Digitalization has given our workplace the ability to become global. It’s increasingly common to have colleagues in multiple places across the world which puts different demands on management functions. Because of this, a remote leader needs to be a bit better at everything. The trend with distributed sales organizations is continuing and due to this also new challenges which we must dare to discuss. Only when we are comfortable with talking about the problems, we are ready to face the challenge and forge new keys to success.
I have my roots in retail, so let’s start there. The retail business has talked about their crisis for many years now and this crisis has its roots in changed consumer behavior and increased competition from e-commerce. Digitalization is often to blame for symptoms like diminishing profitability, corporate reconstructions, and bankruptcy. However, we’re forgetting an important aspect – we are leaving out the importance of effective management in organizations with colleagues and functions in all parts of the world.
In the last 20 years or so, companies have become increasingly global. This has led to remote leadership becoming more of a regularity, a trend which seems to continue. The question is how we can overcome the challenges that come with leading personnel from another place in the world? All leaders need to be able to:
- Ensure that all colleagues feel like they are receiving the support and feedback they need – and deserve!
- Set and communicate goals to your sales reps and make sure that they are on-board and feel motivated by the goals.
- Ensure that the organization’s sales process is well understood and that it is lived by throughout the entire organization.
- Create opportunities to be able to work proactively instead of being one step behind and work reactively towards shifts in the market.
The challenges above are, of course, not unique to distance leadership, but to have a dispersed sales organization makes managing the sales process more complex. This results in a bit higher demands on management, the tools and solutions in place, as well as the organization as a whole. The key to success is to find attractive solutions which can help management and sales reps succeed, regardless of where they are positioned.
The first step: define your leadership and become aware of the challenges
All leaders that have colleagues spread out in multiple cities are, in fact, working with remote leadership. The first thing you as a leader is to understand that this means that you have a few challenges and possibilities that not everybody else has.
For example, the need to feel belonging and support increases when colleagues are spread out in different cities. Pen, paper, Excel and e-mail are simply not enough in these organizations in terms of communication and reporting. You need to define your leadership and adapt your toolbox from there. If you manage to do this analysis properly and implement the tools you need you can create the best possibilities for your colleagues to know, and understand, what is expected of them. This will in turn give people better opportunities to stay motivated and perform better results. It will also make your role as leader easier in terms of following up on performance, coaching your teams towards better results, and ensuring your communication is clear and nothing gets left out. All of these are vital parts of remote leadership.
The faster you realize and understand your remote leadership, the faster you can get insight about solutions which can help you towards your goal and let your team both feel and perform better.
“Remote leadership doesn’t work with Excel, e-mail, pen and paper.”
The second step: find the right tools and help your organization succeed
The customer’s behavior has changed and will continue to do so as digitalization continues. This transformation will lead to targeting and leadership becoming increasingly important. We are dependent on our colleagues knowing what is expected of them every day and we have to be able to follow up on their work even when we are not in the same place. This is not possible, or at least very difficult, to do if you do not have the right tools in place. Make it easier for the organization by using tools that make the challenges a bit easier to handle.
As a remote leader you’ll need to have a complete overview on both an organizational level as well as on an individual level – and this data needs to be accessible. Performance overview is extremely important and becomes even more valuable if you can combine it with insights about soft values like employee experience, behavior, engagement, motivation, well-being, and results from your team members. When you can properly combine your organization’s performance with these soft values you’ll be able to act proactively on the insights and give your teams the support they need, hopefully before they even knew they needed it.
All leaders would probably love to have these insights, but the need becomes even more clear when your colleagues are dispersed, and you cannot see them on a daily basis. The right tools should be a big part of the foundation for success in your remote leadership.
The third step: The principle of least effort affects your organization more than you think
Are people naturally lazy? No, but all living creatures are wired to tend to choose the easiest path. We all want to live without experiencing pain, discomfort and resistance. We tend to avoid unnecessary risks and conserve power and energy to be used when we need it. This ability has helped us survive throughout the evolution. If you really think about it, it’s not too far from how we function today.
Working out can be used as a perfect example. In January the gyms are filled to the breaking point with people and motivation has never been higher but in time people will realize that working out is actually exhausting and they will stop showing up. Not because working out is not as important in April, it definitely is. It’s because we don’t want to waste energy on something that doesn’t give us a reward right now. We don’t have to work out to survive, so our subconscious mind will let us know that we don’t really have to suffer through another spin-class. There are many examples of when people tend to walk the easy path and unless we really have to make the hard choice to survive – we tend to go with the easy choice.
But what does this principle mean for our sales organizations then? Well, sales reps in general are like the rest of humanity wired to do what is required unless it’s about their survival. Which does not incorporate that little extra effort you as a leader would like to think they are putting in. Sales reps are just as likely to abide to the principle of least effort. You need to think about how this is affecting your sales performance, because it most probably does, and you might be missing out on an enormous amount of potential. You as a leader need to accept this and work to motivate your colleagues to want to achieve more and not settle with enough. Start with setting up a plan for how you’re going to act from this point and give your colleagues support, motivation, and incentives to perform better. Make sure that you have the right tools in place to motivate and coach your sales team.
There are my three steps to help your sales organization move forward. First of all, you have to define your leadership and accept the challenges you have in your role as a leader. Without acknowledging your challenges your will never be able to solve them properly. The second step is to find the right tools for your organization. With the goals in place and a realization about where you are today, you need to find the tools to help you get the success you deserve. The third step is to accept the principle of least effort and work yourself, and your sales organization around it. Motivate and engage your sales reps on a daily basis!
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