Six Key Principles To Managing Remote Sales Teams

When UberEats first launched in EMEA in 2016, my team and I found ourselves immediately confronted with the challenge of scale. Increasing the number of restaurants on the platform was arguably the most important driver of growth, yet our team was still small and we didn’t have enough people in each of the geographies in which we operated–a total of 13 countries, to be exact. 

I also knew, as head of the food delivery business in Europe, that we were late in our entry into the market, and that the industry was evolving at an unprecedented rate. To compete effectively, we’d not only need a larger team, but one that would allow us to work with restaurants across hundreds of cities and towns throughout Europe. 

The solution required a distributed and remote sales force, with reps living in central locations so they could cover multiple countries and languages. Tactically, our team was composed of both inside and outside sales reps and, more strategically, we made sure we stayed close as a team, connecting virtually on an almost daily basis. 

We also employed the following six key principles, which are vital for any sales organization with remote team members. 


1. Maintain Territory Ownership

Ownership is a critical component of any department, but it’s especially true for sales teams, and even more so when they are remote. In fact, effective territory ownership leads to increased sales, reduced costs, and helps improve the overall customer experience. But to do it right, sales leaders must first understand their business environment to best structure P&L owners. 

At UberEats, our full stack P&L owners had oversight not only into the sales process of a new restaurant partner, but they were also responsible for that restaurant’s experience on the UberEats platform. This ensured each country manager would have visibility into the lifecycle of a restaurant being introduced, onboarded and grown on the platform. This meant that the restaurant’s experience on the platform really only began when the sales cycle was completed, rather than that sales process being the end. 


2. Playbooks, Playbooks, Playbooks

The importance of the sales playbook should not be overlooked. Playbooks not only prevent teams from having to reinvent the wheel each time they encounter a new problem, but they ensure consistency in how your team might approach situations like launching a new product or expanding into a different market.

The playbook is vital also because it’s not a product of one person’s mind. Instead, it incorporates the input of each and every team member across the company, ensuring guidance is comprehensive, even for unique situations.

The playbook is also a living document, always capturing the latest best practice within the organization. It evolved, and was never sacred. In fact, as friendly competition between sales teams increased, the interest in ensuring everyone in the team had access to that information grew. 

My time at UberEats took place when the company was still very much an early-stage business, and every day we were learning something new, sometimes even every hour. But we documented each of those lessons in our playbook to ensure that we’d never make the same mistake twice–but that we’d repeat successes as much as possible. 

If you’re looking to create a sales playbook from scratch, I’d recommend first reading The Checklist Manifesto, written by surgeon Atul Gawande. Gawande believes checklists are necessary to prevent failure and offers a structure for how and when to use them. A checklist outlines the steps necessary to do a job well, while eliminating the need for micromanagement from sales leaders. 


3. Scaled Sales Muscle 

When UberEats started to sustain a very high growth rate, we started to feel much more confident in our sales tactics. Yet, we continued to face challenges of scale. However, rather than continue to hire new sales reps, we instead turned to outsourcing agencies and third parties, which were able to help us build sales muscle and more quickly onboard the long tail of restaurant partners interested in joining the platform. This strategy gave our sales team much needed flexibility during peak periods.

If you’re going to work with a third party though, understand that training is important. Already, training for remote teams is not on par with in-person training and in-person onboarding, so passing along your sales playbook is a good idea, as is embedding your own team within that third parties’ organization, office and screening process. 


4. Consider a Self-Service Option 

Ultimately, to grow your customer base, you need to consider both a fully managed service and self-service option. At UberEats, we had a large spectrum of customers, from large quick-service restaurant chains to local family-owned restaurants, all within one geography. In order to ensure we had a model that worked for everyone, we needed an option that would allow a restaurant to onboard itself. While this immediately made things more complicated for my team–we had to consider how to incorporate training, adjust our rate card, onboard and sign new contracts–the product challenge it posed forced us to be customer-centric in an industry where a lot of people had not been. 

Self-service has long been found to have a high impact on customer satisfaction. In fact, Gartner recently found that the technologies commanding the most investment in customer service are those related to customer-facing channels, such as self-service. The reason may be that self-service empowers customers and eliminates the time and effort required of working with a sales team. If scale is your ultimate goal, you must have a self-service option.


5. Are Your Product and Sales Teams Talking? 

When we decided to incorporate a self-service product at UberEats, we knew close collaboration between our product and sales teams would be key. We had to make sure our request wouldn’t deprioritize other features and tools the product team was already working on. We also had to make sure we clearly outlined why a self-service option made sense not only for our customers, but the future of our business. The biggest concern product managers have is that sales reps are going to make promises to customers in order to close a deal that they can’t ultimately deliver on.

Therefore, establish a feedback loop. Ask your product team why they are building certain features over others, and make sure to share the outcomes of calls with customers and prospects. What are the products and features they believe will solve their problems the most? Is that something we can deliver on? What are their primary problems or challenges to begin with? 

By working closely with the product team, you’ll be able to identify which product updates to prioritize that will deliver the best customer experience–a goal that will ultimately benefit the entire company. 


6. Tiering of Leads 

A recent Forbes survey found that the key to increasing sales is personalization. In fact, 40 percent of survey respondents said customer personalization efforts have had a direct impact on maximizing sales and profits in direct-to-consumer channels–but this can only be accomplished by tiering your accounts and leads. The basic idea is that different sales teams will have a specific focus on a specific type of customer. Sales reps can not only be much more efficient if they are working on similar types of problems every day, but they can also more easily personalize communication.

Each of these six key principles not only ensure your team will stay focused on delivering high growth, but they enable the team to do so even while remote. The effects and challenges of COVID-19 are still evolving, and the sales cycle will inevitably change as a result. Some products are going to sell faster, and buyers are quickly becoming hyperfocused on software that can address data security, remote access and collaboration. By following the above advice, you’ll ensure your sales team is better aligned, connected and ready to address any new challenge that may come its way. 


Jambu headshot for Crunchbase article bio

Jambu Palaniappan is Managing Partner of OMERS Ventures in Europe. He previously had several executive roles at Uber, where he was among the first 100 employees of the company globally. From 2012 to 2014, he led Uber’s international expansion in EMEA and India. From 2014 to 2016, he served as Regional General Manager for Uber in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa leading a team of 300 as Uber built and scaled its business in that region. From 2016 to 2018, he was Head of Uber Eats in EMEA.  He is also currently a Non-Executive Director of JustEat PLC. Jambu studied Public Policy and Economics at Vanderbilt University.

  • Originally published July 2, 2020, updated July 24, 2020