The Swiss Army Knife was one of the coolest things you could have in middle school. Who wouldn't want a knife, a small saw, a leather punch, a bottle opener, and a corkscrew? Most of the tools in the knife were rarely unsheathed, but in a pinch, you could use them to solve any problem.
You, however, are not a Swiss Army Knife, even though you may be competent enough to deal with a giant range of tasks and projects, taking over your colleagues’ work to create positive outcomes for your clients. You are a specialist, and you must embrace that role to serve both your clients and your company.
In Order to Be a Team Player, You’ll Have to Focus on Sales
There are a lot of functions in your company, but only one of them belongs to you: sales. To reach your goals, you have to ignore all the other roles, even if you think you’d be good at them.
Customer Service: Just for fun, go over to your customer service department. Find someone who appears to be super competent and tell them you are having a tough time booking a meeting with your dream client, then ask them if they'd mind taking a crack at it. Do this in plain view their manager, but don’t be too shocked if they yell at you for trying to make their employee do your work.
Accounts Receivable: Every reasonable-sized company has a collection function, filled with employees who allegedly collect payments from your clients. But when they struggle to collect that money, they may just turn to you to collect from your client. You see, they don’t want to upset your client, something they’ll be sure to remind you to avoid when they ask you to do their job. It's important to remember that even though you acquired the client, in a sense the client also belongs to every other function in the business. It's not that you can't help sort out emergencies, but they should be few and far between.
Operations: There are products that need to be boxed up and sent out to your customers. Some orders have been returned and need to be inspected and reshipped. The conveyor belts need to be cleaned and lubricated. All of this can delay your client’s outcomes, so you might decide to pitch in to keep Ops from getting overwhelmed. That might help in the short term, but remember that you’re also reducing their work for next quarter—by not winning clients and gaining orders in the first place.
Order-Taker: Taking orders is different from winning clients. When you acquire a client, I hope you secure an absolute right to all of your client's orders. However, you are a terrible intermediary for taking those orders. Leave it to other specialists, the ones detail-oriented enough to take the order and transmit to your operations team.
Customer Success: Here the line can be a little blurry, so clarity is vital. You are responsible for helping your client reach the strategic outcomes that motivated them to buy from you. You must ensure they achieve their desired results. However, your colleagues in the customer success role are for the day-to-day, ticky-tacky interactions. When you take those over, you are no longer a peer in your client’s eyes, and you are not doing the high-level work to secure their results, retain their business, and grow your wallet-share.
Don’t confuse your sales role with, say, organizing your company’s summer picnic. Your company probably doesn’t have a dedicated Professional Picnic Organizer, so people in different departments would pitch in to determine who is bringing the macaroni and cheese, how many entrees you need for the Keto people, the carnivores, the vegans, the gluten-free folks, the peanut allergists, the lactose intolerants, and the just plain picky eaters. You know what, somebody should probably bring Jell-O or maybe ice water, just so everyone can eat safely.
3 Rules to Being a Team Player
Your role in sales should focus your energy on two problems creating new opportunities, then pursuing those opportunities until you win them. When you struggle to sell, none of your colleagues in other departments will immediately spring into action, furiously dialing the phone to book new meetings or negotiating a contract with a difficult purchasing agent—that one who wants you to deliver the results they need at 30% of what it will cost. With that in mind, here are three rules to follow as a salesperson who’s also a team player.
1. Do your job so well that no one ever has to ask you to do more than you are doing, setting your own standards so high that your colleagues would be ashamed to say anything negative about your work. Let their only possible complaint be that you generate so much business that they have to work overtime to fill all the orders.
2. When you hand off your clients to the people on your team, make sure they understand what the client needs and how best to serve them—in other words, give them everything they need to succeed. Investing in a luxuriantly good kickoff and handoff meeting will save you from having to intervene later.
3. Limit your interventions to absolute emergencies. Your team should start by doing everything they can to solve the client’s problem, including getting the leader of the department who owns the outcome to intervene and engage the challenge. If the problem escalates one more level without progress, you may have to consent to solving the problem with your client, the one that also belongs to the rest of the company. But as soon as it’s done, sheathe your bottle opener and get back to selling.