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The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 10, 2012 • Issue 12:09:01

Tips for managing remote sales teams

By Alan Kleinman
Meritus Payment Solutions

The 1999 cult movie classic "Office Space" about a company rebellion isn't your usual guide for management techniques, but it can reveal strategies for managing a remote sales team. Between protagonist Peter and corporate nemesis Initech, there's a lesson to be learned about how operating with trust, training and technology can translate into success.

Taking trust to the bank

It may seem obvious that the toughest challenge with distance is building and maintaining trust. But as the movie demonstrated, it's the only way to achieve goals. Following are some methods for achieving trust.

  • Honesty: When Peter bluntly explains his discontent to the company consultants at Initech, he is instantly promoted. In reality, this would never happen. But honesty is far more rewarding in the long run. Alerting your remote sales force about industry or company changes and addressing issues or concerns as they arise demonstrate honesty. Establishing trust digitally may be difficult. But if you're honest, trust should follow.

  • Clarity: Being clear about objectives and responsibilities can help your team build trust and prevent miscommunication. Communicating effectively is more challenging with a decentralized office space. But by keeping clarity in mind, you can accomplish tasks on time and on budget, while building trust. When Peter decided to plant a virus in the Initech software, the heist would have fallen flat if he had not delegated tasks with precision.

  • Competence: Having the skills and knowledge to execute tasks instills credibility and establishes trust. Your remote sales force can't see that you've spent hours preparing for a meeting, just as you can't see them working at odd hours to land a deal. Thus, competence matters. You hired your team to do a job, and they trust that you'll give them the proper training and space to get the job done. While a hands-on approach is tempting, a hands-off approach can be equally effective. If you don't trust your team members, why did you hire them?

  • Flexibility: Consider encouraging flexibility regarding work hours, timelines, training sessions and projects. Doing so, will make your team feel empowered and boost morale. Remember, Peter's breaking point at Initech came when flexibility was diminished, driving him to devise the plot to steal millions from the company.

Checking in

Staff meetings and trainings are great. But "Office Space" lets us know it's not what you do, but how you do it. Here are some tips on the latter:

  • Critical discussions: Training sessions teach key benefits and features, but routine critical discussion maximizes effectiveness. While presenting a new product or service to your remote sales force, foster discussion of potential and critical issues during the training. This prevents a disconnect between the remote sales team and the company's expectations by creating opportunity for everyone to uncover problems and brainstorm solutions. Remember when Peter's boss suddenly pulled an impromptu staff meeting? No one benefited from it.

  • Face-to-face meetings: The mobile landscape has virtually dissolved office walls, but physical training sessions allow you to truly connect with your remote sales force. It's easy to get comfortable with the convenience of digital conversations, but training in person better communicates intent and enthusiasm and promotes team bonding.

Technology leagues beyond 'Office Space'

Face-to-face sessions have intrinsic value, but may not always make sense for quick check-ins and status updates. The floppy disk and computer technology in the film are leagues behind today's digital platforms.

Yet technology is a perfect conduit between management and your remote sales force. Here are some apps and resources to help your team stay in touch and creatively present products and services:

  • PresentiaFX: This service uses PowerPoint software that can run on any laptop or tablet device. It includes a full range of features and templates for easy presentations, making it a reliable tool for communicating across different platforms.

  • OoVoo (paid edition): This alternative to Skype allows HD-quality videos, text messaging, secure file sharing, up to 12 callers and a recording option during meetings, making it a terrific way to include the whole team.

  • GooglePlus Hangouts: It connects you to everything Google, allowing file and video sharing with up to 10 calls during a meeting. You can broadcast your meeting live for others to watch. GooglePlus provides exclusive apps such as Scoot & Doodle to draw and sketch live with callers or SlideShare to view and review PowerPoint presentations.

  • GoToMeeting: This application is online meetings, webinars and training made easy. It allows you to share screens while conducting audio or video calls with others. After a 30-day free trial, the $49-a-month service is well worth the cost to improve communication with your remote sales team.

  • Skype: Whatever size your business, Skype is a great resource to connect employees in and out of the office. The application allows for screen, file, program and video sharing in real time to improve group calling. Following a seven-day free trial, monthly business charges range from $2.10 to $7 per person.

By promoting trust, giving thought to the quality of routine discussions and utilizing appropriate technology, you can successfully manage a remote sales team and avoid "Office Space"-type acts of defiance. end of article

Alan Kleinman is the Principal of Meritus Payment Solutions, the trusted global payment partner. Contact him at akleinman@merituspayment.com or 888-851-7558, ext. 141.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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