local media insider

Four tips to running a work-from-home sales team

Morris Communications shares field-tested tactics to keeping teams motivated

Alisa Cromer

A large number of sales teams are now work-from-home, that is, they are expected to maintain their own offices and often travel to visit customers. They remain employees of the company, accountable for their time, results and loyalty on a day-to-day basis. 

But no one is "looking" at where they are, or when they come into the office. 

At the local media level, this is a rare occurence, mostly because local management is in place and travel is unneccesary.

Enter the new breed of digital agency hunters at multi-property media companies that have centralized reporting directly to centralized VP's of sales, or digital units. So how do they manage teams in the field without offices or on-site bosses? A round-up of potential work-from-home mine fields comes from a journalist writing for Forbe's about the issues: 

An office gives you a regimented schedule. Coworkers give you social interaction. A physically present boss gives you accountability. How in the world is anyone supposed to get any proper work done in the absence of all those things?

At Morris Publishing Group, digital sellers don't even have desks at the local media company. Instead, working from their home or car is routine, since they are expected to be selling all day. In the competition for sales reps, this can be a selling point; it eliminates a pointless unpaid commute and bypasses office politics, encouraging a lazor focus on results. Reps know the boss will only be looking at results, not other irrelevant factors.

Here are some tips from Main Street Digital about managing out-of-the office digital sales teams:

1. Initial and on-going training

Training helps keep reps motivated, bond as a team and with their direct reports, and provides much needed social interaction with colleagues and bosses.

But training needs to be an on-going strategy - so it helps if trainers are close enough to send into the field for diagnosis and support.

"We have regional sales leadership within two hours of every market," says Mark Lane, Vice President of Sales for Morris Publishing Group.

In larger markets where there are two or three people, the local sales managers also participate in the reps training, go on calls and other meet ups.

Finally, corporate has a "state of art Leadership and Development team" which uses Bloomfire, to upload tutorial videos, interactive sessions and testing. 

2. Clear, obtainable standards of performance and accountability

One of the best management tools is simply having clearly defined standards of performance, and holding the sales representatives accountable.

At Main Street Digital, the goals for all sellers is four appointments... and two to three sales per month, and are mandatory to keep the job. Crystal clear. All sales must be annual to be counted as a sale and are logged into the CRM.

Even the minimum sale of $400 a month is articulated, so reps know where the markers are at all times.

3. Great tools for remote work stations

Another key to success is providing sellers with top notch tools - both hardware and software - to keep them linked to the company and to allow managers to "see" productivity. Morris provides iPhones and laptops plus a number of advanced software tools that facilitate training, sharing and reporting.

They include:

BOX - An alternative to Google Docs, Box is a well-loved file-sharing resource at Morris, allowing reps, customer service managers and clients to see and work on the same documents.

Bloomfire - An even more powerful platform, Bloomfire allows the core leadership team to create and record training videos, interactive sessions and even testing from a single platform. Management also gives this one high marks.

Admall and Borrell reports - Admall and Borrell provide industry data that is used heavily by sales representatives in the field (see Best Practices for Using Borrell Reports).

SugarCRM - The CRM is the glue that binds the sellers and managers together around reports on "what happened."  If the sale is less than a year it is not even recorded in the CRM, Lane says.

4. Great communication

Managers stay in communication with quick daily and weekly sales meetings, plus one-to-one meetings in between. The bond between colleagues, customer service and managers is critical for off-site employees to work as a team.

One downside of remote sales teams is the inability to get the informal pat-on-the back from a higher-up that has seen the numbers. Even a weekly company MVP selected by managers at the managers team meeting can go a long way in making sure that top brass knows who is doing the best work and acknowledge them with a quick email or 'way to go'. 

But how do you accomplish this when sales people are not even at the office?

A bonus at Main Street is a personal note from the VP of sales, every day for every sale made.

"Every day, I send every rep in the company a personalized email thanking them for the previous days sales logged in the CRM. We only log longer term agreements and I only send thank you's for these agreements," Lane says.

"And yes, our policy is to always treat one another with dignity and respect and I mean all."

Even with these policies Morris Publishing Group still struggles with turn-over - competition for trained, successful digital reps, it is fierce, and turnover is consistently the biggest challenge at most new digital services groups aiming at acquiring market share rapidly. A work-from-home environment can contribute to turnover since reps have different needs, and some will need more communication, mentorship and structure. But a work-from-home environment is also considered a competitive perk that may keep some top sales reps glued to the organization.

If your organization has ideas for running work-from-home sales teams, please send them to alisacromer@localmediainsider.com.

Read the full story case study on Agency 2.0; Mainstreet Digital Grows Ten Fold in First Two Years; see alo  How to Attain a 98% Retention Rate for Agency Services.

Many thanks to Mark Lane, VP of Sales at Morris Publishing Group for sharing his expertise with us.

Mark Lane


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