In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to build a remote sales team.

In today’s startup world, working remotely is more popular than ever. And the popularity of remote work is also spreading to sales teams as well. However, having a remote sales team can be challenging and you need to manage it properly to make it work for your business.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how having a remote sales team is possible, the type of people to hire for your remote sales team, mistakes to avoid when running a remote sales team and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:27 Why this topic was chosen.

02:11 How having a remote sales team is possible.

03:29 One major mistake most companies make when they start to build a remote team.

04:16 How hiring a junior sales person remotely can be a challenge.

05:26 The type of salespeople to hire for remote work.

05:56 The second major mistake most companies make when they start to build a remote team.

06:37 Why you need to think of your sales team as its unique ecosystem.

07:39 How to work with a remote sales team.

09:18 The third major mistake most companies make when they start to build a remote team.

3 Key Points:

  • Remote is happening and can work.
  • It’s very hard to hire junior salespeople and have them be successful.
  • Hire more experienced people on the sales side.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to do a very tactical episode around how to start, run, scale remote sales team. And it’s because we have Steli here. And I’ve got questions, and I know he’s got answers. And it’s something that I’m really curious about. And I’m sure a lot of people are. Because the typical answer is, “Don’t run a remote sales team.”


Steli Efti: Yeah.


Hiten Shah: So that’s the typical answer, and that’s because people are used to basically the equivalent of call center, open office, lots of people in the sales room, talking and doing their thing, and selling, and picking up the phone, and blah, blah, blah. So that’s not what a remote sales team is. And remote work is obviously on a lot of people’s minds, pretty much everyone’s now. And so, all right Steli, what do we need to know about how to run a remote sales team really well?


Steli Efti: Well, before I jump into that, because I want to give a shout out to the report that you’ve done. You and Use FYI, the whole FYI team, you guys are publishing more and more stuff around remote work. It’s really, really good. You did a kind of a up to date state of remote work report. What’s the URL that people can get this? For those that haven’t seen this yet, you should check it out definitely.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s


Steli Efti: Boom.


Hiten Shah: And you’ll get to it. And this was done a little bit ago. Then we have… My co-founder wrote 11 Best Practices for Remote Work. That was a hit. I wrote a post on remote work resources. We have another one coming up that I’m sure we’ll talk about on the episode… On an episode in future. So yeah, remote work’s a thing. People love remote work. So why shouldn’t sales do it?


Steli Efti: Yeah, I think that… And this is something that is picking up. I used to get a lot of questions about how to run a remote company, and now, I’m increasingly getting questions around remote sales teams or emails in panic of people that are like, “All right, we’ve been trying for a year. We’ve gone through every mistake and failure. Is this actually possible? So please help.” So let’s talk about it. I think that we going to see… Remote sales is happening and will happen and can work. And there is going to be more and more selling happening in a distributed and remote fashion. So it’s not a question if it works or if it doesn’t. It does work. But it is probably one of the hardest teams to set up for success in a remote environment within your organization, right? And hwy is that? Well, it’s because of a number of reasons, but at the core of it, it’s because sales people are probably some of the least disciplined and most social creatures within a company. So they feed off each other’s energy. They do need as much human contact as possible. For sales people, talking and communicating and interacting socially is what gives them energy. It doesn’t exhaust them. It doesn’t just cost them energy like maybe for many other types of people within the business. And so, it is harder to have a sales person work from their home or some remote location and be happy and effective than it is for some other people within your company. There is three kind of major mistakes that I see remote companies do when they try to start building a remote sales team. So let’s just kind of break down these three things for people here as mistakes to avoid or things to get right. I think number one is that it’s very hard… Very, very hard to… Today at least, to hire very junior sales people in a remote company and have them be successful, right? So if you hire somebody that has very little work experience in general, and you hire somebody that doesn’t have remote work experience whatsoever in any position in your company, it’s going to increase the risk that this hire is not going to work out. But it really amplifies it times 10 if that person is in sales. So I would highly recommend people that are building a remote sales team to err more on the side of hiring a bit more experienced people, people that understand the ABC’s of selling, that have sold successfully, that get it, people that have displayed and have a proven track record of discipline in their life, people that are taking control of their own lives and have shown that they can be consistent, disciplined about the way they structure and design their life and their work, and ideally, people that have either been selling by doing some component of remote. It could be that they’ve just been traveling a lot, a lot of their scheduling calls, follow up, content negotiation, is just happening on the go, or maybe that have been working from their home office for a couple of days a week versus just being in an office, just somebody that showed that they can work from different environments and are kind of super self organized. Those types of people… Those you just have to teach how the culture in a company works. Maybe they have to obviously learn something about your industry and your product and technology. But you don’t have to teach them how to do remote work completely, how to be disciplined, and how to do selling. If you have to teach somebody that junior, it’s going to be very far, if not, almost impossible to do that fully remotely. So hire more experienced people on the sales side. And definitely hire people that have more of a proven track record that they are highly, highly disciplined individuals. That will make a massive difference on the sales side of things if you want to hire remote. That’s one. The second thing is that remote… Sales teams and sales people are more social creatures. And you have to take that into consideration and into account in the way that you run a remote sales team. So don’t just take the process and the meeting cadence and anything else that you do to run your engineering team and to run your product management team and to run your support team and just apply it to the sales team in the same way. You will need… You will fail if you do that. And your sales team will fail. You’ll need to think about the sales team as its unique little ecosystem and totally different team. And you will need to develop very different habits to running that team than the way you run every other team. And some of the things that are most likely going to be the case is that on the sales side of things, you will want to have more video conferencing, more interpersonal contact on a daily basis. You don’t… You’re not going to be able to run a successful remote sales team by just telling everybody what the quarterly goals are, and then telling them, “If you have any problem, just write it in Slack,” and then “best of luck and goodbye,” and “I’ll check in with you in three months again to see if you hit your quota.” It’s not going to work, right? Sales people will get very lonely very quickly. They’ll get demotivated. They will feel disconnected, and that’s going to really affect their performance. So the sales team that’s remote might still have to do a daily videoconferencing kick off. You might want to come up with quirky little ways to make people motivated and excited. There was a time where we had a sales rep send little private Instagram stories… Story videos to each other whenever they closed a deal or whenever somebody just rejected them or they had a very difficult call. They record this little video of themselves going, “Just closed this big deal. This is amazing. Here’s my happy dance in my home office or in this coffee shop.” And then, they would send that private little video to the rest of the sales team, right? And vice versa, to create these little, motivational social moments between each other, which is something that an engineering team would probably find not as fun, maybe more disruptive within their day. But come up with these little ways for the sales team to celebrate their successes, the equivalent of ringing the bell within the office to high five each other, to kind of fuel each other’s motivation. Make sure that you do talk to them regularly, and you do video calls. You don’t just chat with them in Slack. You kind of talk to them in an environment in a way that they enjoy. And just make sure that there’s more social interaction, more daily communication happening in the sales team, and maybe more fun as well. Maybe there’s different themes within the days. Create a little bit of a fun atmosphere and high energy atmosphere within your remote sales team, and prioritize these things much higher than you would in other remote sales teams. I’ll pause here before I go to the third tip and check in with you if all of this makes sense.


Hiten Shah: It all makes sense, yeah. I think these are great things and very, I would say, forward thinking, and something that people need to hear. So I’d love to hear the last one too.


Steli Efti: There you go. So the last tip is another one that’s more kind of a cultural disconnect from probably how you’ve been running the rest of your remote company. So you have to kind of think differently for this specific team, which is that sales people… And the best sales people, the best sales teams are competitive, probably much more competitive than other people in other teams within your company.


Hiten Shah: Yeah.


Steli Efti: And you need to encourage that competitiveness, right? It should not be a toxic competitiveness. It should be a… Kind of a… Think about it as a great sports team, athletic team, right? People should be on the same team, but they should thrive in competition and in direct comparison with each other, which is what great sales people do. They need, and they thrive when they’re directly compared with their peers. So instead of doing what you’re probably doing with the rest of your company, which is just being highly positive, encouraging, collaborative environment, kind of shying away from people super directly, right, and ranking people’s performance super directly, in the sales teams you absolutely must do this. You need to have a leader board that shows everybody on the sales team and everybody in the company who, this month, this quarter, this week is doing and is performing the best within the sales team with numbers, right? You need to reward and highlight and encourage praise the people that are at the top, you might want to have competitions, things, sometimes that could just even be fun, where whoever hits a certain number or accomplishes a certain milestone or is number one in the leader board this week or this month gets some kind of a weird gift or some funny thing or some bonus or some appreciation. You need to create a positive but competitive environment within your sales team, even if it’s remote. Because then, people that are naturally good at selling will, A, do much better and perform much better for your business, but also, you will retain these people. Because they’re going to be happy, fulfilled, inspired, motivated, to come to work. The worst thing you can do is to create the same environment that you have maybe in a very uncompetitive team in the sales team as well. Then what will happen, inevitably, is that the best people in sales, they will be more and more disengaged, demotivated, and eventually, they’ll be like, “You know what? This remote selling thing isn’t working. I don’t feel as excited about doing work. I feel kind of alone. It doesn’t seem to matter if I do much better or a little bit worse then everybody else.” And then, they’ll just leave and go somewhere else where their performance, if they’re high performers, is more kind of appreciated, more highlighted, and more rewarded. So it’s super important, especially in a remote company, to create a healthy but competitive environment within the sales team and to allow kind of the best sales people to shine and to get recognition and get rewards that are higher than the rest if they outperform the rest versus, in many remote teams and companies, I think, competitiveness is not really something that’s encouraged and that you want to make part of your culture. But it’s something that you absolutely must do if you want to succeed in building a remote sales team, which is tricky to do. But we see more and more… We have a very successful remote sales team. InVision has a very successful remote team. There’s more and more companies that are building very good, competitive, successful remote sales teams, it’s still at the earliest stage I would say. Out of all the departments that have gone remote, I think sales is the last one to go, but I’m super excited about it. And I think there’s a lot of potential there.


Hiten Shah: Awesome.


Steli Efti: There you have it. If you have more questions about this, if you’re currently hiring sales reps remote and you need more help, you need more feedback, always get in touch with us, we love to hear from you,, Until next time, that’s it from us.


Hiten Shah: Awesome, see you.