9 Rules for Building a Successful Sales Team

toddcohen Issue 11 - May/June 2014, Operations Leave a Comment

Sales has changed. To adapt, companies must also change how they build their sales teams. Here are nine axioms for doing so.

By Todd Cohen

The “game” of sales has changed, and you know what? Everyone has an opinion on how to build a sales team and there is so much to think through. It used to be that when someone wanted to build a sales team, he or she put the word out and received some candidates. They interviewed for certain skills, and then made some decisions. The skills sought after were typical for salespeople: aggressive, fearless, capable of taking rejection, self-motivated and so forth. Those same skills haven’t lost their importance, but there is so much more to envisioning and building a successful sales team in today’s recovering economy, where the “war for sales talent” is now on full blast.

In the good ol’ days, some salespeople worked out and some didn’t, and that was expected. There were always more to be interviewed, on boarded and coached. At the risk of repeating myself, times haves changed and so must our thinking about how to make a sales team and make them great. Allow me to share my perspective on nine areas to focus on when building a great sales team:

1. All salespeople need to think big and see the company as a whole engine working toward sales. My mantra and entire speaking and consulting practice is built around the principle of building a sales culture. As the title of my book says, “Everyone’s in Sales.” Everyone impacts the clients. I expect that all salespeople lead the charge here and have the DNA and intuition to engage people in a way that inspires and motivates them to want to work toward making sales happen. Great sales teams are inclusive and thankful and unentitled.

2. Humility counts. Great salespeople are humble and don’t read their own press. They stay focused and keep going and regard the accolades and congratulations as a reward for work well done. Entitlement is a lethal attitude to great sales professionals—keyword being professionals.

3. The team is sum of parts, not a silo. Sales teams that excel know they are part of the whole and that no one salesperson can get any deal done in a vacuum. Sales are not now and never will again be linear. A sale being about a relationship only between the salesperson and the client is so ‘80s.

4. Speaking of relationships, how well do your salespeople keep their relationships portable and close as they transition through their careers? I speak often on my principle of “relationship portability” and the role it plays in success. I don’t want to hear salespeople name drop. Prove it to me that you know the person and are close, and see them as a part of their business success.

5. Compensation must actually have a relationship to the behaviors and results we want. I learned a long time ago to keep the compensation plan simple and easy to calculate. If senior executives want to limit compensation because they are worried a salesperson makes “too much,” then they don’t get it and never will. Further to the point, metrics, quotas and activities must be realistic, achievable and just enough of a stretch to inspire and not demotivate. People need to be held accountable.

6. Sales leadership must understand that their No. 1 and only function is to coach, develop, motivate and inspire their staff. That’s it. If you think that your job is to step in and do the job of the people you hire, then you will be at work forever. Your job is a noble one, namely to help people be as good as they can be. Amazing managers never, ever, miss an opportunity to coach people up. Coaching happens all the time, and it can be planned or serendipitous. There is a difference between coaching and telling. Great managers get that and live for it.

7. A successful sales team has people positioned in places where they are most likely to succeed. Everyone has skills and they should be used in the best possible way. A hunter is not a farmer, and vice versa; a salesperson is not a bill collector.

8. Onboard correctly. Those first few days and weeks are critical to make sure the salesperson knows they made a good decision. Onboarding should be structured and formatted to give the best possible view on how to be successful. The how is important and so often neglected.

9. Reward and recognize all contributions, not just the “top salesperson.” Many people in a sales culture contribute to the sales team being successful. Recognizing that means more success and collaboration. Want to kill sales? Keep the sales team and the accolades insular. The rest of the company members are all honorary salespeople.
There’s so much to do to build a great sales team. The reality is that the process is iterative and never ending. There will be pieces that you get right and pieces that need revisions from time to time. Staying ahead of the curve as it were and listening to the sales team will make for a better long-term structure. The final secret? The sales team is not just salespeople. It’s everyone.

Todd Cohen is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author who has been shaping and defining the conversation on sales culture for more than seven years. He is consistently recognized as a leader on this topic and works with all professionals who want to create a sales culture so that more sales happen. Since 1984, Cohen has coached and led sales teams to deliver more than $850 million in sales for leading companies including Xerox, Gartner Group, Thomson-Reuters and LexisNexis. Among his many current clients are Ernst and Young, CDI Corp., Corning Worldwide and Subaru of America. In addition to being a busy keynoter, Cohen delivers his Sales Culture Workshops, which have been met with wide acclaim from a variety of audiences. His book on Sales Culture, “Everyone’s in Sales,” was published in July 2011, and he has hosted his own radio show, “Let’s Talk Sales Culture.” He is regular contributor to the Philadelphia Business Journal, a member of the National Speakers Association and the Immediate Past President of the Philadelphia Chapter. For more information, visit www.toddcohen.com.

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