Creating a productive sales environment when WFH

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work. We asked Jessica Jones, our vice president and general manager of Data Axle USA how to keep sales teams motivated, productive and engaged at work as we navigate the new normal together.

Jessica Jones
Vice President/General Manager, Data Axle USA

Jessica Jones is the vice president and general manager of Data Axle USA. She assumed the position in February 2020. Jones first joined Data Axle in October 2005 as a sales account executive. Other positions she’s held at Data Axle include sales manager, sales training manager, and operations manager. Prior to Data Axle, she worked for the Nebraska City Chamber of Commerce and served as director of tourism for Otoe County, Nebraska. She attended Bellevue University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in communication arts and a Master of Arts degree in managerial communication. Jones has four children. In her free time, she likes to make homemade cards and scrapbook.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most office workers have been working from home for almost a year now. How has this affected the way we work?

Work as we know it has changed forever, even as companies return back to offices, it will never look the same as it did pre-pandemic. Previously, team leaders would stress the need for work/life balance. Now, it’s more about work/life integration. What was once unacceptable (hearing noise from kids and pets in the background) is now expected. I apologized to a customer one day about the potential of hearing kids and he replied, “It’s ok, I came to sit in my car for a bit of peace and quiet myself, everyone has the same challenges.” What was once seen as an interruption, is now a way for us to get to know our coworkers and clients on a more personal level and it binds us together. When we are all having the same challenges, we need to tackle them together.

a) Communication

One of the biggest changes in the way we work now is how we communicate. The ability to walk over to someone’s desk or office and ask a quick question is gone. Instead, coworkers need to schedule a formal meeting or catch up – which can lead to more formality and create the impression that business leaders and executives are unreachable or too busy to be interrupted. Leaders need to make sure their teams know they are still there to support them and answer questions.

b) Lack of socializing

Sales professionals tend to be very extroverted. So, while there are many advantages of work from home, the biggest challenge is missing in-person interaction. Like most companies, Data Axle used to have team outings, birthday celebrations, lunch contests, etc. Eventually when COVID restrictions are lifted, we can get back to some of that after-hours fun! For now, we adapt by celebrating via Zoom, doing a home delivery lunch for hitting a stretch goal or a virtual Christmas party.

“A LinkedIn study of relationships at work found 46% of professionals around the world believe having work friends enhances their overall happiness. Building bonds with others can make us feel more connected, which, in turn, can help boost productivity and engagement.”1

Managers need to bake the time to build relationships into the workweek; work friendships are a big reason why people value their working environment. At Data Axle, we created channels in Teams based on interests so team members can chat at their leisure about topics like deal seekers, parenting, sports, etc. Sales managers have also had team lunches where everyone brings their lunch to a zoom meeting and they just chat and share stories.


2. How should companies best support their WFH sales teams to improve morale and productivity?

There are many ways companies can support WFH sales teams. We have tried to adapt our fun culture into a virtual setting by having virtual happy hours, having sales incentive contests to drive sales results and fun, virtual baby showers; if we did it before, we are finding a way to do it now!

We have also continued to give sales reps tips and tricks on ways to be more productive working from home. Many of us started this adventure under the impression it was temporary and now that it’s permanent, it’s even more critical that we all have a dedicated work space, appropriate equipment, etc.

We deliver quarterly goody bags to our sales teams. These include basic office supplies like pens, paper, post-it notes, but also snacks, gum, candy and a hand-written note from their manager to make these necessities more personable. It’s a way to connect with the team remotely and let them know we, as managers, are here to help!

“People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organization,” explains Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, co-author of The Progress Principle. “And one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers – a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”2


How can people who are working from home separate their work life and home life?

While work looks and feels different because we are all operating from new spaces in our homes, most employees are more dedicated to their jobs in this new reality.

Having work accessible 24/7 is tough. At the end of the workday, it’s hard to push it away and move on with home life. We have encouraged our team to enjoy the small moments with their families they may not have previously had like having breakfast or lunch together. When the weather is nice – get out and move. It’s good to step away for a few minutes, clear your head and get back at it.

Finding a new normal or adjusting to a new routine isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but we are continuing to push everyone to find their own version of that routine. I also encourage all team members to get up and get ready for the day as if they were expected to be in the office. If you are put together, you will feel ready and prepared for the day…and when a customer wants a video call you won’t panic!


How can companies make new hires feel welcome and integrate them into their new sales teams in a virtual environment?

Hiring and onboarding new employees virtually has been another big change. We hired a number of sales reps as well as new managers in our virtual-only world. We mail new hires a welcome package that includes sales materials, a hand-written welcome card from me, goodies, and swag. We want our new employees to feel welcome right away. I call each of them to review all the documents.

We also have a well-organized onboarding schedule that includes sales & systems training, meet & greets of the team/management, they are assigned a mentor and have daily check ins until they have the lay of the land. Communication – even when it feels like too much at times- is the key to getting new hires ramped up and feeling part of the team.

On-demand training materials and videos as well as well-organized sales enablement tools and CRM knowledge centers have also been extremely helpful. Lastly, we are implementing new Learning Management System, which will create a better experience for the learner and facilitators.


How can sales leaders celebrate their teams' successes and wins remotely?

We have a new program called “Wednesday Wins.” We get an entire division together and let the sales reps share wins they have had over the last week. The team discusses “how did we win, why did we win, what lessons we learned” We took for granted the ability to “drive-by” and listen to other sales techniques, verbiage and skills in the office. “Wednesday Wins” lets reps celebrate success but also ensures the team is continuously learning and improving.

We also do group call monitoring sessions so reps can continue getting fresh ideas and perspectives on ways to approach clients.

Investing in our employees through learning and development is the best way to show we value them. We can’t expect them to continue to grow and adapt to changes if we aren’t adding tools to their toolbox. For the first time ever, we celebrated Employee Learning Week in December. Not only did we offer sales training – but also yoga and personal development. We want employees to be able to focus on being their best selves – if an employee is focused in all realms of life, they will be a better performer at work. A few other ideas include:

  • Meeting in small groups: sales managers should have regular weekly meetings to share successes and challenges in small groups.
  • Call-out excellent work: Let employees know you are paying attention. For example, if a sales manager listens to a great call – send it to team for all to hear.
  • Reward behavior you want to see: if an employee is going above and beyond, it’s a good practice to send them a gift card or small token that acknowledges how hard they have been working in a time of great disruption.


Read more about how to work, market and sell during a crisis.