With the pandemic showing signs of winding down and a potential return to normalcy on the horizon, the decision of whether or not to “return to the office” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Unsurprisingly, the verdict of that decision varies depending on who you ask. A recent study found that 75 percent of executives currently working from home say they want to work from the office three to five days per week, compared to only 34 percent of employees. Clearly, there are some differences of opinion on the importance of returning to an office environment.
While a return to the office may not be necessary (or desired) for all employees, the office is a good thing for salespeople. Here’s why.
Friendly competition never hurt
As early as September 2020, companies like JPMorgan Chase were already beginning to ask some of their sales staff to return to the office. While there are various reasons salespeople have been the first to be brought back into the office, most of them boil down to this: salespeople need competition.
Competition, both amongst external competitors and internal peers, is frequently cited as one of the primary motivations for salespeople. Whether it be trying to make one more call than your desk neighbor or being the highest earner on your team next quarter, this type of friendly competition is difficult to foster in a virtual environment. There is a significant difference between competing against your peers as you all sit at home alone versus doing the same next to each other in an office. Many salespeople discovered this first-hand over the last two years.
The competitive environment fostered in an office is also helpful for training and motivating new salespeople. New team members can see first-hand how senior team members conduct themselves, and the value of overheard conversations, body language, and impromptu lessons cannot be understated. Working alongside the team’s top sellers also acts as a great motivational tool for new salespeople, giving them common goals to aspire to and confirming that success is attainable. Seeing is believing in the sales world, and being in an office is what makes that possible.
Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees that working alongside others in an office environment can lead to “goal contagion.”
“When you observe the actions of other people, you often adopt their same goals,” said Markman. “Being around a group of people who are working toward a common mission reinforces that goal in everyone in the workplace.”
For employers considering a return to the office for their sales team, highlighting the benefits of this competitive environment could be an excellent way to encourage them to return (if they haven’t done so on their own already). Implementing new sales competition ideas, such as prizes, bonuses for hitting certain milestones, or a leader board posted in the break room, and promoting an atmosphere of friendly competition at the office could also help sales managers motivate their teams and encourage a return to in-person work.
Work environment matters
If competition is the primary motivator for most salespeople, a sense of camaraderie is the second. Salespeople are frequently team players and thrive in environments where they feel connected to their teammates. Considering a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of employees felt less connected to their coworkers when working from home, it’s no wonder so many salespeople have been itching to get back into the office.
A physical office is the best work environment for most salespeople because it offers them a dedicated space to form bonds with their coworkers in a professional setting. Sure, a sales team could work virtually from home and promise to meet up for a happy hour once a quarter, but it’s hard to replace the day-to-day interactions that an office provides. From the stereotypical “water cooler” conversations to the high fives after a successful call with a client, the office environment offers the little touch of teamwork and connection that salespeople are after.
Plus, think about it this way, if you had the opportunity to close a massive sale, would you prefer to do it at home alone or in an office surrounded by your team? Lone-wolf sellers might do financially well for themselves, but the sales team’s performance and morale make a company thrive.
The other benefit of a physical work environment is the legitimacy it brings to a company, both in the eyes of its employees and its customers. Whether an employee wishes to return to the office full-time or not, knowing that a physical office exists and is available to them if they need to hold meetings, take important calls or grab the occasional free snack is reassuring and convenient. From a client perspective, being brought into the office to meet with the sales team face-to-face is a traditional (and still often expected) part of the sales process. While taking video calls from a home office is undoubtedly more convenient, there’s still something to be said about meeting in person.
Sure, office space can be expensive for an employer, but the benefits of the office’s work environment to sales teams are well worth the cost.
Virtual tools improve the customer experience
Although the past two years have been a struggle for many salespeople, the technological innovations related to remote work can help give sales teams the competitive edge they need.
Zoom, the videoconferencing platform many of us were using (even before the pandemic), has led the charge in this regard. Zoom’s recent Work Transformation Summit touched on a number of topics related to how work and the sales process have changed due to the widespread adoption of virtual tools in the professional world. In the summit’s keynote, Oded Gal, Zoom’s Chief Product Officer, took the time to point out that even customers themselves have changed.
“Customers have changed the way they consume. They expect instant access to 24/7 support and have grown increasingly frustrated with wait times,” Gal said. “Customers want to feel valued and want a business relationship that feels less transactional and more like a partnership. If your company does not offer them the experience they desire, they will go elsewhere.”
To make this partnership experience a reality, sales teams can draw on virtual tools to streamline their sales process and offer more transparency to their clients. Rather than the occasional in-office visit or bi-weekly phone call, salespeople can now regularly check in with their clients via video calls, collect feedback through online customer portals and help solve and reduce complaints with advanced customer support options. Better yet, an in-office sales team may even be able to close more sales at a lower overall cost by cutting back on the travel and meals that would have been required had these virtual tools not been available.
Combining the benefits of an in-office environment with virtual tools to improve the customer experience will be critical for sales teams if they wish to remain competitive in the post-pandemic world moving forward. Offices make better salespeople, and adopting virtual tools can only make them better.