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What is the Secret to a High Performing Sales Team?

Every business owner, CEO, president, and sales leader I talk to has told me at one time or another that they want a high performing sales team. When I ask them to define that, they usually use a combination of the following things:

  • They can consistently acquire new business and retain current clients
  • They are predictable – we don’t ride the roller coast of 1 month up and 1 month down
  • They chase the “right business” – not a bunch of one-off clients that are hard to deliver and support
  • They are profitable – they sell the value of the solution and maintain margins well
  • They are affordable – the price we pay the salesperson fits into the company budget
  • They do all of this consistently

That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? If you had a team like this, you would be growing like crazy. So why is this so hard? There are a few things that get in the way:

  • The Owner/CEO: Some owners are fantastic entrepreneurs and see opportunity all around them all the time. As a result, they are constantly throwing new ideas and new initiatives at their team. Based on the new idea/initiative, the team takes one of two approaches – a) they change direction as requested even though they may be just starting to make progress on the last initiative, or b) they blow it off or do it half-heartedly which gets poor results. The highest performing sales teams all understand the company strategy, have a plan to execute that strategy and stick to it. When the boss gets a new idea, it is carefully evaluated and may possibly be introduced into the plan, but only after careful consideration of how it will impact the agreed-upon strategy. This requires a strong sales leader to push back once in a while.
  • The Ideal Client: In too many organizations, the ideal client is defined as anybody who will buy my solution and who will pay me. That is not a great definition unless you are a startup. Chasing anybody and everybody leads to “chasing bad business” that is less profitable and has lower close rates. The best performing teams play where they know they have the best odds of winning. They have defined that client based on size, industry, customer need, geography, etc. They know that if a prospect fits that profile, their chances of winning and holding value increase dramatically.
  • The Right People: I can’t tell you the number of times the CEO of a company was frustrated because their salespeople were not landing new business. Then we find that their people are much more adept at managing and growing current clients. Both are important to a business, but they require different skills. It is very difficult to convert an “Account Manager” into a salesperson that is going to go land new business. It is not what they are good at or motivated to do. The best teams hire specifically for their strategy. If their strategy calls for new accounts, they hire people that are experienced and motivated in opening new doors. If their strategy calls for growing existing accounts, they hire account managers who are good at spotting the next opportunity within the current customer base.
  • The Plan: For many salespeople, there isn’t a plan. You walk in on Monday and decide then and there what you should work on. Conversely, there have been numerous studies done on the superstar salesperson and what they do differently than their peers. These superstars sell 4 to 5 times more than their peers. The study spans across all sizes of companies, industries and sales channels. One thing that consistently separates these people is that they spend twice as much time planning. They plan their year and how they will hit their goal. They plan their week or month. They plan their sales calls and meetings. And, they stick to their plan because they know that doing so will get them to their goal.
  • The Process: Many small and mid-sized companies use what we like to call “tribal knowledge” when it comes to a sales process. A new salesperson observes existing salespeople and picks up a few things from each. The next person does the same and that repeats. Over time, all the salespeople “kind of” do it the same, but nothing is really written down and no single person practices all best practices. The best sales teams have documented the process, train to the process and live by the process. They don’t skip steps and they even measure effectiveness of each step. The process becomes more repeatable and salespeople ramp up much faster.
  • Accountability:Less effective companies have lots of conversations every day with their salespeople, but those conversations are about a deal or an issue. The highest performing companies sit down on a regular basis and talk about performance via a structured 1 on 1. Ah, this usually leads to the scary “M” word – micro-management. That is not what we mean at all. These companies review with the salesperson to see if they are meeting activity goals, close rate goals, size of client and whether they are executing their plans. If they are, they get recognized for it. If not, they have a healthy discussion about what needs to change to get back on plan.
  • The Leader: This is the biggest wild card. Most sales leaders used to be awesome salespeople. Then one day, they got promoted and are magically overnight supposed to know how to set strategy, interview, hire, train, hold people accountable, provide coaching and feedback, etc. But nobody ever teaches them how. They know “what” to do in a sales situation, and may even be able to provide direction, but few are good at teaching other salespeople how to do everything correctly. Even fewer are good at sitting down and having that structured 1 on 1 to guide people back to their plans. As a result, they jump from deal to deal and fire to fire simply reacting to whatever the day throws at them. The best sales teams have a sales leader that has a sound management system. They are constantly looking to develop their team members, keep them focused on their plans and make sure they are leveraging proven systems and processes.

If you read this blog hoping to find a silver bullet, I am sorry to disappoint you. There isn’t one. Instead, we have found there is a combination of several things that really make high performing sales teams. If your team is not meeting expectations, look at this list and see where there may be some opportunities for improvement.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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