How to Build and Grow a High-Performing Sales Team
There is a huge challenge in B2B sales organisations — many people are feeling the pain but are oblivious to the root cause.
The challenge is a lack of sales efficiency.
Most people are blaming this on Millennial sales reps who can’t close, but as Jacco van der Kooij points out here, there are systematic failures in how we are preparing our sales reps for success and creating an environment in which they can succeed.
If we look at the sales performance of sales reps today it should be evenly distributed in a bell curve as seen here.
Coupled with the growing sales innovation gap, customers are demanding a better experience, making the normally distributed curve look like it is falling short of the mark.
Unfortunately the reality isn’t looking that peachy. With today’s sales reps being put into roles they are ill-equipped for, using technology that accelerates their failure, and doing all of this with a distinct lack of formal sales education, the curve of sales performance looks a lot differently.
So what can we do about it?
It isn’t a matter of sitting back and hoping that a bunch of rockstar performers are going to stroll through your door and drag your business into the stratosphere. It’s a grind.
Here is a 7 step framework that will help shift your bell curve of sales performers to the right:
1. Define your sales culture and hire to it
Ultimately the success of your sales team is going to live and die by the people working in it.
It’s no good “talking” about a fantastic sales culture. You really need to live it, and make sure you bring the right people into foster that culture.
Because not everyone’s going to be a rockstar. In fact, that’s the beauty of sales. Not everyone needs to be a rockstar if you hire the right people, create the right culture and build an effective sales team. With coaching and the right structures, just about anyone can succeed in modern sales.
The sales culture is always going to be slightly different, with different quirks and intricacies depending on the organisation, the region, and the product group. But that’s why it’s important to write it down. Document it and make sure everyone is aligned to the same cultural elements.
Then hire to it. Train for it. Live by it.
If you do those things and lead by example, the culture will come together and your team will inevitably perform better as a unit.
Ultimately the success of your sales team is going to live and die by the people working in it.
2. Define your sales process
So many sales organisations leave the sales process up to the individual reps, letting their rockstars and poor performers run their own show, leading to inconsistent results.
How do you measure to ensure you can optimise around the best process?
The key is that you need to define your sales process. Mapping out each individual step and measuring the efficiency between each of them. Many companies have a rough understanding of the processs they would like to follow, but with a lack of training the output is inconsistent at best.
By taking a holistic view into what’s working and what isn’t, within the sales process, you will able to refine and iterate until it is humming along smoothly.
3. Create data driven accountability
The devil is always in the detail, and numbers are indisputable — no one can question them.
Poor metrics pose a huge hindrance to accountability, because people don’t have the same understanding or interpretation of results. You need to create a common understanding of what the core metrics for your sales team are, because they will drive every conversation you have throughout the business.
Poor metrics pose a huge hindrance to accountability, because people don’t have the same understanding or interpretation of results.
It’s not just about management. Not just about tech. And not just about marketing. Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what those metrics are and how they can individually influence them. This enables you to guide your team members and improve their performance. You can help them create the career path they want, and help them own their sales flow accountability.
But when you’re looking at the data you don’t want to get paralysis by analysis. Don’t measure EVERYTHING. Instead, just focus on measuring the core metrics that matter.
What matters is going to be different depending on the audience of the metric. For example, what your sales executive will want to see is going to be different to what your sales rep needs.
So make sure you understand the implications of what you’re measuring, understand why you’re measuring it, and make sure you can do something with the outcome. If you can’t do anything, if there is no implication to your sales decision-making process, then there’s no point in measuring it.
4. Foster a coaching culture
As with all pursuits, mastery isn’t achieved in a day. It takes time, and it takes work. A high-performing sales team has a strong culture of coaching.
Let’s look at it from a sporting point of view. Steph Curry, Tiger Woods, or Gary Ablett Jr. (for the local Aussie AFL fans) — they didn’t wake up one day and be the very best at what they do. It takes a lot of hard work over a long period of time to be able to achieve that level of success.
And sales is a tough field, just like those physical pursuits. It can take a lot of time, practice, hard work, and deep reflection to reach an elite level. Sales leaders need to understand this. They need to be in the trenches, feeling the same pain that their sales reps are. Only then can they truly celebrate and share in the victories.
You can’t just manage the numbers and build a great sales culture, you need to be a coach, a mentor, a confidante.
5. Share team goals, with a personal focus
You really need to create a shared goal for the business, and then turn that into something that has a personal focus for the people within your team.
As Simon Sinek says, it all starts with “Why”. People need to understand why they are coming to work every day, it’s a great driver of human emotion and motivation.
What impact can each individual have on other people? On the broader community? Or perhaps on the world?
Sometimes it’s hard to find the why. If you’re selling pens to someone for example, the why is pretty buried. But it’s there, you just need to look hard enough.
This concept is not just about helping your team be more productive or have a more enjoyable work experience. It’s also something that can drive you. If you’re motivating people towards a common goal of helping others and contributing to the “why” of the organisation, it creates a certain sense of fulfillment in your work life.
Once you have a common goal that everyone’s working towards, the job then turns to tying that back to each individual. It’s not enough just to work towards a common goal, that won’t help your reps deal with rejection day after day. That common goal needs to link back to their personal goals, and their future career path.
How does pursuing that common goal ultimately help THEM succeed?
Once you can draw those parallels and get your team believing in their own contribution to a greater objective, it starts to build momentum within the organisation. That’s your pathway to a high-performance culture and a great team of salespeople.
6. Encourage co-operative competition
The harsh reality is that not everyone can get the trophy. There are winners and there are losers. And the biggest earners in a sales organisation get rewarded. They get recognised with a big commission cheque.
Of course the reward is not always going to be equal in this type of sales organisation. These high-performers need to be recognised for the value they provide to the organisation, which is often quite considerable.
But when you’re rewarding these people, does that create an environment of co-operation? A lot of the time it doesn’t. It fosters competition between team members and you need to get creative in order to bring that co-operative element into it.
One area you can do so is with the use of SPIF’s. SPIF is an old school terminology for Sales Promotion Investment Fund, which is a technique that has been around for a long time but seems to be holding strong.
An SPIF gives you a pool of money that you can use outside of your traditional commission-based compensation to reward performance. To create co-operation you can create team-oriented goals for this additional pool of money that everyone has a chance to win, not just the high performers.
Instead of basing it simply on who brings in the most revenue, another way to look at it is to create broader goals across functions in your organisation. Gamification tools such as Ambition or Sparta Sales are great for executing this type of strategy. They help you create a healthy form of competition within your sales team, where people can work towards a common goal while still focusing on their personal objectives.
7. Have fun together
The last thing you need to do to create a high-performing sales team is to have fun together.
The best performing teams really like each other. Whether it’s in sport, military, education, or business. You’ll find that when you do hit tough times, it’s much easier to handle when you enjoy having your team members around you.
From a sales perspective, when you’re getting feedback in a coaching environment, it stings a little less if you like the person delivering the feedback. The losses that you have with your customers taste a little less bitter. And the wins that you have are SO much sweeter when you get to celebrate them with colleagues you enjoy hanging out with.
The wins are SO much sweeter when you get to celebrate them with colleagues you enjoy hanging out with.
This bonding happens when you create a fun environment. Some companies do this with an annual sales kick-off event that they’ll host in a tropical location and everyone has drinks by a pool. Others do it with monthly nights out. Others do it with a regular fancy dress day in the office.
But the most effective and easiest way to achieve it is to create a common dining experience once a week. The act of breaking bread has been bringing people together for centuries, and it helps you learn more about the individuals you’re working with and build relationships beyond the work environment.
What makes the other people in your team get out of bed in the morning? What do they do on the weekend? What makes them tick?
Understanding these things will create a fun environment within the organisation and ultimately, it’ll help you pull together all the characteristics of a high-performing team culture.
You might look at your organisation and say “Yeah, we’re not actually doing any of these things”. But going and tackling every one of them at once is going to be hard, and I wouldn’t recommend that.
So the first thing you need to do is define your sales culture. Get together with your colleagues and define what you want your culture to be. Something that everyone can get behind.
Then, start having fun together. If you have a clearly defined culture, and you start to have fun together you’re on the right track.
Once you have those two things going in the right direction, start to think about the other elements I’ve mentioned in this article. Data driven accountability, well defined customer centric process, coaching, shared goals and co-operative competition.
Doing these things puts you in a position to work on this high-performance culture which will change over time as your company grows, and new personnel come in. It’s something you’ll always need to work on.
Do you run a high-performing sales team? What’s the number one thing that has helped you bring everyone together and achieve success?