Managing the Mysterious Remote Sales Rep

By Suzanne Paling

The first few months with your newly-hired field rep go well. With prior industry and remote field sales experience, the rep catches on quickly. You fly out to his  territory and accompany him on some sales calls, which go very well.

Then things start to go downhill. He frequently misses the weekly staff meeting conference call. A customer service rep (CSR) complains about difficulties reaching him. Now that you think about it, the remote sales rep has yet to return your most recent email.

When you speak directly with the rep, he has a plausible explanation for everything – including car trouble and a recent rainstorm knocking down a tree in his front yard. You pass these explanations on to the CSR. But the problems start cropping up again. You feel as if you’re losing control of the situation. What do you do?

Though painful to accept, the remote sales rep likely has a challenge of some sort he didn’t disclose to you during the interview process. These could include:

  • Second job
  • Addiction
  • Debt
  • Health issues
  • Family issues
  • Intrusive hobby

For sales leaders in this difficult situation, I recommend the following.

Find the Pattern

Look at login times and CRM usage. My clients – after first refusing to believe a remote sales rep would be deceitful – say to me, “Oh. You were right. She doesn’t log in until 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday,” or, “He never logs any activity after 2 p.m.”

Speak with Customers

Go through the rep’s account list and call several of his most important customers. Ask how they like working with the new rep. Inquire about the frequency of visits. Many sales leaders find that a salesperson logging three in-person calls into the CRM may have actually met with the account only once – or not at all.

Keep a Log

Remote reps not doing their job tend to have a lot of drama in their lives: pet emergencies, sick relatives, traffic jams, and IT issues – ten times the number of the average person. Create a spreadsheet and record all the dates/times/specifics of the various scenarios. You may need the information later on.

An Important Question

Once you’ve done your due diligence, speak with the rep. Calmly ask, “Would anything prevent you from working the company’s stated hours of Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.?”

Reps may react to this question by talking non-stop, acting indignant, or remaining silent. Don’t react yourself or argue – just listen. Once you ask this question, the rep knows that you know. Believe me; you’ve made your point.

Taking Action

Give the rep a few days and see what happens. Some reps stay on until you terminate them; others resign. A few come clean – admitting to a difficulty or conflict of some kind. Regardless, you have all your facts and can choose between helping the rep solve the problem (if that’s even possible) or beginning the disciplinary action process.

Suzanne Paling of Sales Management Services provides sales management advice and coaching to company and sales leaders seeking to increase revenue by improving their sales organization’s performance. Her latest book, The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver (Career Press, Nov. 2016) and Winner of the 2016 USA Book News Awards Business: Sales category, offers solutions for 15 common sales management dilemmas.

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