From the December 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

If you were to unearth a method to retain premier talent, reduce overhead expenses and punch up sales productivity, you'd likely do somersaults of glee, yes? One way to potentially achieve all three is to allow your sales reps to work from home. Take a look at the following considerations to see if telecommuting reps make sense for your enterprise.

Pros

  • Helps you retain talent: For many sales reps, eradicating the daily commute and required cubicle time can keep them happy enough to stay with your company long term. "The flexibility of working remotely can be the difference between keeping and losing your best employees," explains Steve Watts, CEO of Bold Approach Inc., a Boise, Idaho, firm that helps companies implement rapid-growth strategies.
  • Boosts productivity: "Field sales reps aren't supposed to spend a lot of time in the office anyway," says Mitchell Goozé, principal of Customer Manufacturing Group, a Santa Clara, California, consulting firm that helps businesses increase marketing and sales results. Goozé says reps can add one sales call to each day because they've skipped the step of hitting the office first. Without a daily check-in, according to Goozé, reps can schedule a first appointment a full hour earlier.
  • Gives you access to national talent: Setting up an infrastructure to support telecommuting reps allows managers to hire the best salesperson for the job, regardless of location. "The pool of available and talented reps is vastly expanded if there's openness to telework," says Debra Dinnocenzo, author of 101 Tips for Telecommuters. Dinnocenzo also says that telecommuting options can help entrepreneurs retain top talent if a rep needs to relocate.
  • Results in overhead savings: Since your reps should spend very little time stationed at the office, Dinnocenzo says you can pocket substantial overhead savings from letting reps work from home.

Cons

  • Isolation: Sales managers must know each rep's personality and how often to keep in contact with the salesperson. Dinnocenzo advocates using webinars and teleconferences to provide opportunities for team interaction. Strive to get local reps together on a regular basis for everything from training to team bonding. Dinnocenzo believes "we're basically a high-touch species, so it's important for an entrepreneur to recognize this fundamental human need."

Stein advises his clients to ensure that candidates have successfully worked by themselves. "You can't take someone who has worked 20 years for IBM and expect [that person] to be comfortable or productive working from home," he warns. Stein also explains that reps with a history of in-office work may be able to adapt, but "more likely, they'll be comfortable working in an office with people around and a boss close by."

  • Accountability: Watts says the biggest impediment to managing a remote sales force is accountability. "It can be hard to tell if your sales force is making calls or sitting around the house watching TV in their pajamas," he says. It's imperative to ensure accountability by setting up processes to monitor performance, including daily contact and sales-activity reports.

Kimberly L. McCall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.