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Building a remote insurance sales team isn’t a traditional choice, but when we considered the benefits — more flexibility for agents, a larger pool of top-tier applicants, and increased productivity — the addition of a virtual sales division made sense for the company I work for, Clearlink.

With remote work opportunities increasing by 115% in the United States between 2005 and 2015, we recognize that flexibility is important to employees. We’ve found that having a virtual sales team creates a competitive hiring practice as well as measurable benefits for our business.

(Related: Best Practices for Salespeople Who Work at Home)

As we’ve built our virtual teams, we’ve consistently looked for opportunities to do a better job through the hiring process. If you’re considering creating a virtual sales team or are currently building one, we’ve found that the following four steps are crucial to finding, training, and keeping a top-tier team.

1. Create a relevant application process.

Our virtual roles are different than our brick-and-mortar ones, so we create entirely different job profiles for each. For our virtual roles, we target computer-savvy candidates who are self-motivated and looking for a nontraditional work environment. We purposely set up the application process to be entirely virtual, without video connection, to mimic the all-chat environment that candidates will work in if hired.

Know what specific skills your candidates will need for a virtual role and set up the application process to resemble their work environment as much as possible. If a virtual sales platform is new to your company, take the time to understand the environment you want to create before trying to hire employees.

When we open a virtual job posting, we receive several thousand applications — significantly more than we get for a brick-and-mortar role. This gives us access to top talent from different geographic areas. That’s always exciting, but we still need to accurately represent what remote roles look like to make sure we’re consistently finding people who will fit well in these roles.

2. Adapt the interview process to find the right talent.

Because we get such a high number of qualified applicants for our virtual roles, we need to narrow down the pool much more than we do for brick-and-mortar roles, so we’ve adapted the process along the way. Candidates we want to move forward with receive a Berke assessment test right after applying, and we eliminate all but the highest scorers as we move forward in the hiring process.

By contrast, we’ve seen insurance carriers hire candidates with assessment scores significantly lower than our candidates’ due to a lack of applicants. Our robust application process allows us to hire more qualified applicants and demonstrate a competitive advantage to our potential clients.

As next steps, we take candidates through a panel interview, which sets expectations for the role, and then a one-on-one interview. We try to ensure candidates with prior experience are open-minded and haven’t already created strict habits and opinions about how they think insurance sales should work. Watching for red flags that a candidate won’t be receptive to training at this point will save you time and training costs down the road.

3. License and onboard efficiently.

Before our candidates officially become employees, we have a licensing integration coach track their progress as they prepare for the licensing exam. Our coach answers questions and keeps candidates accountable as they study and move through the online licensing course. If a quality candidate stops tracking their progress, the coach will send them a text about it. Similarly, candidates can reach out if they have questions or concerns about specific chapters as they learn.

Once the coach feels a candidate is ready, their licensing exam is scheduled. This degree of engagement helps candidates feel less alone, and it also gives them a taste of the culture they’re going to be a part of as employees — which is especially important for our virtual agents. Creating a supportive licensing process and starting this cultural exposure early helps your organization stand out to remote employees accustomed to a “sink-or-swim” attitude from other remote work environments.

4. Train continuously and focus on culture.

After agents pass their exams, they receive practical training that focuses on the sales process, problem solving, and independent thinking. We want our virtual agents to be adaptable and able to converse naturally with customers over chat — rather than depending on software and scripts to do the work for them. New agents are chatting with customers within two or three weeks, and our virtual agents receive ongoing education specific to chat communication.

We also emphasize culture within our virtual sales division. We want our virtual agents to feel like a core part of our company, and we do a few things to make sure they feel that way:

Text communication: If agents don’t “show up” to work, they get a text from a coach checking in on them. Coaches also text agents regularly and are always available during working hours.

Opportunities for growth: All virtual agents have the opportunity to become virtual coaches in the future, and within three to six months of employment, we start conversations about career pathing with all agents.

Incentives: We’ve adjusted the incentives we use in our brick-and-mortar sales building to work in virtual settings to maintain a competitive, but supportive, culture, which includes things like free lunches for sales contest winners. We want virtual agents to feel like part of an organization that cares about them.

No video usage: Agents don’t sell using video, so we don’t use any video to communicate with our virtual teams. This encourages everyone to use chat to communicate, which creates a more cohesive communication environment that isn’t split across multiple channels.

Thanks to the culture we’ve created, we’ve had a lot of success with our virtual structure.

As you build virtual sales teams, focus on using chat and other technology to your benefit. No matter the industry, remote work environments are incredibly appealing to employees. By putting the right processes in place, you can build a remote sales team united by its own culture that both benefits your business and retains top-tier agents.

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Joe Orr (Photo: Clearlink)Joe Orr is the executive vice president of insurance at Clearlink, where he manages insurance operations and sales. Orr also serves on the insurance advisory committee for TransUnion and as an advisor to Insurify.

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