This article was originally published in Crunchbase.
Remote work is here to stay for many companies, especially in the technology sector, as we’ve seen public companies like Twitter, Dropbox and Square, and startups like GitHub and Upworthy commit to making work from home (WFH) a permanent option for every employee. More broadly, post-pandemic, about two-thirds of all companies plan to make WFH part of their employee handbook.
This reality holds a huge opportunity for organizations that are hiring in 2021. They can bring in a talent bench that’s built not just for this moment but for the digital-first decade ahead. For sales organizations in particular, the talent they hire today must understand how to build a pipeline and close deals through digital channels, and they will someday be sales managers who can pass on their online expertise.
The importance of all of that is irrefutable: According to a McKinsey report, 70% of B2B decision-makers are now open to making fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27% are fine with spending $500,000-plus in the same manner. Such statistics underscore why every salesperson is now an inside salesperson, a reality built from necessity in the last year.
Further, it’s understandable if companies are still trying to figure out how to build sales teams for this new era. While no one has all the answers yet, here are two important ways you can hire a virtual sales team that wins deals.
1. Rethink what ‘local’ means
Companies willing to hire fully remote employees jumped to 36% in September compared to just 12% before the pandemic. As a C-suite executive who has been in marketing and sales for two decades, it’s definitely going to be the case for our sector, which in recent years would have been more prone to having everyone show up in the office every day.
We’ve all had to get over needing office camaraderie and work in a different way, right? Companies have had to invest in tech — such as Gong, Guru and Zoom — to keep everyone connected. So, the minds of sales executives should be open to hiring the most talented candidates, even if they do not reside within a commute to one of the company offices. It’s all about hiring the right people and being more open about their location.
This forcing function has recreated a new hiring freedom that allows us to rethink what “local” means. If you are a San Francisco company like mine, it’s no longer necessary to recruit against Facebook or Google in Silicon Valley. Now, for me, the up-and-coming sales talent in play includes people living in Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Diego and other regional cities.
The only “local metric” necessary is time zones. While being in the office isn’t as important as before, sales and revenue teams are not going to want colleagues who are more than one or two time zones away. A post-pandemic sales org in New York, for instance, will likely look at Eastern Time locales like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina’s Research Triangle and Atlanta as hiring grounds for talent that doesn’t need to relocate. The same company can also now look to hire in Cleveland, Nashville, Minneapolis, Chicago and Austin.
The difference between ET and Central Time, one hour, will not be a deal-breaker. On the other hand, a two- or three-hour difference may be a bridge too far for many sales and revenue teams because they still need to keep in tight rhythm to perform at the highest level.
Bigger picture, the key opportunity is to hire the best talent — people who understand the sales process, pipeline and how to close deals — available within a reasonable distance. From there, you need to look for those with a ready-to-go toolkit for virtual selling.
2. Find new-media and data skills
Just 20% of B2B buyers want to return to in-person sales after the pandemic, while more than three-quarters of them say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement. In other words, you need to hire people who are committed to digital sales — impactful Zoom calls, data know-how and smart LinkedIn engagement — the way pros have developed the craft of phone-driven inside (in-office) sales and field sales for decades.
For Zoom, how people’s home office environment looks on video is important, of course, and that has been well-established on social and mainstream media. It’s vital that potential sales hires have high-speed internet for video calls. And one of the better ways to tell if a sales candidate is serious about being effective over Zoom is to notice if they virtually make direct eye contact during the interview. Eye contact still matters in 2021 sales; it’s just done differently over video. If your candidate looks directly into the camera — and not at the squares on the screen — when speaking, you already know they care about the kind of attention to detail that helps salespeople win online or offline.
On the attention-to-detail note: Quiz them about how they use data to power conversations from beginning to end during a sale, such as:
Next, connect with candidates on LinkedIn and then see if they offer professional content that is valuable to prospects and customers. If it’s clear they are building their personal brand with the buyer audience in a positive way, they check an important box in today’s sales world.
It’s these kinds of small things that — in this new online sales environment — can replace a likable, in-person nature or a gift for gab over dinner and drinks. And new-media skills can level the playing field for introverted people, who are often talented but tend to stay in the background when a group meets in person.
With that idea in mind, and now that living in San Francisco or New York isn’t necessary for top sales jobs, the pandemic is showing our industry the way toward being more inclusive. And that’s a deal we all need to close on.
With 20-plus years of experience, Qualified.com President and CRO Eric Sikola has been involved in building, growing and scaling some of the world’s most reputable brands. Last year, he joined Qualified.com from Acquia, which sold to Vista Equity for $1 billion in November 2019, where he served on the executive leadership team.