Building a High-Performance Sales Team – by John Kypriotakis
What a dream come true for any organization, a high-performance sales team. A team feared by competitors and respected by clients for its knowledge, business savvy, value and results.
Is your team at that level yet? If not, how will you go about getting there?
One suggestion would be to approach this process as if you were starting completely anew, as if you were just given the responsibility to build and lead a high-performance sales team. Think about it…what would you do next?
CRYSTAL CLEAR PURPOSE
High-performance sales teams require high-performance leadership. At the core the sales leader should possess a clear vision for the sales organization and a concrete sales plan congruent with the company’s direction. The key objectives and performance standards required to materialize this vision, and the plans to implement them, must be clearly communicated to each of the team members.
These first few steps sound deceptively elementary and, as a result, are often missed. This makes accountability nearly impossible, since expectations have neither been communicated nor agreed upon and it’s a classic characteristic of non-performing sales teams.
What is it that this team should deliver? What specific activities are its members expected to perform? What type of accounts will they target, in which markets, at what level of the target organization, selling what type of product mix? Are they to focus mostly on new business, existing business, etc?
Answers to these types of questions are crucially important to developing a dynamic sales team because, in addition to defining the task (job duties and responsibilities), they also define the type of person that can best complete it (personal traits and professional competencies).
EVALUATING EXISTING TEAM
Once the job responsibilities, personal traits and professional competencies are defined and agreed upon by the management team, this next step becomes much easier.
It’s time to evaluate the existing team… How closely do they fit the profile that is needed to succeed in the marketplace? This is done in a variety of ways:
- Reviewing Performance: Sales Trends, Profitability, New Account Development, etc.
- Personal observation: Making joint calls, debriefing accounts and strategy, evaluating their ability and willingness to learn and adapt, etc.
- Utilizing Assessments: Evaluate skills, attitudes, and behaviors relating to selling. Many such instruments are available from organizations like Assess Systems, Caliper, Target Training, etc.
This evaluation will lead to the determination that perhaps the right people are already on board, that some or all of the team members need additional training to meet high-performance standards, or that some new members have to be added to the team to replace or complement the existing staff.
It’s time for some difficult but necessary decisions to be made….Who from the sales team should remain (meaning that they either already perform as expected or have the ability to do so with the right development efforts) and who should go?
The sooner such a decision is made, the better for all involved. Not enough organizations err on the side of making this decision too quickly. Most often, non-performing employees are allowed to stay on board much longer than is acceptable. Having well defined performance standards makes the need for taking this action much more visible and forces the decision much sooner – and that’s a good thing.
Once you have identified the “openings” the next step is to bring on the next generation of top-performers for the team.
BRINGING NEW PLAYERS ON BOARD
This is an ongoing process – recruiting does not begin the day one realizes the need to add a new member to the team. It starts well before then, by getting to know and keeping in touch with potential candidates early on so they are available to discuss the possibilities when an opportunity arises.
The objective is to bring on board highly qualified, potential top performers. To do this, a systematic and selective approach works best – develop task requirements and an ideal candidate profile, then match traits and competencies to the skills needed and corporate culture.
Utilizing a team approach is advisable when assessing potential candidates. Recruiting is a process that is best carried out by a team of key players with an interest in the success of the sales organization. In essence, these should be people that will be working with this individual when he or she comes aboard (e.g.: president or owner, sales executive, marketing executive, customer service manager, representatives of the sales team).
The interviewing team needs common objectives and tools to evaluate the agreed upon traits and competencies. This eliminates “gut feel” decisions and allows the team to provide the sales leader with specific feedback on strengths and weaknesses instead of “I think she’ll be fine” or “He seems to be a good guy” or similar generic and often wrong assessments.
Finally, utilize assessments to compare the strengths and weaknesses of potential employees to your own, industry standards or sales process-specific norms. This is an effective and unbiased way to receive invaluable insight into potential candidates.
CREATING THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
Are the company culture and environment conducive to a high-performance sales team?
The right environment requires a properly designed compensation plan that is attractive to top performers, rewards the right activities and results, is challenging (but still achievable) and, above all, fair.
To attract and keep top-performers, the compensation structure has to be just right – give great weight to creating the best plan possible. Research your market, get input from your peers and discuss ideas with top-performers regarding what works best in their respective areas.
Since competitive and independent high-performers spend most of their time in a volatile marketplace they have to be part of a supportive team internally. How is the internal support staff viewing your sales team? Is there any evidence of the “we-they” syndrome? If so, it is imperative to find what causes it and eliminate these factors as quickly as possible. The marketplace is tough enough without internal battles.
To find out what works, and what doesn’t, interview existing staff. What do they like most about their job and their working environment? What do they like the least? What have they heard as reasons that people have left the company in the past? What seems to be preventing them and others from performing their best?
Very helpful of course would be to conduct exit interviews with those that are leaving the company. The knowledge you’ll gain will go a long way in improving the environment.
Feedback from your own team will produce the best list, but generally the environment that top-producers and top-performing teams are looking for has the following characteristics:
Productive, Positive, Rewarding, High Energy, Growth oriented, Collaborative, Learning culture, etc.
How does a high-performance team continue to operate at such a high level at all times? Ongoing development is the key, and a most important task for the sales leader. It is as challenging a practice as it is a rewarding one.
The trap sales leaders fall into, is to believe that a “good performer” does not need any guidance, input or additional improvement. Contrary to what some might think, high-performance sales teams and top performers do welcome a sales leader’s involvement. The different perspective of an interested observer (sales leader) serves to enhance their performance well beyond what they could do on their own.
The wholesale approach to development is just not good enough for this team though, so it is important to recognize individual needs.
The issues the sales leader has to deal with are quite diverse: refining processes to make it easier for the team to sell, strategizing on next steps needed to acquire or grow key accounts, arranging for training to overcome identifiable shortcomings, and dealing with conflicts are but a few.
The development effort entails setting clear expectations, monitoring results, providing feedback and, most importantly, working with individuals to clear obstacles and give them the tools or skills they need to continue succeeding.
It cannot be overstated how important the right amount of ongoing involvement from the sales leader can be for the team. It is a lot easier to manage an average performer or an average team. The issues are easier to resolve because the individuals involved most likely have not considered many of the options prior to getting to the sales leader. With top performers that is not the case, they have already considered and even tried the most obvious solutions… they are looking for advanced level collaboration.
Challenging? Yes, but helping these individuals perform at their best turns a group of top-performing sales people into a formidable high-performance sales team.
John Kypriotakis is the president of Lysis International, a sales and management consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida. John can be reached at 813-792-8500 or firstname.lastname@example.org or:
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