Managing Remote Salespeople

Ah, the sales manager’s dream, being able to manage salespeople, remote or otherwise. Salespeople, by their very nature, tend to be free spirits and naturally resist being managed. They just want to be left alone to do their thing and, as sales managers, we can only hope that “doing their own thing,” means making the occasional sale for our company. Remote or otherwise, these people need to be managed.

Just what is a remote salesperson? Basically, it’s a salesperson that works and lives in a different geographic location from the company’s head office. It might mean an Ottawa-based salesperson working for a Toronto-based company or vice versa. Any company that has one-person branch offices scattered in various cities across the country essentially has a bunch of remote salespeople.

As challenging as managing the salespeople around you might be, the management of remote salespeople is a special case because out-of-sight often means out-of-mind, for both the salesperson and the manager.

Failure to manage or stay in touch with your remote salespeople can cause problems. To the extreme, it may cause your remote people to feel abandoned and ultimately to leave the company.

Many years ago, when I was the Toronto salesperson for an Ottawa-based company, I was left alone to the point where I began to think that no one at head office gave a damn and I resigned to take another job. My boss expressed his distress about my resignation and when I explained that I felt left out and abandoned he told me that I was the only one on his sales people that he didn’t have to constantly stand on in order to get results. In other words, his leaving me alone was a compliment to my self-management and selling skills but it was to late, I’d already accepted the new job.

So, if nothing else, keep in touch with your remote people as a way of helping them feel a part of the big picture.

How often you stay in touch depends upon your management style. If you’re a control freak, you’ll probably want daily contact. As a rule, this tends to annoy salespeople. There is a difference between keeping in touch and checking up on someone.

A structured weekly telephone meeting will do the job. If weekly calls seem to frequent, I recommend every two weeks. Anything longer than that and your beginning to lose contact with your salesperson and they’re beginning to lose contact with you.

Just because your remote salespeople call in to discuss problems or request information from others within the company doesn’t mean you should slack off on your personal contact with them.

Face-to-face contact is best and if you can’t bring your remote salespeople to you at least every quarter, you should get out of your office and visit them. The next best form of contact is the telephone and finally mail, both e-mail and snail mail.

Make sure you have an agenda when you talk with your people. That agenda should include an update from the salesperson on their most promising opportunities, an overview of the week’s activity, any outstanding issues, a review of recent sales results and reports, a discussion of any new issues and problems that need attention, as well as spending some time for general socializing. Also use this time to pass on some of the local general news (and gossip) from head office so they can feel connected to what’s happening.

Make sure your remote people are included in any of the general e-mails and memos that circulate around head office. This helps the remote people feel less remote.

If you’ve hired the right type of salesperson, the type that doesn’t need too much attention and handholding, you’ll have minimum problems in managing them, but don’t fall into the trap of ignoring them. You may lose a good salesperson. I know one company that did just that!