Managing Remote Sales Forces

This is the write-up from the first in our series of virtual coffee breaks – designed to provide a caffeine-enriched forum for discussion amongst senior executives who might otherwise be going stir-crazy during this period of lockdown. 

The topic for this first session was: ‘How to use AI, behavioural science and gamification to manage and motivate remote sales forces’ and our guest speaker was Simon Wheeldon – the Chief Customer Officer at CloudApps.

CloudApps is a sales effectiveness and accuracy company, helping sales managers predict and improve sales results using AI and behavioural science. 

What are some of the challenges facing sales teams currently?

Simon began the call by talking about some of the unique challenges presented by these difficult times. In particular, how to sell and, indeed, whether to sell at all: this is clearly a time to be asking clients how you can help, rather than whether they want to buy your products. 

CloudApps themselves switched to (part-time) working from home some time ago and now they are finding they’re busier than ever, working even more closely than usual with their customers, helping sales teams make this very sudden shift to working from home.

They’ve seen some initial excitement at the novelty of working from home, quickly giving way to a level of anxiety and loneliness. So, their focus has been on finding ways to help as much as possible, both at the individual and managerial level. 

One immediate consequence of the current circumstances, in which revenues (the traditional lag-indicator of sales performance) are supressed, is a rapid acceleration in the shift to measuring leading indicators of sales performance. These are KPI’s such as: the number and quality of opportunities coming into the pipeline; number of leads followed-up; time to close; customer success; customer loyalty etc. 

Really forward-thinking sales managers are taking this one step further to see how they can understand and drive the behaviours that drive these leading indicators (i.e. things you do, rather than just things you measure). These are behaviours like: putting in the customer calls to ask how you can help; following up on your leads; researching your competitors etc. 

Of course, to do this effectively you need the data. There’s a powerful analogy here with the way data is used to drive performance in sport. This is the heart of the CloudApps approach, helping organisations maximise their investment in by extracting the data that gives sales managers the intelligence they need to drive the performance of their teams.

How gamifying behaviours can help

The key focus right now is helping individuals who are working remotely, especially in organisations that are ramping up with temporary staff. One way to do this is by running competitions wrapped around the right behaviours. For example:

  • Vodafone’s 350 strong digital sales team in Ireland, who are used to working in an extremely communal environment, are now all working from home; they are participating in daily and weekly competitions which are helping to maintain engagement. 

These competitions are usually around a combination of KPI’s and behaviours. CloudApps often start by drawing a mapping that shows which behaviours drive which lead-indicators which drive which lag-indicators. You can then pick half-a-dozen or so of the key behaviours to really get the focus and control you want. 

By gamifying these behaviours (which might be things like putting in the “can I help you?” call to your customers) you can really help to motivate sales people who might otherwise be struggling to maintain a sense of self-worth because they’re falling short of their (lag-indicator) revenue targets. You can also include a few fun themes that might make working from home more enjoyable. 

Many companies are naturally falling back on measuring what their people are doing, and when they are doing it – which can provide a great foundation for coaching them, as long as you are cognisant that some people will be finding this quite difficult. 

People are also being highly creative, coming up with new ways of working. These ideas need to be tested: if you shift behaviour in this particular way, does it have the right impact? In this way you can keep the good ideas and weed out the ones that are not working.

Another challenge companies are experiencing right now, is how to focus limited, and in some cases very much reduced, resources on the best opportunities. Again, the data is there in the CRM systems. AI can find patterns in what has worked well before that will help you focus your resources in the most effective way. 

What are the right things to be doing and measuring now?

Towards the end of the call, the discussion moved on to what are the right things to be doing and measuring right now. The best approach is probably to focus measurement around the business context, rather than the basic activities. So, measure whether people have followed up their leads, rather than how many emails they’ve written or phone calls they’ve made. (On this last point, it was observed that many potential customers are quite possibly sitting at home right now and would be glad of a phone call.) 

There is also the question of how to prioritise activities and opportunities and the extent to which potential customers are becoming saturated and annoyed by covid-19 related sales messages. The general consensus was neatly encapsulated by one participant who said his company has moved from “always be closing” to “always be helping”. This is definitely a time to be asking your clients, genuinely, how can I serve you? 

To help unify dispersed sales teams and maintain productivity and morale, CloudApps are offering their Motivation platform and associated services free for 3 months. For more information and to request access simply visit:

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