Are your sales people competing with each other?

This week I watched an amazing piece of footage of a flock of Starlings flying in the early evening sky and creating the most beautiful shapes, like isotopes forming and reforming before my eyes.  This is nature at its very best, magnificent and beautiful; thousands of birds flying in unison, all following a similar pattern and working with each other.  Watching a few birds fly and swoop alone is amazing enough but when you see a huge flock do it together they create a sight to behold.

This made me think of salespeople and how the great things they do separately can be multiplied many times over if they work together, helping each other and co-ordinating their approaches.

More often than not selling is presented as a lone wolf profession with each salesperson trying to out-do their colleagues in a dog-eat-dog world.  Just think of the portrayal of the salespeople in the film Glengarry Glen Ross and the many sales reference books that ask you to view your fellow salesperson as someone who will steal your business as soon as look at you. This impression has endured for many decades.  Salespeople operating independently can produce solid enough, even good results.  However, when salespeople work together in a team and share a common purpose they can be far more effective for their organisations and their clients. They may still be competitive in nature and love being successful, but their focus is on delivering for those clients and beating external competitors rather than trying to outdo their colleagues.

To illustrate, and at its most simple, the people in these teams will regularly speak to each to provide updates on competitor activity and share best practice.  This team-based approach to selling really comes into its own when targeting communities of interest; that is groups of buyers who reference each other when making buying decisions.  These buyers may be in the same sector, location or profession, for example HR Directors who reference each other when selecting talent management software or General Counsel who reference each other when selecting professional service providers.  It is like when you ask your friends or neighbours if they can recommend a good tradesman or financial advisor; you trust their judgement as you trust a supplier who understands your requirements.

If you are successful in selling to one member of this group you can use their recommendation and your experience in selling to other members.  This is particularly relevant when the communities are fragmented and difficult to sell into because winning a single deal is often costly, and can be time consuming.  Although the individual rewards to the sales person can be less attractive than a more traditional solo-sale, working together helps spread the workload and risk across the team, as well as accelerating learning about what is working and what isn’t working so that sales effectiveness can improve overall.

But this only happens when there is a culture of cooperation amongst the sales teams and a clear focused goal for the sales team and for the client or interest group in question.

One of the real beauties of this approach is that success can breed further success. Once a few deals have been won in a particular interest group, then others in that community become more inclined to buy from you. You can quickly establish credibility and your increased knowledge of the community enables you to create even greater value which can, of course, build barriers to competitor entry.  Winning deals also builds confidence within the sales team as members quickly see the benefit of team collaboration.

I have worked with teams who have successfully won tens of millions of pounds of new business through team selling into defined communities of interest.  This has represented business that they may have not have won if selling on their own, and that previously may have been considered unattractive due to the resources required to win individual deals.

In summary, tea-based selling allows:-

  • Accelerated learning across the sales team
  • Greater cross-fertilisation of ideas
  • Greater sharing of best practice
  • Pooling of resources to mount attacks on target markets and communities
  • Spreading of the risk in new or riskier markets
  • Maximise the value of the different skills in the team

If you are a sales leader here are the 7 key questions to consider:-

  1. Are we selling as individuals or as a team?
  2. What current methods do we use to collaborate in winning business, and which work best?
  3. How could we be more effective in selling to these communities of interest if we collaborated as a team?
  4. What should be our target communities of interest (groups of buyers who reference each other when making buying decisions)?
  5. How will we measure team success in selling to these communities of interest, including goal-setting, and how will we share the rewards?
  6. Do we need to separate team roles? (to better utilise individuals’ key skills – rainmakers, door openers, value creators etc.)
  7. How do we intend to learn about the mechanics of working together and to continuously improve our practice?

In certain circumstances, such as when targeting communities of interest, team selling can be incredibly effective both in increasing the value you deliver to both your customers and your own business. It takes focus and effort to make it work but the results can be worth it.

Four Pillars has an extensive range of tools and coaching methods for improving sales effectiveness for teams and individual sales and account managers. Get in touch and let’s start the conversation.

Photo posted with full acknowledgement to the Daily Mirror. We thought about including a picture of a flock of starlings but we couldn’t resist posting instead a classic photo of a dark side of ‘the beautiful game’.

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