How To Build a High Performance Sales Team
How To Build a High Performance Sales Team
It’s a crucial necessity in today’s workplace. Many leaders subscribe to the idea that hiring only A-players will take their companies to the next level. However, there is an inherent assumption being made: that A players will result in A-playing teams.
In a talk given by Margaret Hefferman, she tells the story of a man who studied chickens and wanted to know what could make them more productive;
“Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding. After six generations had passed, what did he find?
Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.”
Unlike common wisdom, the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts.
Sometimes it’s less.
So what does it take to build a superteam?
During the last quarter of 2018, I lost one of my best sales teams due to an administrative error. That left me with only 2 weeks to recruit and induct a new team into a project whose aim was to acquire customers for one of my clients during the festive period. That presented a huge challenge as the minimum time I usually take to recruit and train is one month.
Undaunted by the task, I immediately got on my database and pulled out a list of 6 top sales resources that have previously worked on my projects and exited positively. After requesting every one of them to refer at least 5 people, I ended up with 38 resumes to sift through. Basing my selection on the following criteria, I built a new team:
- Proximity of where they live to the site we work from: Due to the high transport costs in Nairobi, it was important that salespeople lived close to their work stations.
- Attitude: I looked out for positive attitude, hunger for the job, language proficiency (both English and Swahili) and other basic communication skills.
Despite being a new team that didn’t know each other and neither had prior sales experience nor university degrees, they surpassed the monthly sales target by 36 %.
What was the secret sauce?
I don’t know exactly, but I suspect it was their chemistry; how they worked together.
They coordinated, supported each other, and covered for each other. In other words, they defined their own constitution and played — or rather, worked — well together.
This idea has been shown in literature by an initiative code-named Project Aristotle that Google embarked on to study teams and figure out what made the best teams. In his article titled, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, Charles Duhigg wrote , “As they struggled to figure out what made a team successful, Rozovsky and her colleagues kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘group norms.’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather.”
Other lessons I’ve learnt in my history building high-performance sales teams for clients across the years are as follows:
1)Hire for positive attitude
It’s very important to filter for attitude. Bad attitude will ruin your team. Even if it’s just one person who is toxic, they can spread it to the rest of the team. The upside of this is that positive attitude is also contagious so hiring for positivity works wonders. Since selling is a road paved with many thorns in the forms of rejections, positive teammates have a tendency to encourage one another, keeping their collective spirits buoyed.
2) Share the sales vision from the beginning
Zig Ziglar said, “You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.” It’s important that the sales vision and targets are communicated to the team from the very beginning so they’re clear on what they’re trying to achieve. This also gives them a clear way to benchmark their performance and measure their progress.
3) Lead from the front
While leading your sales team, it’s important that you dedicate time to sell alongside your teammates regularly. This gives them a chance to learn from you and improve their selling skill through imitation, making the best use of mirror neurons; neurons that fire not only when someone performs an action, but also when they observe someone else take the same action .
While leading, it’s important not to forget other leadership qualities, such as owning up to your mistakes whenever you make them, rather than throwing your salespeople under the bus. Also, whenever a problem arises, it’s important to focus on fixing it rather than wasting time pointing blame.
4) Convey the terms of service clearly especially incentives
The terms of service need to be clearly communicated to the team, especially when it comes to defining incentives. I can’t emphasize this enough, as nothing breaks a good sales team like vague terms or service, especially when they realize after making sales that the terms were different from what they had initially thought. Such a scene leads to mistrust and an immediate drop in motivation. Also, monetary incentives need to be paid on time.
5) Conduct continuous performance reviews and peer-driven training programs
The last habit of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is, “Sharpen the saw,” which involves taking deliberate steps for continuous improvement.
It is hard to build a high-performance team without a system in place for regularly evaluating the performance of your team to define how they can grow and be better. This usually involves continuously reviewing their performance and training them. Rather than overloading the, with a lot of content from the start, I personally prefer to focus on multiple refresher sessions bi-weekly. This can be made sustainable by having team members trained by their fellow colleagues who are at the same rank. That way, they can modify content I’ve developed by giving practical examples from their own personal experience selling.
In summary, these are the main ingredients for hiring a sales team that performs superbly:
- Hire for positive attitude
2. Share the sales vision from the beginning
3. Lead from the front
4. Convey the terms of service clearly especially incentives
5. Conduct continuous performance reviews and peer-driven training programs
M. Heffernan, “Forget the pecking order at work”, Ted.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_why_it_s_time_to_forget_the_pecking_order_at_work. [Accessed: 07- Feb- 2019].
C. Duhigg, “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team”, Nytimes.com, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html. [Accessed: 12- Feb- 2019].
”Mirror Neurons”, Brainfacts.org, 2008. [Online]. Available: http://www.brainfacts.org/Archives/2008/Mirror-Neurons. [Accessed: 12- Feb- 2019].
 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Press, 2004.