How to lead a mobile and geographically dispersed B2B sales team?

In a fast paced B2B marketplace, future sales success is not solely based on having competitive products and services; it is based on developing a sales competence advantage. Does your organization have the competencies, skills, processes, capabilities and digital applications to become a world-class sales organization? Let’s start by exploring how sales leaders can lead a remote team an increasingly mobile, virtual and collaborative B2B sales organization.

Sales is working at a distance more than ever

Sales organizations work at a distance more than ever. Working over different geographical locations opens up new revenue opportunities but comes with the following sales operational hurdles:

  • Find a cost effective manner to serve customers remotely located
  • Manage a mobile sales team from a distance
  • Enable effective collaboration among team members

Higher demands on sales leaders

Words such as: cloud, mobile, online demo, webinar, collaborative and virtual sales teams are concrete examples of how the world of B2B sales has changed over the past years. In fact, after many years of research, we have observed how traditional and complex B2B selling approaches have evolved.

On one hand, complex B2B selling has matured into a joint effort in which a pool of talented people – often based in dispersed geographical locations – collaborate to win deals. Each member of the team adds value by contributing with unique competencies and expertise.

On the other hand, digital developments have empowered traditional salespeople to acquire and serve customers in distant locations. As a result, we are inclined to believe the role of sales directors has changed. Sales directors in the 21st century are expected to posses a different set of skills and adopt a different management and coaching approach. They are expected to drive collaboration among team members and to manage from a distance.

Academic recipe to manage distributed sales teams

The view that managers of remote sales teams must acquire new competencies and skills has been further shared in academic literature. Among others, Erin Meyer, professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, found that managing a virtual team calls for a much broader set of skills. In the article „Four Keys to Success with Virtual Teams” Meyer adds that beyond a broader set of skills, managers must apply an opposite management approach. In summary, Meyer advises to embrace the following four practices when managing teams from a distance:

  1. Define and clearly communicate roles and job descriptions
  2. Describe explicitly how decisions will be made but leave room for testing different approaches
  3. Create processes in which trust can be gained if results are delivered. In other words, a trustworthy member is a reliable member.
  4. To avoid losing persuasiveness, due to the lack of face-to-face contact, make sure you compensate with body language: walk around and move your arms as you speak, don’t just sit in front of the screen.

Furthermore, professor Karen Sobel Lojeski at Stony Brook University in New York warns about the hidden effects of technology. Based on a phenomenon she coined: „virtual distance”, Lojeski highlights how technology – thought to connect people – can also drive people apart. Overall, Lojeski believes sales managers must never forget to relate to team members on a human level. In the article „How to Manage a Virtual Sales Force” she wrote: „Remember that there’s a human being on the other side of the line. You need to work on establishing affinity and building a relationship that can be trusted”.

3 tips to unlock collaboration

While the above-mentioned practices are worth considering, they fail to provide advice on how to manage a mobile sales team constantly on the go. Mobile communication technology can certainly become sales directors’ best friend given that it can facilitate collaboration even if teams are geographically dispersed. The following are tips to enable teamwork and collaboration among dispersed and mobile B2B sales teams.

1. Hold online meetings frequently

Holding weekly or bi-weekly sales meetings, in order to coordinate work, helps support efforts to bring team members together. Video conferences and live webinars are two examples of widely used methods to hold virtual meetings. The meetings can be used as forums for interaction and discussion. 

2. Encourage the use of sales apps to increase productivity

Multiple mobile enterprise applications have been developed exclusively for sales professionals. As a matter of fact, Salesforce’s application market, „AppExchange” , hosts over 3,000 business apps out of which over 800 of them target sales professionals. The fact that salespeople are  always on-the-go, make the use mobile applications a must.  Salespeople could use applications for lead generation, prospecting and sales presentations. 

3.  Use content-sharing tools

Sales directors should capitalize on collaboration and content sharing platforms. Members of your team could productively access, share and edit documents at their convenience. Sales teams involved in complex sales can reap the benefits of team content sharing tools such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Sharepoint. These applications are a better way to collaborate than email and offers the opportunity to gather documents, meeting notes, chats and contacts for a specific team, account or opportunity. 

Remember that it is people that close deals – not technology

No technology, no matter how advanced, can make up for a lack of management competencies and capabilities to lead sales teams. To fully reap the benefits of technology, sales directors must have a coordinated and systematic approach to lead remote, mobile and cross-functional teams. This, however, requires a deep-rooted collaborative culture and the supporting processes to allow for collaboration among team members.

Always keep in mind that people and processes are key ingredients to achieve sales effectiveness. Have you managed to lead a remote team? What opportunities and challenges have you encountered?