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How to Build Real Sales Teams in 7 not-so-easy Steps

Rock Climbing TeamworkToo often, when organizations talk about their sales teams, it’s just a couple of people who happen to be in the same room. In a previous post, we outlined six differences between a team and a workgroup. This time, we’re going to talk about how you turn a struggling sales group into a functioning team.

Our experience has shown that the process begins with the sales manager (probably you). Sales managers are uniquely positioned to enlighten, encourage and enable their reps to perform at their best. Unfortunately, the skills that got the sales manager promoted to manager (stellar individual performance) are almost the opposite of the skills required to build and manage successful sales teams.

1. It starts with you

After years of being graded on your individual sales contribution, it can feel weird to give that up. But the job of sales manager is the job of making stars, not being one. Take a look at this quick table of the differences between a top salesperson and a top sales manager:

Top Salesperson
Top Manager
Works independently Works with others
Generates results Gets results from others
Is the top performer Makes others top performers
Makes decisions Delegates decisions
Goes on calls Works in the office
Thinks tactically Thinks strategically
Plays Coaches

So, how are you doing on these 7 items?

2. Get the right People

Successful teams consist of individuals with diverse skills. You aren’t looking for individuals that are well-rounded. You are looking for individuals that excel in some area that makes the team as a whole well-rounded. Pick people who are motivated to demonstrate their skills and make a difference. If one team member is great with cold calling but poor on deal negotiation, pair them up with someone who has complementary skills.

Also, remember that you can change what they do, but not what they are. Hire people whose basic nature and personality are a match for your culture. You’re looking for team players, not ball hogs.

3. Have Clear Goals for the Team

It is important that all members know what is expected of the team as a whole and how the overall purpose of the team reflects a plan directly related to the company’s mission. Everyone must believe there is benefit to the company – and to them personally – for working as a team.

This also means you’ll want to give the team specific tools that they can use to measure their own performance in real time. Nobody likes to throw darts blindfolded and then be told how they did at the end of the quarter. The more you can make work look like a video game, the more engaged your people will be in making the high score.

4. Build Trust and Respect

Teams are somewhat fragile once the basic rules that bond them together are broken. If you tell them that they are largely going to be solving their own problems, then you suddenly kill their solution for something and start implementing your own, you will lose their trust.

Be clear with them about the operating rules. Also, let them know that you have their backs. They won’t feel comfortable implementing solutions that will be shot down by senior managers later.

5. Leverage Conflict

Teams are a lot like families, and you need to let them work things out on their own. Conflict usually arises when team members differ in opinions, mis-communicate, or struggle with the frustration of unrealistic or changing goals. Differences in opinion can actually lead to creativity and innovation, unless people feel threats to their territory, self-image or (heaven forbid) physical health. Then they close their minds and resort to defending their territory.

Don’t let them drag you into the middle of a “he said/she said” situation. Your job is to help them understand each others’ points of view and the intentions behind their behaviors. Honest communication and empathy leads to collective brainstorming and problem solving. At first, of course, they will bring everything to you. Old habits die hard. But eventually they will learn how to work things out for themselves.

6. What’s the Incentive?

To act as a coherent whole, the team needs to be rewarded as a whole. Too often we look to money to accomplish this, but money isn’t actually a very good reward tool. Yes, they need to receive good financial compensation for a good day’s work, but these are just table stakes. If we doubled your salary tomorrow, it would only affect your performance for a short while.

Other tools, like recognition, autonomy, scope of control, involvement in decisions, and access to educational and career growth opportunities go so much further. And don’t forget the power of a simple “thank you.” (Check out Daniel Pink’s video “The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us”.)

7. Lather, Rinse Repeat

Just because you have put all of the pieces in place doesn’t mean your new team is going to gel overnight. Trust, respect and new communication styles take time to develop, so don’t give up. Consistency and commitment are key.

Remember that your job is more about being a coach than being the boss. You are trying to help the team learn to solve its own problems and achieve its own goals as much as possible. Here are a couple of final pointers:

  • Try and ensure that all team members participate in the decision processes, even those that are shy. Introverts are often very astute.
  • Listen to the team and try to act on their suggestions, even if they seem a little weird. If you can’t give them what they ask for, be open and honest about why and explain the constraints that you are working under.
  • Make sure that you are the team’s biggest fan. Winning is fun, so celebrate often and promote their achievements around the company.
  • Help your sales team make the most of their time by protecting them as much as possible from outside demands on their time and energy that don’t drive revenue.

About Us

At Farsyte, we believe that the secret to building the best sales team in the world is investing in your front-line sales managers. We are like personal trainers, working with your high-potential sales managers to unlock their potential to be great sales leaders. Our system uses a unique combination of assessment tools, mobile apps and one-on-one coaching to actually change their behavior, from trying to manage each sale, to multiplying sales by empowering their teams for maximum performance.

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