How to manage a hybrid sales team

A hybrid team is any combination of people working from home and in-office, part-time or full-time, offshore or on-site. By nature, any successful tech startup may not start out hybrid but would go that way soon enough, whether it’s working with an offshore development team or planning their global expansion. And since a sales rep is usually the first hire in any new market or region, your sales team is usually your first hybrid team. 

We know a lot about that. Sales Force Europe has been an inherently hybrid team from Day One. Since 2003, Rick has been interviewing and hiring over 100 sales reps with tech sales experience in their part of the world. He’s been curating global expansion with our regional sales managers and lead generation partners. The SFE team itself is fully distributed as we either work from home or from regional offices. Plus, we work with partners around the world including outsourcing our website design and development for many years to Think Strategy based in San Francisco. 

And we aren’t alone. According to McKinsey research released in March 2021, 85% of B2B organizations expect hybrid sales reps — also called omnichannel sales teams — to be the most common sales role over the next three years.

When people look at this next year or two of hybrid work as a time of uncertainty, we look at it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to hire the best people for the job in the place they feel they work best. That’s why we’ve partnered with Globalization Partners — the top Employer of Record — who authored this useful free ebook: 

“The Workforce Reimagined: How to Make the Hybrid Model Work for Your Team.”

What is a hybrid sales team?

Work from home. Head into work. These are clear mandates. The 2021/2022 transition back to the office will be in shades of flexibility. The hybrid working model is honestly a lot of things. Hybrid is a mix of remote working and meeting in-person maybe a few days a week or a few times a month for bursts of creativity and collaboration. It’s a mix of full-time staff and project-based hires that could be temporary or through an outsourcing agency.

It seems very free-flowing, but there will be boundaries. Some will be set by what employees feel most comfortable with. And some will be actual borders. The best laid plans the last couple months have been in-person events and meetings turned remote at the last minute. Sure, locals are eagerly meeting to catch up over a cuppa or pint. But international travel is still in flux.

Since March 2020, even our most field-savvy sales reps have been suddenly performing remote sales. A hybrid sales strategy combines face-to-face and remote interactions. Frankly we think this blend of outside sales and inside sales is here to stay.

As founder of Digital Works Nicolai Haeggelin explained it, “In this framework, the ‘hybrid rep' emerges as the figure that adapts to customers’ preferences and needs, being able to move skillfully between the face-to-face and the digital world, knowing how to foresee what customers need and anticipate their movements as if it were a dance. That is the sales model of the present and the future.”

Each hybrid team will be different, so everything should be adapted for you and your sales team’s needs. So start by asking what they want!

How to design a hybrid sales strategy

As Globalization Partners wrote in their ebook, the enduring success of any distributed or hybrid working model “depends on multiple interdependent factors such as having the right company vision, leadership style, and technological foundation.”

So where do you start in designing a hybrid sales strategy? Start by asking your customers, what do they want? It simply may be that your prospects prefer Zoom calls. Once you know the answer to that, it’s time to rethink your customer journey. At what point in the process do you pivot from online to face-to-face? You need to start to understand if there are signals that a deal will only close with an in-person demo. Or maybe in a typically traditional vertical like telecommunications, the more senior decision makers may expect a handshake.

For many circumstances, especially when selling horizontal SaaS like CRMs, marketing, HR and accounting tools, virtual sales may still be the way to go. Certainly a combination of inside sales followed up by field sales will be the norm — you’ll be hard-pressed to have a fully in-person sales process anymore.

That aforementioned McKinsey report found that even for big ticket sales, an in-real-life meeting isn’t always necessary. 20% of B2B buyers are willing to spend more than $500,000 in a fully remote sales model, while 11% would spend more than $1 million. In China, the inclination to spend more than $500,000 on a completely remote sale jumped to 40%.

You need to make sure each hybrid sales rep feels comfortable connecting with customers in a virtual way. And also in an asynchronous way — everybody is sick of constant Zooms and may be happy to receive an email, a WhatsApp, a LinkedIn DM or even a hand-written holiday card.

How to sell to hybrid buyers, too

This also may mean that the hybrid buyer’s journey will take more nurturing and more time.

As a Gartner report towards the end of 2020 found, “What could've been otherwise a quick question in a meeting or software demo session now ends up becoming a big consideration, causing buying delays in the virtual buyer journey.” 

As it becomes more of an account-based decision with several decision makers, this will increase because you may have to make connections with several people from several different departments. But that’s OK because in a hybrid sales model, you don’t have to do it all, you can share this with other team members specializing in certain target audiences or steps in the sales funnel.

You may find that you want to totally re-clarify your ideal customer persona. You’ve learned a lot ver the last 18 months and your sales team’s priorities and modus operandi have probably shifted. Or you may decide to rank leads differently if you think they need a heavier touch like with a face-to-face meeting, versus those you can close more quickly. You may decide smaller bulk deals closed over the phone are well-suited to some markets, while heavier touch deals are better suited for other markets.

If you ask our colleague in Helsinki Petri Rinne, he says “You should throw your existing sales strategies and tactics into the bin, or at least completely re-think how you sell today and in the future.”

Earlier this year Rinne wrote about how omnichannel sales, as he refers to hybrid sales, is here to stay and that’s a good thing. He says you need to adapt to your already omnichannel buyers. That means a much better Google-ability and a commanding social media presence. To the least, he says, this will increase your credibility, but it may dramatically increase your inbound leads.

Preparing for hybrid team culture

There’s no doubt that there is a culture change when adopting hybrid work. Once you understand how to prepare for the hybrid communication challenges, you can make it more successful for you and your hybrid sales team.

As Globalization Partners pointed out in their hybrid work ebook, there’s a risk of hybrid working creating two contrasting corporate cultures. “On one hand, employees who continue to work from the office may benefit from in-person collaboration, while on the other hand, employees who continue to work remotely may suffer from isolation.” 

Some of the red flags they found were:

  • Unconscious bias - no one should assume someone WFH is working less than those that can more easily work out loud in the office
  • Culture dilution - remote employees are at risk of being separated from the company mission and shared goals
  • Siloed teams - without a water cooler, you are more likely to just talk to your team, putting cross-functional and cross-organizational collaboration at risk
  • Loss office space - this has ups and downs — you could be cutting an important CapEx, but it’s hard to move back from if you decide hybrid or remote work isn’t for your team

Our partner at BNZSA business development Tim Perlerin says that flexible work is possible, once training is in place. When someone starts out on your team, you may need them co-located for the first couple weeks or months. This doesn’t mean the whole team, but their sales manager or peer mentor could sit next to them in-house and then go with them onto the field when they’re just starting off. 

But it’s not just rookies that will need more training. 

As Preston Gray wrote for the Sales Benchmark Index, sales reps will not only need to learn to adapt to selling in a hybrid environment, they will also need to adapt to their buyers going through a similar transition themselves. Gray reminded that it’s a perfect time to review your customer personas and buyer profiles. After all, you can now reach more people than ever, qualifying remotely more quickly at a lower cost. And when you partner with a sales outsourcing service like ours, you can then have both local inside sales and field sales reps on the ground waiting to be deployed. 

How a hybrid sales team communicates

One of the most important aspects of a successful hybrid team is asynchronous communication. Some of your teammates may be co-located in an office with others remote — this makes for a terrible videoconference experience for the latter half. This means you need to cut the incessant team Zoom calls and start thinking about ways to go for more written communication. This is a balance of instantaneous live chats like Slack and leveraging heavy sales funnel tooling to track everything. We use Hubspot and find in general sales reps are comfortable with this anyway.

Software engineer Juan Pablo Buriticá argues that the future of work is written. He says that fast-growing teams are all eventually distributed in some way. Writing things down, from decision-making frameworks to meeting minutes, creates artifacts with not only the decision but the perspective and reasoning behind it. It bridges the gaps between teammates that aren’t in attendance and makes onboarding new sales reps easier.

“The ability to send written messages across physical space enabled the expansion of collaboration across the world,” Buriticá said.

Plus, this is just solid hit-by-the-bus sales. Where if a sales rep is out of touch for any reason — from vacation to parental leave to a pandemic — a teammate can cover it. This is why at Sales Force Europe, we make sure to integrate with our client’s CRMs so any handover is smooth and all processes are transparent and measurable.

"Agreeing on upfront KPIs — even if they are a best guess — is important, regardless of where the team is based, or if they are employees, contractors or partners. KPIs should be documented and tracked during periodic review calls and amended overtime to ensure they are achievable," our CEO and founder Rick Pizzoli said.

He said that corresponding metrics should also be tracked to best forecast impacts on the business. This could be like the sales-qualified lead KPIs for your Lead Gen team which may be hit, missed or exceeded. Equally important is how sales is converting these leads to Opportunities and then Deals.

In that way, hybrid sales team success replies on the same thing all sales teams do — complete transparency. Just in the hybrid world, you may rely on more written tools to do that, but, hey, we do love SaaS!

How to manage a hybrid sales team

An emphasis on asynchronous communication also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk to your hybrid sales team. Regular one-on-one meetings are essential. In fact, at times of transition, it’s more important than ever to prioritize team psychological safety. And remember sales nowadays comes down to the so-called soft skills more than ever.

As the IESE Business School put it, managing a hybrid sales team relies on more of a coaching style of management.

“Companies will need to invest in their coaching culture and tactics to support sales reps as they change their prospecting and effectively approach their addressable universe,” Gray echoed.

As always coaching should pair up with clear objectives and ways of measuring them so everyone — no matter where they work — is on the same page.

Just remember to eliminate what Maya Middlemiss, future-of-work journalist and author of the Healthy Happy Homeworking book series, calls location hierarchy. If you as the sale manager is always in the office, it makes a statement that being in-office is important. “Because if all the senior people in an organization are office-based that will clearly signify what career progression means when you work there,” she said.

Which is silly because, once sales reps are trained, you want them in a place they feel most comfortable making calls and then in the field with clients when necessary. 

Whether your sales reps are newer or older, don’t forget to check in with them from time to time to see if they have everything they need. They may want training on a new tool to perform technical demos on, or they may need advice for internet upgrades — we always recommend wire mesh Eero. They may be dealing with family stuff and just want to chat. Even when they are embedded within our clients’ teams, we do this for our sales reps and you should do this with yours. Because, after all, a hybrid sales team is first and foremost made of people.

Want to learn more? Don’t forget to download Globalization Partners’ free ebook: 

“The Workforce Reimagined: How to Make the Hybrid Model Work for Your Team.”

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