Are remote sales teams really a good idea?
After surveying 1,000 employees and 500 businesses of varying sizes, Skype released a report not long ago that suggests the number of businesses allowing their employees to do the latter is growing — and quickly.
In fact, according to Skype’s research, 62 percent of the companies it surveyed currently allow their employees to work remotely and 56 percent of the decision makers at those businesses think remote work is more productive.
Granted, those numbers are skewed more toward bigger businesses whose company culture and team environments are more established. Of companies Skype surveyed with fewer than 20 employees (i.e. most startups and expansion stage companies), less than 45 percent allow remote work.
It’s a controversial topic, for sure, especially when it comes to smaller, less-developed sales teams. Some sales mangers are all for remote sales teams. Others aren’t convinced that their remote salespeople will be as productive or motivated without supervision.
So who’s right?
It depends. There isn’t just one way to operate a sales organization. For some companies, the benefits of having a remote workforce outweigh the potential pitfalls.
For example, some of those benefits of remote sales teams can include:
- Cost savings: With remote reps, a company needs less office space, uses fewer office supplies, and spends less on technical expenses.
- Better candidate pool: Particularly if your business is not in or near a major city, allowing salespeople to work remotely may open the door to some top tier candidates.
- Empowered reps: It’s on them to schedule their days properly and create their own success.
- Efficiency: Managers have more time to take on additional responsibilities and focus on selling.
Of course, there’s also the potential downside to running remote sales teams.
Remote sales teams are less likely to bond and work in unison, new rep training will be far more difficult, and there’s a greater chance that reps will fail because of a lack of daily management, leading to higher turnover.
Andy Beal, the founder and CEO of social media monitoring tool Trackur, should know. Trackur doesn’t have any communal office space and its employees all work remotely. As he explains on the American Express OPEN Forum, there are five major risks that companies take when they opt for that setup:
- Loss of efficiency: Certain individuals may be more efficient working remotely, but in instances of major crisis or panic it’s often more difficult to solve problems quickly with everyone in different locations.
- Negative perception: Though remote work is gaining popularity, some customers, investors, and business partners may look down on it and question the legitimacy of your company.
- Less camaraderie: There’s something to the idea of water cooler talk. Sharing personal stories, having impromptu meetings, and working together in the same room tends to foster a stronger bond between employees and creates a more unified company as a result.
- Compliance issues: How can you be sure that your employees are working on secure WiFi networks? And what if they accidently disclose sensitive client information? Oversight of those issues is significantly more difficult with remote workers.
- Battle of trust: When your sales teams work in the same office, it’s easy to keep tabs on their progress without micromanaging them. It’s far more difficult to do that with virtual workers. You can’t simply stroll past their desk and casually check-in.
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Honestly, I’m torn. Expansion stage businesses can thrive with energetic sales reps working in the office. Closing a big deal, particularly at a young company, can create a sense of excitement and it presents an opportunity for the entire team to celebrate together.
However, if you have an experienced sales team with a proven sales background, allowing top performers to work remotely can be a selling point when you’re trying to hire the best talent available. And with the bevy of technology out there, managers can operate with ultimate visibility into their rep’s activities and performance from just about anywhere by using collaboration tools like Central Desktop and CRMs like SalesForce.com.
That being said, the decision between in-office or remote sales teams comes down to the maturity of your reps and the business culture you are looking to promote. If you think a remote sales team might help your business, check out Mashable’s five tips for training remote employees. The Gallup Management Journal also released a great report in 2009 on how company’s can keep their remote sales teams fully engaged.
As Skype’s study suggests, the corporate world may be trending toward remote workforces. But be careful before you jump on the bandwagon. If a remote sales team doesn’t jive with your current setup, it could wreak havoc on your company culture and stunt your growth.
Devon Warwick is a Sales and Marketing Associate with OpenView Venture Partners focused primarily on business development for portfolio companies. You can follow her on Twitter @devwarwick.