30 seconds, it is usually worth it.

This will get more complex as things get busier, no doubt. I will choose (and have chosen) family and work events over another breakfast or cocktail hour and I will continue to do so. But when figuring out how to balance work and life, I will save time to just be places; to relax, breathe, and show up smiling and excited to see friends and acquaintances and to meet new people.

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The New Era of Selling and CRM: In With the New...Again

Well, it looks like CRM is about to be overhauled again.

For a long time, CRM was mostly about contact management. It evolved to include more sophisticated tracking of touch-points and was able to track pipeline, forecast revenue, and provide data for incentive compensation. With the rise of internal sales organizations many solutions like Salesforce.com upped their game again and made it much easier for internal and external teams to collaborate on leads.

But now, sales is changing again and in some industries, it's already changed. Today's sales process is much more of a complex, social game and, as noted in this recent Forbes article, there are a variety of new competitors to the mainstays of CRM (ahem...Salesforce). There are a number of reasons why, but points two and four are the most important takeaways to me. *

If you're about to undertake a big, expensive CRM implementation it may be worth taking a step back to make sure you're solving the right problems.

First issue: Your sales force doesn't like the software

  • Your sales force is resistant to using your current CRM system as prescribed
  • Your software is mostly glorified contact management
  • There are few value-added processes 

As you may have picked up on, the user experience is one of the attributes I value most in enterprise software. I have documented its importance a few times, like here for ERP software and here for its positive impact on talent and culture.

What I haven't talked about much yet is how good user experiences provides incentives to get people to actually use the software and to use it properly. In some cases this isn't as much of a factor. For example, accountants need to use the general ledger you provide since there isn't a way to do those tasks offline.

But CRM is different. Your sales people can do most of their jobs offline if they really want to. Other than management policies, strong-arming, and incentive compensation, there aren't too many ways to force them to use the CRM system as its intended.

The answer, of course, is to give them a set of tools that helps them do their jobs demonstrably better. If your sales team gets tools that help them engage customers like they were never able to, if it helps them quickly prepare for their meetings, if it allows them to get ahead of the sales process and increase the quality and sell-through of the leads they create, they will want to use the CRM tools.

One last thing: For the love of all that is good in the world, please give them something that's mobile. And not just a mobile website; choose a system with apps designed to be used on mobile devices.

 

Use a carrot instead of a hammer. Incent them with great tools.

Second issue: Customer engagement is lacking

  • You still rely on cold calling most of the time
  • You have no or little social media presence
  • You are not actively using content marketing
Around the world, customers enabled by the rapidly rising availability of mobile connected devices 3,4 are moving from product or service awareness, to research and then to taking action in a far shorter time than ever before
— A smarter approach to CRM: an IBM perspective (http://bit.ly/1EWooIL)

If customers are moving from awareness to decision faster than ever, then you need to establish awareness more broadly and more actively than ever before. Customers need to know you and like you before they are even ready to make a buying decision. 

In most industries, this requires content marketing. And content is only as good as far as you can get people to read it, so in many cases you need a strong social media presence. And it requires establishing connections with potential customers long before they need to buy anything.

There are, by my count, about 7 critical social media platforms depending on your type of business.

  • B2B: LinkedIn (personal and business profiles), Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Blogging platform (Wordpress, Blogger, etc.)
  • B2C: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, some LinkedIn, Google+, Blogging Platform

How do you manage your interactions across all these platforms? There are certainly tools like Hootsuite that allow posting across multiple platforms but these won't help target or track them as closely as you need to. There are tools like SumAll and Klout that help measure and manage your impact. But how do you track it all?

New solutions combine CRM and social selling to help track all of this centrally and to measure its impact over time. I use Nimble for this. It centralizes the social media profiles of my contacts, provides opportunities to engage with them on social media, tracks all interactions over time, and makes sure my data follows me where ever I go online. It's not the only solution available, but it's my personal choice and it demonstrates the dramatic, recent evolution of the selling process.

Third issue: YOU HAVE WEAK MANAGEMENT VISIBILITY INTO THE ACTIVITIES AND PROGRESS OF YOUR SALES TEAM

  • You need to ask your sales people in order to find out about deals, their size, or their status
  • It is unclear which sales tactics are working most effectively for specific products, customers, or markets
  • You can't tell if the money you are spending on developing content is really worth it

With so many sales channels, you're going to make decisions about what content and which channels to invest in. And later on, you're going to want to know how they are doing. You'll need a way to measure this. This will be challenging with most of the big CRM platforms.

You'll also want to see your pending deals and, particularly for the big ones, be able to develop strategies to engage and close your biggest deals. This may involve developing new content, providing points of view, reaching out to develop new relationships and sharing a lot of information with your own people. You need to make sure you have tools that can bring this together.

IN SUMMARY

If you don't have CRM yet, it's time to give it another look. There are more great products that do more great things than the last time you evaluated it. They add more value to your sales team than they every have and help your sales people sell in ways they probably can't right now.

If you have a CRM solution but are looking to change, don't default to a new system based on benchmarks or reputation alone. The assumptions in this space are quickly becoming outdated and those reputations and benchmarks are often not based on the new realities of selling. Go through a real selection process that takes into account how you sell today, how you think you need to sell tomorrow, and what your salespeople think they need.

Don't go full-boat on a new solution all at once. The new solution will (and should) be much different than what you currently have. Adoption is likely to be a challenge. Instead, pilot something you think will work. They all have settling in periods and you'll need to give your people some time to work with it and get comfortable with the functions. Finally, invest in training and change management. It will take time and effort to onboard people to the new processes.

Finally, you need to care about social. It isn't just for announcing new babies and sharing pictures of your food. Social can have real, meaningful impact to your businesses. At least have a conversation with someone who can explain how and when this technology can help drive revenue for your business.

For the record, I don't give much credence to point 1 in the Forbes article. NetSuite is taking customers from a number of different vendors, but competitively it's the same as it ever was. Businesses who strongly value the integration of CRM and ERP or prefer the "one throat to choke" mentality will continue to look at integrated single-vendor systems (just like Oracle or SAP in the past).

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