Formalizing the Teams You Didn’t Know You Had

By Heather Baldwin

Do your sales reps operate strictly as individuals – lone rangers on a mission to meet quota without any help or assistance – or do they sell as part of a team? Chances are your answer is that they sell alone, and chances are you’re wrong. “The biggest challenge in team selling is that many organizations actually are team selling, they just haven’t thought about it,” says George Lichte, vice president business development at Entelechy, a Merrimack, New Hampshire-based company that helps organizations increase productivity, reduce costs and win more opportunities by unlocking the full potential of their teams and individuals (www.unlockit.com). If your reps rely on the expertise of even one other person to make a sale – an engineer to explain the product’s underlying technology or a CEO to talk executive-to-executive – they are selling as part of a team. If you want to see sales improve, you must teach your reps how to manage their teams effectively.

For starters, sales reps must understand their role in a team is that of leader and coordinator, not lone ranger superstar. It’s an informal management position, says Lichte, which is a tough adjustment for reps who are used to going it alone. “Salespeople typically see themselves as individuals because they have individual quotas to meet, are measured as individuals and thus tend to forget about the people who need to be part of a sale,” Lichte explains.

Identifying those people is the first step in successful team selling, however. At the outset of a sale, reps must identify who they’ll need on their team throughout the selling process, regardless of whether individual team members participate for an hour, a day or the majority of the time spent on the sale.

Next, reps must plan how they are going to communicate with their team members. Communication, says Lichte, includes regular updates on the sale, running meetings, coordinating customer presentations and meetings and marshalling the company resources required to address the customer’s needs. It also includes briefing those accompanying the rep to see the customer prior to the meeting. What, if anything, are those people expected to say? When? What new developments should they know about? “They should operate as though they were running a business,” suggests Lichte.

Managing a team is a tough, complex job that not every rep is able to handle. Add multiple sales with multiple team members in multiple stages of progress and it’s easy to see why sales managers need to carefully choose the reps who take on this role. “Sales managers need to look for reps who are willing to collaborate,” stresses Lichte. “Since they naturally operate as individuals, salespeople have a tendency to not reach out, to think it might look weak to rely on someone else for an answer. But the people who make the best team managers are those who are willing to delegate and defer to other people.”

So if your reps are informally operating within teams, take steps to formalize those teams and promote those reps to managers. Give them the tools and training they need to operate effectively in their roles as leaders, and then watch their sales skyrocket.