Having spent more than half my life working in B2B technology sales, I take a professional approach to sales and try to use technology to gain leverage. For any sales organization that’s trying to generate revenue though, it’s essential to have the right kind of people on the ground.
This is even more important when you’re dealing with remote teams who are trying to sell into different regions. You need people that are invested in their role and the company, people who are actively trying to solve their prospects’ problems in that part of the world.
But should you hire your next salesperson, or outsource the sales process to a team? How can you keep your remote teams motivated? Is outsourcing a good way to save money? Here’s what I’ve discovered.
Outsourced vs. employed sales talent
Many people think that anyone who’s on an external contract can’t possibly be dedicated to their job, that they’re somehow automatically inferior as salespeople. To me, that’s a backward way of thinking about talent. Instead, it’s better to find the right talent, then take them on in a way that makes the most sense for your company.
For example, if you’re a US-based company looking for greater growth in your current location, it will usually make more sense to have employees. On the other hand, if you’re looking to expand to other countries, learning about—and implementing—foreign labor laws, taxation, etc. might not be the most efficient use of your time. In this situation, a contractual model (either with an intermediary company that provides access to contractors or working directly with contractors) can be more effective.
This means growing companies can have a lot more flexibility in how they’re organized and can keep things simple when moving into international markets. Rather than registering as a local legal entity, opening an office—potentially with a physical location and all the costs associated with that—and then finding employees, you can work with contractors based in the area you want to sell to.
While it won’t be cheaper in terms of talent costs (more on that later), it is definitely cheaper when it comes to the setup costs. Then, when the number of accounts and clients is large enough to justify having a local legal entity, those contractors can transfer over to being employees, if they wish to do so.
It’s not that either contract type is better than the other. The best contract will depend on your particular situation. What’s critical is that you figure out your situation and then use the right kind of contract for the role.
Motivating your remote sales team
To keep motivation high, the first step is to treat everyone the same. Employees and external contractors should have the same workloads, the same compensation and so on. Some companies have a tendency to place greater demands on external contractors because they feel it’s less critical to keep them happy. However, if you want to preserve that talent and maintain longevity in your team, you can’t have people feel like they’re being treated unfairly. Instead, they should always feel that they’re part of the same team, no different from an employee.
You should also ensure you have the right tools and procedures in place for communication with any remote workers, both as teams and on an individual level. It can be tricky, especially when you’re dealing with different time zones, but sales organizations that don’t keep on top of communication lose inclusivity and performance inevitably suffers. For example, pre-COVID it wasn’t unusual to see companies with an office-based team in America while one salesperson was abroad and left to work on their own. The team in the office will have those water-cooler moments, catching up over coffee, all that good stuff, while the one person abroad is trying their best to make it work by themselves. That can get really lonely, and very few people are cut out for that.
When you include people in everything going on in the company, you get much better results. Your salespeople are more likely to feel that the company is committed to them and is genuinely interested in their input. When a person can see that they’re being treated with respect, rather than a machine that has to shut up and produce, they’ll willingly go the extra distance for their team. Alongside access to the resources they need to be successful, this contributes to greater motivation over the long term.
Naturally, the opposite is also true. When a company’s decision-making is top-down and their actions aren’t aligned with the strategy that’s been communicated to the team members, people will see the misalignment. If there’s no communication, they’ll start to question what’s going on, leading to confusion and conspiracy theories; not the kind of environment that’s conducive to motivation.
Choosing the right kind of talent for your sales team
When deciding on how you’ll manage your sales team, you need to keep in mind what kind of selling you do, what kind of talent you need, and how you want talent to transition through the organization.
Some sales organizations view parts of their team, usually the SDRs, as a disposable resource. If you’re in transactional sales, with short sales cycles, product benefits that are easy to communicate, and you’re solving a well-known problem with well-known technology, then you might be able to get away with treating sales strictly as a numbers game.
On the other hand, if you have to take a consultative sales approach—where you’re talking about technology that isn’t mature or that solves a problem that isn’t recognized by many—then you need to invest more in the quality of your sales approach. You need salespeople with better communication skills, people who can evangelize about the importance of both the problem and the solution. As you can imagine, finding salespeople with those specific qualities is much harder. Once you have someone with those skills, it’s worth looking after them so that they stick around.
In addition, you have to consider your company’s brand. What kind of reputation do you want to have? Do you want to be seen as a company that treats their SDRs like cannon fodder? Or do you help your team grow, preparing them to be your account executives and sales managers of tomorrow?
When you give your SDRs the opportunity to grow their career with your company, they’ll feel more valued and be more loyal.
Is outsourcing a good way to save money on sales talent?
Recently I was having a conversation with the founder of a software company that was in growth mode. He wanted to outsource their sales because he thought he could save money by paying less for talent. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.
In order to do sales right, you need to be able to clear three hurdles:
- Time zone differences
- Cultural differences
- Language differences
To sell effectively, especially if you’re selling something that’s a little complex and/or expensive, you need to use people from whatever part of the world you’re selling to. For example, some cultures expect you to get straight to the point, whereas in others that’s not the way to do business.
If you’re trying to outsource to an offshore sales team to save money, they won’t be as successful as someone who doesn’t have to worry about those three hurdles. Even if they can go through ten times as many prospects for the same money, they’re unlikely to win the same number of deals. As a result, you’re going to end up paying whatever the price for talent in that country is, whether they’re employees or contractors. You might save money by outsourcing, but you won’t get the results you’re looking for. Trying to skimp on the cost of talent itself is a bad idea for organizations looking to grow.
It can be tricky building a remote sales team, especially if you’re trying to break into a new market. To increase your chances of success, start by finding the right talent for your objectives, take them on using whatever form of contract that makes the most sense, then keep them motivated by treating them fairly and communicating with them regularly.
Jakob Thusgaard is the founder and CEO at YourSales, helping companies around the world increase their growth with outsourced sales teams.