Collaborating (internally) virtually

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Forecasting during uncertainty


Snowflake has a simple pitch: they take your data and store it in the cloud. But the real-world implementation of that simple pitch is remarkably intricate.

“Snowflake is not just a widget,” explains Kris Lawson, regional director at the data warehousing company. “We have to draw out the architecture — it’s complex. Think about drawing out an entire sewer system or water system.”

Before the pandemic, Lawson would gather product specialists and client stakeholders around a whiteboard. Working together, they’d design the service Snowflake would deliver. It was an iterative, collaborative process.

That level of collaboration is typical of most enterprise sales teams.

When deals are simple, individual sellers can handle the entire process. But as contracts and products become more complicated, you need more and more specialists — solutions architects, sales engineers, product marketing managers, and so on. With so many moving parts, if your team members aren’t working together everything grinds to a halt.

While collaboration is a challenge at the best of times, the pandemic has ratcheted up the pressure.

When people are anxious, they become more risk-averse. They tend to stick to what they know. They become less willing to seek out different perspectives. It’s called “threat rigidity.”

Alongside threat rigidity, there’s the additional challenge of transitioning to remote work. Field sellers such as Lawson have relied on in-person collaboration for years. When a concept is too complex to explain exclusively with words, they’ll book a meeting room and hash it out in-person. Today, there are no more in-person whiteboard sessions, no more drive-by conversations, and no organic information flow throughout the office.

Remote collaboration is possible, of course — but it requires more forethought. You can’t just log onto Slack one day and work out your virtual collaboration process on the fly. When your team members are hundreds or thousands of miles apart, systems, processes, and culture make the difference.

Lay the foundations

First things first, teams need a space where they can work, meet, and collaborate. Previously, that was the office. You had meeting rooms where colleagues could come together, private offices where they could put their heads down, and whiteboards where they could share ideas.

Until it’s safe for people to be near each other again, physical offices aren’t an option. So you need to build a “virtual office” to take its place.

Good online workspaces rely on the three C’s: communication, content, and coordination.

Communication almost sounds too simple to mention — but it’s not. It’s the foundation for everything. Ideally, you want all your communication in one tool. That means video, voice, and text. When you start introducing multiple tools, you fracture your communication and create silos. Suddenly, half of your project discussion is in email, and the other half is in your instant messaging app. It’s confusing and disruptive.

Pick something that does it all and make sure people use it. For tried-and-tested options, look into Slack and Microsoft Teams.

The second element is content. You need somewhere to actually work, somewhere to write proposals, design presentations, and so on. But individual work is only half the answer. How easy it is for colleagues to collaborate depends on how easy it is to share work, add collaborators, and control access. Good tools don’t just work for individuals, they work for teams as well. For content, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Office365 are all great options.

Coordination is the element with the most flexibility. Different teams will coordinate work in different ways. Some will prefer to keep everything in their CRM. Others may rather roll out a lightweight project management tool, such as Trello or Asana

Build fast feedback loops

People work in different ways. Some sales reps are visual learners, preferring to look at diagrams, flowcharts, and documents. They absorb information through their eyes. Others are auditory learners. They like to discuss and debate things because they best process information when they hear it.

Some prefer asynchronous collaboration, where everyone works on a project in their own time. Others feed off the energy of others and perform best in a live group setting.

There’s no telling what form of collaboration will work for each sales rep and your sales team as a whole. The only way to find out is to experiment and then ask for feedback. By testing collaboration approaches, you can select the ideas that work and discard the bits that don’t.

Your Field Sales Playbook For 2021+