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6 risks to not embracing fully or partially remote sales professionals

Last week I had dinner with one of my clients and 3 of his reps that we had placed in his firm over the past 6 months. We started talking about differentiators of his firm as an employer in the eyes of prospective candidates. I told him that one major differentiator for his firm was that they were literally our only client to fully embrace remote working. Not one of his 20 plus enterprise sales organization worked out of an official company office. My client was surprised to hear that this would be such a unique setup but the reality is that most earlier stage firms prefer to focus on building up sales culture in centralized hubs like NYC or SF and often refuse to interview candidates that want full or partial remote work situations. In our experience, those requests are on the rise amongst our candidates. The irony is that far more established technology firms are generally more progressive in their embrace of remote working. My old employer, BT, for example, implemented a flexible work-from-home policy in the UK 15 years ago! Salesforce, Adobe and Cisco are streets ahead in this regard. Startups have a long way to go to catch up (if they want to, that is).

I do, however, completely understand where these startup sales leaders are coming from. The most common reason I hear from my CRO clients is that startups, way more so than established firms, need to build up a sense of comradery, teamwork and a shared mission in their sales team and that is more achievable from having everyone under one roof. They also often need to tweak and pivot their message on the fly and that is far more easily disseminated and shared in a centralized work environment. Also, at their earlier stage, these startups tend to structure their sales teams to be hunting optimized (where there a division of labor between SDRs, Closing and farming reps). These structures tend to work better when everyone is in the same room. These are all good reasons to keep everything in one pace, but by centralizing sales hubs and not taking on remote workers that you need to be aware of what you might be missing out on. That opportunity cost includes:

  1. Missing out on Rockstars who have historically out-performed their peers both quota and w-2 wise while working remotely. These folks generally find a way to be successful without necessarily being “fully” exposed to your or their previous employers’ sales culture through direct, constant office presence.
  2. Missing out on true enterprise-ready sales talent. Most startups want to sell at the enterprise level – and if they are not there yet, they at least aspirationally want to do so. It takes at least 10 years of sales to really “get” enterprise sales through experience (and selling the right product for the right company). That puts enterprise-ready sellers in their early to mid-thirties. Often, at that phase in their lives, they can’t afford to live in major cities -certainly if they want to get on the property ladder with real estate prices where they are at in NYC and SF. Some won’t mind commuting but most will appreciate the flexibility of full or partial remote working as they can put turn their wasted commuting time into work and focus their travel time on visiting clients. By having a blanket policy that doesn’t accept remote working, you will, by definition, have a less diverse sales team by age and cumulative experience.
  3. Being less prepared when you ultimately, for practical reasons, need to grow out your business to include local representation in regional hubs like Chicago, LA, Dallas. Managing remote sellers is a skill that can be a distraction early on but does help when you need to expand to the regions later.
  4. Facing more competition to attract talent in major cities. By focusing in on a narrower pool you may be compromising with less qualified candidates for enterprise sales (see #2) and you may end up overpaying for their services as they may cost more relative to their experience. The opportunity cost of your time if they don’t work out, can’t be underestimated.
  5. Getting less loyalty from your people. Remote or partially remote employees appreciate the flexibility and are loyal because of it. Truly remote reps that live far outside of major cities also, by definition, have far less job options than major city-dwellers so they are less likely to jump in good or tough times – just ask a remote enterprise sales rep in Florida how much they get hit up on Linkedin by recrutiers versus someone from the same company in NYC or San Francisco.
  6. Hiring faster. Expanding your potential hiring pool to include fully and partially remote candidates and you will be able to hire more efficiently and effectively.

These are just a few of the reasons you might want to also embrace remote or partial remote sellers in your next hiring wave.