A salesperson walks into a prospective client's office alone. They engage in a conversation with a contact or several contacts. At the end of the conversation, the salesperson walks out of the client's office by themself. Because this is true for a large percentage of salespeople, we don't tend to think about sales teams. There are, however, great sales teams. It is my experience that great sales teams tend to have five common characteristics. These five common attributes allow these teams to produce better results over time. The five common characteristics are:
- Strong, Engaged Leadership
- Learning Culture
- Focus on Individual Effectiveness as a Team
- Role Playing
Strong, Engaged Leadership
It is impossible to find a great sales team that is missing this characteristic. A team that is neglected is a team that is going to respond in kind. A checked-out sales manager is going to have a sales force that produces results that are nothing close to what they would produce with a stronger, more engaged leader.
An engaged leader is the first and most important element of a great sales team. Emerson said, "Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man." The sales leader who is engaged makes it possible to create and sustain the next five characteristics. Should you want a metric to measure this element of the five characteristics of a great sales team, you might look at the time the sales leader spends with their team, individually and as a group. If a greater amount of their time is spent with their teams when compared with the time spent working on internal issues, it's likely the sales manager is engaged and leading their team. Leadership is always necessary for a great sales team.
A Learning Culture
One way to look at sales is to recognize it as a series of problems the salesperson needs to solve to create and win new opportunities. There is the problem of scheduling first meetings, followed by converting the first meeting to a second meeting, followed by more difficult problems like controlling the conversation, creating value for their contacts, and building consensus. These problems and challenges can plague every sales organization, but few sales organizations spend time learning what they need to do to improve their results.
A learning culture is one where the leader and their team meet to talk about their sales challenges to figure out what isn't working, what is working, and what actions might be responsible for the salesperson's success or failure. This characteristic is more important than most suspect. Simply having a meeting suggests that these problems are solvable, something we know to be true because what one person can do, another person can learn to do the same. Learning is a critical characteristic that makes a great sales team.
Focus on Individual Effectiveness as a Team
Sales is mostly individual. That leads some to believe that development is also individual. This characteristic of a great sales team is unknown to many, and this element is more difficult when sales leaders have teams that live and work in their territory. These teams spend time working together on their effectiveness. Their leaders are engaged in continually working on some competency they believe their team needs to develop to put up even better numbers. These teams spend time training together, increasing their individual effectiveness.
In teams where the sales leaders don't focus on effectiveness, you will find salespeople going months and years without being trained. Instead, they are allowed to continue to do what they have always done, never improving their results even though it harms the salesperson, their family, their company, and their prospective clients. There may be salespeople with the innate ability to sell effectively, but they are few. A great sales team cannot be a great team without being highly effective.
If you sit outside the perimeter of a sales floor, you will notice something interesting. A salesperson will get a contact on the phone and leave the sales floor to find a room where they feel certain no one can hear them. On that same sales floor, you are likely to find another salesperson who stands up and talks to their contact, letting everyone listen to their conversation.
Selling is a series of conversations. It also has a language of its own. Those who don't speak the language have a more difficult time succeeding in sales. You can gauge the effectiveness of a sales force by how comfortable and confident they are with their talk tracks. Teams that spend time role-playing and practicing their lines produce better results for two reasons. First, the ability to borrow language that has been proven to work improves the salesperson's ability to succeed in their sales conversations. Second, and maybe more important, they develop confidence.
In a recent workshop with a team, every person in the room was willing to role-play. The more a team is willing to role-play in front of their peers, the more you can be certain they are a great team.
The last of our five characteristics of a great sales team is accountability. The team that creates and wins the opportunities they need to hit their targets because it is expected of them is a team that is almost certain to have a high percentage of their team reach their quota. These cultures are not punitive. Instead, with accountability one benefits from the high focus on increasing the effectiveness of everyone.
And here we come full circle, as the leader that is accountable to their team finds themselves leading a team that is accountable for their goals. These leaders have a positive culture of accountability that both directions.
If you want to improve your sales results, the 5 characteristics here are a good starting point. One of these elements doesn't seem to be enough to produce the results as maintaining all five.