To put it as lightly as possible, COVID-19 came with its share of changes to day-to-day life — one of the most prominent being many organizations shifting to a remote work model. But as we (hopefully) move past the worst of the pandemic, the debate over whether companies should continue to let their employees work from home is becoming increasingly contentious.
How working remotely impacts employee productivity has been the subject of several studies — many of which appear to lean in remote work’s favor. But where does sales, as a field, stand in the context of that debate? Is remote sales more effective than in-house sales?
Here, we’ll take a closer look at that question, review some data (including insight from HubSpot’s recent survey of over 1,000 sales professionals), and go over some possible conclusions the facts might indicate. Let’s dive in.
Remote Work and Productivity
Whether remote work has an impact on employee productivity, in general, has been a hotly contested issue. Companies like Google have recently made pushes to bring their workforces back into the office part-time — moves that have received their share of pushback from impacted workers.
For the most part, people who shifted to remote work enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that comes with working from home. A survey of 2,050 full-time workers — across a range of fields — from Owl Labs had 84% of respondents say working remotely after the pandemic would make them happier, with many even willing to take a pay cut to continue to work from home.
And there’s evidence to suggest that remote work doesn’t significantly hamper employee productivity. 90% of respondents from that same survey said they were equally as (or even more) productive when working remotely — compared to when they worked in-house. And 55% said they worked more hours when working remotely than they did in-office.
So if you only consider that information, there appears to be a pretty compelling case for sales orgs to transition to a remote model. But you need to bear in mind that the data here isn’t specific to sales as a field, and that’s an important distinction to make — as there’s evidence to suggest that selling remotely might not be the best course for businesses.
How are sales orgs operating?
Before we dive into how effective remote selling is, it’s worth taking a look at how most sales orgs are operating nowadays. According to recent research from HubSpot, 46% of sales leaders say their sales orgs currently operate under a hybrid model. 37% say they operate in-person exclusively, and 18% are fully remote.
This coming year, 50% of those orgs will be hybrid. 32% will be in-person, and 17% will be fully remote. So what do those figures mean? Well, they indicate that several sales leaders are coming to see the value of remote work — but most still recognize that there’s a certain human element to sales that can’t be conveyed through remote efforts exclusively. And that perception makes even more sense when you consider how sales professionals feel about remote sales as a practice.
How Remote Sales Impacts Sales Professionals
Our survey of over 1,000 salespeople produced some interesting information about how remote work has impacted sales professionals’ roles, day-to-days, broader efforts, and interactions with prospects.
When asked how selling remotely has impacted their sales efforts, 36% of respondents said selling remotely has made their job easier. 21% said it made selling harder, and 43% said it had no impact on their ability to sell.
These figures aren’t exactly in keeping with the results from Owl Labs’ survey of general professionals — where 90% of employees across a range of fields said remote work improved productivity.
This might indicate that productivity in sales — as a practice — isn’t swayed as strongly by remote work as it is in other fields. Working remotely seems to naturally fold into sales roles without too much traction in either direction. That said, there’s evidence to suggest that remote selling isn’t the most effective avenue salespeople can take.
46% of our survey’s respondents said selling remotely is less effective than in-person sales — compared to 23% who said it was more effective and 31% who said it was the same.
As I touched on in the previous section, sales involves a certain human element that can get lost through virtual sales. A study from RAIN Group found that only 26% of buyers believe sellers are skilled at leading a thorough needs discovery remotely — 84% of buyers say sellers are ineffective at explaining ROI virtually.
Ultimately, sales is an extremely personal, consultative practice. It involves more direct engagement and interaction with prospects than most other fields. Selling remotely can add a virtual barrier between sellers and potential customers, obstructing a salesperson’s ability to be as helpful a resource as possible for those prospects — ultimately making remote sales less effective.
With all that in mind, there are certain exceptions to that trend — ones that rest on the technology and customer experience model sales orgs leverage.
In our survey, 41% of CRM users said that remote selling has made it easier for them to sell — compared to 23% of non-users. And 53% of sellers whose organizations operate under a flywheel model said remote selling has made their jobs easier, relative to 35% of salespeople whose companies use the sales funnel model.
What does this mean for you?
At the end of the day, how remote selling impacts your day-to-day or the success of your efforts rests on several factors. What you’re selling, the nature of your sales process, your industry, your sales org’s structure, your company’s scale, your sales leadership’s priorities, and your personal preferences will all play into how seamlessly and effectively you can leverage remote sales.
Some sales professionals are naturally cut out for remote sales while others thrive more in-person. It’s ultimately on you to learn where you fall on that spectrum and be the best salesperson you can be.