Here’s a debate that divides opinion and it’s raging like a wildfire inside many businesses today. Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban home working when she joined Yahoo fanned the flames of the fire and brought the question into sharp focus.
Advances in technology have made it very easy to for salespeople today to work from almost any location, pervasive access to low cost devices and communications infrastructure keep them connected wherever they may be. You don’t have to look back too many years to recall salespeople keeping customer records on 6×4 cards, or a few years later by dial-up access to centralised systems on painfully slow laptop’s. These days almost everyone is mobile with real time access to customer information stored in their CRM in the cloud and accessed via a device that sits in the palm of your hand.
So what’s the answer to the question “should the sales team be home or office based?” The answer is … it depends!
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s put Inside Sales to one side for a moment and focus on external, field based sales people.
I believe that salespeople, at least those who are sufficiently motivated and engaged in their roles, can be more productive if supported and enabled to work from their home office. They are in the privileged position of having control over their environment, are able to use their time more flexibly and are often more efficient as they don’t have to endure a painful commute every morning and evening. All really positive reasons to support home working.
Yet working from home can be tough and there are some really positive reasons why you should consider having your sales team based in the company’s office regardless of how easy technology has made things :-
- Working from home can be lonely, it takes a strong, confident, motivated salesperson to be disciplined enough to focus on the job in hand and not get distracted when the going gets tough. After a series of rejections where things just aren’t going their way (everyone has these periods) will the salesperson find themselves taking a break with a cup of coffee sitting in front of “Homes under the Hammer” !
- On-boarding new team members is more difficult, especially in a complex organisation with lots to learn. There is little difference during the initial on-boarding stage but once the classroom training is over then they start to fall behind peers who are office based. If new sales team members are not closely connected to their peers and colleagues throughout their ramp period then it’s more difficult for them to learn and share knowledge. They can find themselves in a situation of not knowing what they don’t know. Non office based sales people almost always take longer to become productive and the propensity for failure is higher.
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker). Well it’s far more difficult to create a cohesive, positive culture if your team works from their home office. The bonding that happens around an office, the beer or two after work, the lunchtime table tennis competitions etc. all help to create a truly supportive team, home workers miss out on all of these and unless specific actions are taken to include them in culture building activities they are in danger of turning into Lone Wolves.
The answer to the question is that a one size fits all solution does not exist, experienced sales team members who are well connected within your organisation could well find that being home based adds to their motivation and delivers an upswing in performance. Salespeople who are less experienced and still learning the ropes within your company will find themselves learning faster and being more productive if they are closely connected with colleagues every day.
My advice if you’re a sales manager grappling with this question is critically assess each person or situation independently against a predetermined framework. The framework should include data points on role, experience, knowledge, capability, performance and behavioural traits. Make your decisions consistently using the framework with your teams performance as the defining factor and you should find yourself being able to navigate your way through the conundrum.