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Remote Workers Working Remotely in a Remote Office – Part II

In my first post about working remotely, it focused on what should be happening at the mother ship to ensure the remote worker successfully started in their new position.

But “remote” is a bidirectional communication. The home office needs to communicate and connect to the remote office, but the remote office/worker needs to communicate and feel connected to the home office.

Too many times when a company hires a remote worker, I see an unexpressed conflict. The company hires a remote sales resource under the auspices of growing the company but what they really want is a mercenary. The employee takes the job under the auspices the company wants to grow and that the company will provide support to that end. The company wants someone to go into the territory–independent of company culture and without any supporting company-based background–and begin producing sales. They want the sales rep to “crush the competition” “steal sales away” “bust into the territory” and other pugilistic possibilities. They want for someone to establish a name for the company in that new territory as quickly as possible.

Now I can hear your collective brains buzzing, “What’s wrong with that?” And for both the newly hired and the newly hiring, there is nothing wrong as of yet, except the gap between what’s discussed before hiring and what happens after hiring is like looking into a reflection pool. Not the reflection part so much, but what’s lurking underneath. How deep is that water under the surface? I may see the reflection of the company on top, but is it supported? Is this freshly minted corporate mercenary presenting the best foot forward for what the customer needs–and what the customer expects? How should the remote worker communicate to the mother ship what they are doing? And, if they are doing it correctly and to expected corporate standard.

This goes back to the previous post, but by instilling culture and expectations the company looks to see that message spread from the rep to the customer. And just like parenting, after initial hand holding by the mother ship and then giving progressively more autonomy, the company transfers its corporate image and beliefs, and the remote worker has a better chance of reflecting that image in their local market.

So I said the remote worker should be communicating to the corporate office, but what should they be communicating? Here’s where it gets a little complicated for me to explain, and not sound like I’m completely tap dancing, but the remote worker needs a neutral resource to which they communicate their activity, their efforts and their plan–in short, a mentor. Not their manager, but someone at HQ who knows the systems, understands what the worker is trying to do (in this case, sales) and give them perspective and guidance. This allows a conduit for the remote worker to HQ, as well as a way for corporate culture to be shone back upon our remote newbie. And, we don’t have to use the same mentor all the time and paring only one-to-one, but use more than one mentor and expose our remote guy (or gal) to others in the organization as well.

I’ll probably write about mentors in sales operations at a later date, but there is a reason people need mentors: they don’t come into a position knowing everything. I’ve heard it stated that for experienced hires, companies hire someone with 60% – 80% of the desired skill set expecting to train for the remaining needed skills. That means the new hire is still lacking 20% – 40% of the knowledge needed. So this begs the question, how are you treating your remote employees? Or if you are remote, how are you being treated? Now, reverse the ask on those two questions. Open communication between the remote employee and the company HQ will only make things better. And that, in the end, will bring more sales, and ultimately enable better Sales Operations.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Remote Workers Working Remotely in Remote Offices – Part I

Siberia. So Cold. Brrrrr… At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

When I was growing up, I would always hear the threat that if someone in Russia (technically then the U.S.S.R.) did something wrong they would be shipped off to Siberia.

I never quite understood why. When I asked my father, he would say because it was so cold and remote. And like the kid that I was (admit it, that we all were), I didn’t really think about what that meant–until I had to do a little research on it and found out what “cold” and “remote” really were and where Siberia really was.

When someone was sent to Siberia, it was to do two things: Punish them and remove them. The former Soviet Union didn’t dilly dally here, if you were considered a dissident, you were unceremoniously shipped off to the frozen wasteland via a train on a trip which could take up to nine days to get to the destination. Nine days. That certainly was remote. And during winters, the temperature would hover around -35F. Ouch.

So, when one looks at working remotely for a company, is the company punishing the individual? or do they really want them to perform?

As businesses grow, typically they want to expand into territories and grow their footprint. Placing local bodies there is really important, because local resources know local buyers. Kind of like the dictum, “Promote from within the company”* my corollary would be “Hire from within the territory”. As businesses expand they should place people in the territory that are from the territory. It simply gives a leg up to that worker and to that business.

But since every business has a culture, and has people which create that culture, it is really important not to unintentionally ostracize those individuals who can’t participate in the HQ culture. Especially those who work solo and/or remotely. If you want to ensure they are in sync with your company goals and doings, you need to make sure the employee is somehow fed enough culture to feel a little more warm and snuggly.

One of the best ways is to have your remote employee(s) come to the corporate headquarters once or twice a year. Also highly recommended is to have people other than the immediate supervisor come visit them at least once a year. While this may seem expensive, if it increases sales and productivity, then the cost will be offset. In the same vein, if you choose to save the cash, make sure to calculate the cost of onboarding and ramping a new employee.

In my last job working for a Value Added Reseller, initially the company had an all-hands summer meeting and an all-hands winter meeting. While I was working remotely, my management would come down once a year to our satellite office and work from there a couple of days, and I always had a parade of engineers coming through for various projects, even though most of my projects were handled by my local engineer.

Then, the vibe changed and there was no longer a summer meeting. While I wasn’t a fan of spending time going over a pages of company data, the afterhours portion of the meeting connected me to the other sales people in the company, as well as the inside sales people I spent so many hours on the phone with correcting processes, and allowed me to interact with the back office staff whom I spoke to on the phone but rarely face-to-face. It allowed me to see people interact with others, hear snippets of gossip, and feel like I was a contributing cog of the machine. And then, with no corporate meeting, I wasn’t. As new people were brought in for the various back office and inside roles, I had to create new relationships based upon nothing but what I needed.  It took at least twice as long to get into a groove and develop rapport, and even then I found myself going back to those I had worked with originally since I trusted them. And trust with my new people could have similarly achieved with a couple of beers onsite.

Why does this matter? Because people don’t just work for a paycheck. Productivity goes up when people feel they are part of a team or cause. And when people work remotely, they are in their own special bubble. In someways they are insulated from office politics and the day-to-day shuffle which can distract from their job, but they also are blind to corporate decisions, discussions and determinations. They have no say and aren’t asked for one–because no one knows them.

And, like Cheers, in the end what they really want is a place where everybody knows their name.

*We will be covering the topic of Promote from Within in a different post.

Any better ideas for remote workers? I’m always interested in learning.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations – Front Office vs. Back Office – Getting Paid, Part II

Last week I talked about processes internally for taking an order to fulfillment so sales gets paid. Knowing you have dutifully addressed all the bumps and burrs impeding your order processing in the past week, I want to address the next big looming issue: Customer Payment.

Let’s go back to last week at Company X where the sales rep has received a PO. The order gets processed and pushed through the back office, the customer has received their product and/or services, and they have been invoiced.

What happens next? In an ideal world, the customer receives your invoice, smiles at the thought of the good work or product you’ve provided, and then happily cuts a check. And Company X, in turn, excitedly rewards the sales rep by paying the rep their commission due.

Did you notice a lot of smiling and a lot of processes happening? Daisy-chained together and executed without a lapse? Unfortunately, in our more accurate world, the customer hasn’t paid, for any number of reasons, and now the invoice is thirty-days old, the goods and/or services are sixty days past delivery–meaning the customer only has a vague remembrance of Company X–and you, the sales rep, haven’t seen a dime of commission.

How does this get rectified? In a sweeping generalization, many of these issues need to be dealt with up front. And I don’t mean in PO language (a topic for another post). I mean, talking to the customer about how an order gets processed, who on their side of the company touches it and ushers it through, and what obstacles loom which could stop your company from getting paid.

Herein lies the rub. This part of the typical sales cycle is either brushed aside or avoided because it is uncomfortable. It makes the rep anxious as they don’t want to be presumptive of the sale, and it makes the customer irritated, because of the aforementioned (potentially) but also this is typically not an area of expertise and they don’t have the knowledge or understanding to answer these questions.

One of the recommendations which was made to me by one of my former managers and a mentor to me, is to have the customer purchase something small from you. Whatever you can consider “small”, it is more the exercise in getting the flywheel moving so when the big purchase comes through, the axles are greased, the engine is ready at idle, and the wheels are ready to roll.

Why? Most companies have myriad documents to sign before they can engage in business. Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) and Master Service Agreements (MSA) are two big ones. Ask to see a copy of the company’s PO, especially if it may contain additional language. Many times customers will state their payment terms on their PO. It is quite a surprise to send in your quote which states payment is expected within 30 days of invoicing, and see this trumped by the customer’s PO which states that the customer will pay within 45 or even 60 days of invoicing.

To hammer the PO language catch example home, a former customer of mine had a clause on its PO which stated that if the customer paid within 30 days, they would take a 3% discount off the invoiced amount. We always received payment from the company on the 29th day. Another customer paid for services on a different timeline than goods–60 days versus 30 days. Each of these smells a little rank in terms of ethics, and due to the fast paced nature of business, these iniquities were allowed–with a lot of grumbling. Only when the customer was addressed about the difficulties their policies presented to us did they relent. But if we would have known about this upfront, the surprise for me and my back office would have been a lot less.

While many companies use their purchasing policy to create a mechanism for “float” it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have done the homework and asked the questions up front, you should be able to alleviate many of the speed bumps which get your company paid and you receiving commissions.

Of course, there is much more which can be done, but consider this is a musing’s first blush.

Your task for this week? Go to that customer who is always slow to pay. Ask them if there is anything you can do on your side to get them to pay on time. And if possible, help them streamline their process.

Any better ideas for Front Office vs. Back Office? I’m always interested in learning.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations – Front Office vs. Back Office – Getting Paid, Part I

One of my early sales managers used to say, “The sale isn’t final until you get paid.” And he meant me getting paid, not the company. And after many years of doing sales, I found out he spoke the truth. Why is this important in the understanding of Sales Operations? Because the entire company runs on the back of what is sold.

Jeffrey Gitomer says, “Nothing happens until somebody makes a sale.” (I’m paraphrasing here, but run with it) Loosely translated, a company has to sell something to have a company: to make payroll, to invest in marketing, to pay salaries, to have admin and HR and…the list goes on and on. But what is meant to be understood but not stated, is that your customer has to pay you for whatever has been sold for all the aforementioned to happen.

This is a critical piece. It can’t be emphasize enough how important it is to recognize getting paid for whatever has been sold completes the sale. And why am I emphasizing this so much? Because there are a lot of factors which can impede getting paid, and many of them reside within your company.

Let’s run with a scenario. At Company X, when a sales rep gets a purchase order, excitement reigns. Dollar signs flash in the reps’ eyes as they think of commissions, swimming pools and movie stars. But the PO only represents a promise to pay–first the customer needs to receive the goods or services ordered. So next step after the PO, in most companies, is the rep enters the order into a system. From there, it usually goes to various and sundry hands for further massaging and parsing to ensure the proper goods and/or services are delivered to the customer.

Here’s where Sales Operations can shine or stumble. In Six Sigma*, scrutinizing the manufacturing line for places where things can or do go wrong is expected. In sales, the process for order fulfillment is more like an archaeological dig, where process which were in place when the company started still exist, and things like root suckers appear, added on like riders to congressional bills wending their way through the approval process. People (management, administrators, the reps themselves) add approval check boxes, form distributions, departmental approvals and eventually, you have a mess.

To achieve the best process, streamlined and elegant, companies should strive for one version of the truth. When the rep places the order, all necessary information to complete the sale is captured up front. (In my ideal world, when the rep identifies the prospect, this data is entered into the CRM or crosschecked/confirmed against data if it is existing). Billing address, shipping address, PO number, contacts for billing, contacts for receiving, contacts for payment resolution, the name of the end user–whatever is needed to make sure the order can be processed. And, it should be set up in such a way that information which is needed repeatedly or will be used again doesn’t have to manually entered each time–the more times a number, address, name, value, etc. has to be entered, the greater the chance there will eventually be a mistake.

In many companies, streamlining the process is difficult because the system which is set up has too many people involved to initiate an order. In other companies, initiating the order is easy, but pushing it through the levels of approval requires hand holding by the rep–taking him or her away from their original job description, which is selling.

So with all of this back office process, what is the ultimate goal of the company and the sales representative?

To get paid.

Are you sure your processes are leading to this ultimate goal?

Now, think about things at your company. Is the same true? Are there processes in place which you know are unneeded but because there is still a blank field on the page you make someone enter a value–any value–because you haven’t gotten rid of it?

Your task this week: walk a few orders through your process from start to finish. Question everything. See if there aren’t some things which could be pared down, combined or left out completely.

And begin to make the changes which enable Smart Sales Operations.

*For great reading on Six Sigma applied to knowledge workers, I highly recommend reading Dan Markovitz’s blog:

More on Front Office v. Back Office next week.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

Onboarding – Smart Sales Operations

Onboarding is the set of processes companies have in place to bring on new hires. In the computer and networking world, this includes provisioning and access to necessary systems. But there is more than just getting the new hire an e-mail address. For instance, what happens when a new sales rep gets hired? Do you have a rigorous process? or do you wing it?

What happens at your company? And what happened to your new hires in the past? And after reading this, what are your plans for future hires?

Apple is famous for its user friendliness, whether it be hardware or software, and Apple receives praise for the simplicity and functionality of its designs. And because people at Apple think about how something is or will be used, a lot of problems which an end user would potentially have encountered are circumvented. Through use testing, glitches are identified and eliminated. The burrs which would blister the experience are smoothed.

One story I remember* regarding Apple was their packaging strategy for their early systems. When the end user received their new computer and opened the box, Apple led them through it using a string. Yes, a string. Once the lid was open, the top sheet had a string attached to it, and as the user pulled things out of the box, the string connected each piece sequentially so that the owner set up the monitor, the power and the CPU in proper order, and when completed, turned on a fully functioning system. Even if the end user had no idea what each part was or where things went, Apple’s system eliminated the guesswork of putting together the computer.

That string is really a kinesthetic checklist. And I’m a big believer in checklists. If you have the chance, I recommend reading Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. It is a great guide to looking at situations where checklists can be implemented, and in many of Gawande’s examples, save lives.

So back to onboarding. Is there a checklist in place? One which describes the steps which should happen as a person is brought into a company? A series of checklists can and should be in place for all aspects of the new hire process, such as interviewing, first day, first week, first quarter and first year.

For example, interviewing:
Have they filled out an application?
Spoken to the correct people in the area which they will work?
Gotten rubber stamped by the hiring chain of command?
Been tendered an offer letter?
Have they accepted?
Set a start date?

Once they’ve set a start date, does the company have an internal checklist to get things done? Most companies think of obvious things like health benefits and payroll, but what about laptops, cell phones, and business cards? What about training? In our current era of “faster, faster”, many times companies leave out things because they believe it only takes up time, but what they are really doing is increasing the ramp up time.

How? Because they aren’t giving the new hire the tools to be successful internally. What makes someone become part of a company? Is it because they are given an employee ID? Or is it because they interact with HR, engineers, other sales people and admin.

One company where I started many years ago, I sat for three weeks without a working laptop. When I got my laptop I was told to order business cards–and I didn’t know how to do that and no one had taken time to write it down. All processes were tribal knowledge–and I wasn’t part of the tribe quite yet.

Action item for the week: look at your onboarding process and determine if you take a new hire completely through your company’s processes–with no assumptions of “they should know how to do that”–because many won’t.

You don’t want your new hire to be waiting around for three weeks to start becoming one of your team.

*I say remember because I can’t confirm it’s true–please correct me if I’m wrong!

More on onboarding later. Next week we begin Front Office v. Back Office.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

Smart Sales Operations

Well, it happened. I finally had enough and decided I had to take out my frustrations by hammering tiny little keys with my angry fingers.

“Enough? Enough of what?” you may ask. Enough of letting the small things become the big impediments which ruin my sales and my ability to sell. Things which companies can easily control that affect the sale, but most of the time never try to correct or even identify.

I’m talking about Sales Operations.

This blog will deal with using Smarts to produce operations which enable sales. Processes,  process, progress. The infrastructure of selling. I have been a vocal proponent of sales infrastructure long before things like CRM became mainstream. And before I attacked my keyboard, I did a little research on the current state of Sales Operations and the information available for Sales Operations. There wasn’t much. If there was some it was usually tied to a product. While it would be great if I were to be hired to consult, my real goal is to make you, the reader, really think about the operations which are in motion behind the sales person and a sale.

This will not deal with any selling methodology, that is, the how, the why, the close or the cold call and various topics around sales methodology. That topic has been and continues to be covered by a lot of individuals and companies–some who are right, and some who think they are right. Although some methodology might creep into my noodling, my focus is concerning the administration and tracking and enabling which goes hand-in-hand with sales; I rarely see it given a proper nod in acknowledgement of its criticality.

I liken it to architecting infrastructure. We are incredibly dependent upon background services like plumbing, electricity and climate control. These pieces of physical infrastructure work in the background and our expectations are very high for up-time, with little tolerance (emotionally or physically) for downtime. These conveniences run in the background of our life, and we rarely think about them, but when they go down or are impeded in some way, we know. A stoppage makes us realize how interwoven these services are in our life, and how one hiccup creates a cascade effect of issues.

So, to further extend the analogy…

Without really realizing it, people worry a lot about pooping. Not everyone is having outright conversations about pooping, but there are commercials for toilet bowl cleaners so one has a clean potty to poop in, the Squatty Potty so they can be more effective at pooping, commercials for laxatives, fiber boosters, constipation relievers (to start the pooping process), and lots of marketing for toilet paper–the finale to the pooping process. We all know a lot about toilet paper. The brands, the textures, the softness, their roll sizes. The sales and marketing for toilet paper brands has been memorable, plentiful and pervasive. But toilet paper matters for naught if one cannot get the effluent out of their house. All of this peripheral conversation around pooping means nothing if when you flushed, the poop didn’t leave your house. You really wouldn’t be too worried about how clean your toilet was or what brand of toilet paper you used if you couldn’t flush it away. You would really be worried about how to get rid or your waste–or become acutely aware of the build up pretty quickly.

So it is thinking like this which I realize makes me The Infrastructure Guy. I like to think about the “how” — How do we make things better by refining, streamlining and studying issues to provide solutions. Similar to Six Sigma in manufacturing, but for sales and selling. And this blog will provide my thoughts, insights and experiences on how to enable the sales force to achieve more sales by implementing Smart Sales Operations.

What is one thing a business can do to streamline its process? First thing: on-boarding.

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.

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