The world of sales is looking pretty different now to twenty years ago.
So if you're looking to build or grow a sames team that not only performs well, but performs consistently above the competition, your approach needs to change too.
Twenty years ago, most sales teams worked in competitive silos. Individual sales people worked on their own deals. So the organization was reliant on the sales manager to be a taskmaster.
As a result, the initial steps of building a sales team revolved around processes.
That’s no longer the case because of how much has changed over time. Specifically, that change has been driven by three overlapping cultural factors: employees, buyers and the selling environment.
#1 Employees have changed
Millennials, for example, represent the largest generational shift in the workforce. A study by Deloitte found millennials have strong views on ethics, innovation, opportunity, activism and generosity. Most sales managers today are millennials, and look at things differently. They have different values and priorities for their work, and a natural inclination to shake up outdated processes.
#2 Buyer expectations have changed
Potential customers have access to more information throughout their buyer journey. This means they are better educated and have formed stronger preferences by the time they speak with the sales team. This has challenged salespeople to get better and work in more nuanced ways with such informed buyers.
#3 The selling environment has changed
And by that we mean - it's more challenging. Sales teams have added new roles – such as BDRs and SDRs – to help break down the complexity. With e-commerce and web conferencing, many of the traditional sales actions are now performed online. The role is largely hybrid, or entirely remote, which has introduced new ways of engaging customers.
A study by McKinsey found the number of sales communication channels doubled from five to 10, between 2016 and 2021. It also found customers expect their experience on each of these channels to be consistent. This has forced salespeople to adapt their digital skills while improving solution-selling and persuasive storytelling skills.
Instead of focusing on process to build or grow your sales team, the most effective sales leaders begin with culture.
How to build a high-performing sales teams
High-performance in a team all comes down to culture. Creating the right culture fosters incremental and continuous improvement. Culture creates a team that obsesses about getting better – and getting better together. Tackling any hurdles the market throws at you with adaptability, determination and camaraderie.
So how do you create such a culture?
There are four cornerstones – build, hire, train and coach. While it may be tempting to focus on just one of these due to short-term goals or perspectives, they are all crucial long term.
Cornerstone 1: Build
The best-performing sales teams are guided by leaders who serve as connectors. They create a collaborative environment that’s focused on the customer.
This is important because connectors rarely recruit talent in their own image. Instead, they value diversity and the range of positive attributes that brings to the team.
The “build” cornerstone means having a team mentality, especially in terms of winning deals. Connectors facilitate consensus and help the team make decisions together, even if the customer only interacts with one individual. The strengths of each team member are brought together to achieve an outcome. And the result is more positive than any one member working alone.
Cornerstone 2: Hire
To build a high-performance team, it’s best to avoid talent that thinks they’ve mastered the job already. There’s too much change and uncertainty in sales. The salespeople who think they know everything aren’t focused on improvement. Every business is different, and that drives industry or job-specific requirements. However, the key to hiring for high performance is to look for the right attributes.
A high-performing team needs people that are coachable, value feedback, and have a growth mindset. This is a class of talent that’s both proud of their skills and honest about the gaps in their ability.
Underpinning your hiring process with this perspective will make for a diverse sales team packed full of potential and adaptability. And will likely lead to lower staff turnover too.
Cornerstone 3: Train
Before founding Jiminny, our CEO Tom Lavery worked for a sales team with a training program called “Fit to Pitch.” Like many sales teams, Fit to Pitch provided sales training – but it also tested the team after training to see what they retained.
- Can they articulate the problem we solve and key points of differentiation?
- Have they absorbed enough product training?
- Do they understand the competitors well enough?
- Are sales methodologies not just remembered, but understood?
Each level of promotion came with higher testing standards. So, the idea behind the cornerstone of “train” isn’t just about passing along information but developing a program to ensure members of a high-performing sales team absorb it.
It bears mentioning that testing isn’t just about measuring an individual’s learning capacity. It’s
also about ensuring the suitability of the training.
Cornerstone 4: Coach
Sales performance coaching sounds easy on paper, but in practice it’s the most difficult cornerstone to implement.
When a sales rep reaches out to a leader for help, what is that leader most likely to do? The natural human tendency is to help – so we give them the answer.
The problem is that’s not coaching. A coaching conversation is an exercise in facilitation where a sales leader helps their team member help themselves. Those coaching conversations build trust, curiosity and teaches sales professionals to think for themselves. In turn, this builds more resilient, adaptive and high-performing sales teams.
Once reps develop the coaching mindset and the culture is implemented, the amount of coaching that takes place increases organically. Reps will begin to self-coach and peer-to-peer coach, in addition to their manager-led coaching sessions. For more on this, check our our fundamental guide to coaching.
Enabling sales success without leaders
Leaders must establish a framework for a collaborative culture to evolve through both words and deeds. This brings us back to the point about sales leaders serving as connectors. Connectors help sales teams to be successful with, or without, their direct involvement.
If these cornerstones are how to build a high-performing sales team – this final point is an indication of success. Different types of sales teams will have different benchmarks depending on their industry, structure and product. But high-performing sales teams share attributes beyond target numbers.