Working in sales is not easy, and selling has only become harder as the pace of change picks up. Because sales is a tough job, we have a stereotype about what it takes to succeed: The story goes that salespeople have to be incredibly competitive, even when they work at progressive, collaborative organizations. We think about lone wolves, working to meet quotas and channel their inner “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
But you probably already know that this competitive, cutthroat stereotype of sales teams is incredibly outdated. With the pace of business accelerating — and technology leveling the competitive playing field — successful sales teams need to embrace a model that encourages greater internal collaboration while also planning for an uncertain future. Today, the most successful salespeople do everything they can to find knowledge and insight inside their organizations and leverage that expertise to make the sale. It’s time to focus on that more collaborative view of sales — it’s time to build more resilient sales teams.
What do we mean when we talk about resiliency? We go much deeper in this post, but in brief:
Resiliency is a quality of a team that’s built to withstand, anticipate, and conquer any challenge.
By prioritizing teamwork, rather than the insular dog-eat-dog model that focuses on individual success (sometimes at the expense of the organization itself), we can build sales teams built for the long haul.
So what could this resiliency model look like for your sales team? We got advice from two experts on how sales teams can reinvent themselves for the future of work.
Streamline communication and collaboration
One of the pillars of resiliency is communication. But sales teams are often moving very fast to keep up with changes in the marketplace and changing customer needs — and sales quotas. That speed doesn’t leave much time for thoughtful collaboration.
And even if salespeople want to communicate openly with their colleagues, they may face barriers. Sy Islam, an industrial/organizational psychologist, says there are so many communication platforms available that choosing a method of communication can take more time than actually sending the message itself. “Teams now have email, they have project management tools and they have tools like Slack,” Islam says. “Figuring out the appropriate tools and ways in which to share information is a very important part of the process.”
Defining your communications channels can go a long way toward minimizing this confusion. Not only will your team know how and when to communicate with each other, but you’ll also set the expectation for salespeople that communication is required.
In the spirit of open collaboration, Islam recommends auditing how you share data within the organization. Some organizations use multiple databases that aren’t compatible, or standards on information sharing haven’t been set. “If the information isn’t consistent and clear, that makes things much harder for your team to communicate and to coordinate over time,” he says. “People have to know what the expectations are.”
Cross-train your teams
Sales teams can encounter internal obstacles that prevent them from succeeding. Islam cites a basic challenge that most people will relate to: working on a project when a crucial team member is on vacation. When an issue arises with a potential sale, the salesperson may be unable to resolve the problem (or close the sale) without information or help from their missing colleague.
This specific issue highlights the need for adaptability within teams. “Team members need to be cross-trained so they can step in when necessary,” Islam says. “Other people have to be aware of what your job is and know how to pick up the slack.”
Cross-training also fulfills two important organizational needs. It once more encourages your team to be collaborative — because team members understand each others’ roles more, they are better able to provide support for team members. And it also fulfills the need for professional development for your employees. Millennial and Generation Z employees particularly prioritize professional development, says Danita Bye, author of “Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader.” Providing additional training is as much a retention tool as it is an organizational strength. “If you want to retain top-tier talent, you have to be providing professional development,” Bye says.
Embrace consultative selling
Too often sales teams are tied up with wrangling short-term expectations. Organizational quotas and goals can put pressure on a team, leading salespeople to focus on the act of making a sale rather than delivering the best value to fit a customer’s needs.
That isn’t to say that your organization shouldn’t have goals. Of course it should. But the most resilient sales teams focus on consultative selling, listening to the customer and exploring their needs before offering a customized, tailored solution. In other words, resilient salespeople think of themselves as trusted advisers as much as salespeople.
What’s holding us back from developing consultative sales teams? Bye says many salespeople don’t receive training on these methods. “The biggest challenge I see is that salespeople, especially millennial and emerging salespeople, aren’t getting some of the guidance that they need to be effective,” she says. “When we look at the data, only about 25-30% of the salespeople can actually execute a selling strategy that is focused on listening, asking questions and really getting to the heart of the issue.”
By training your salespeople to be consultants first, you’ll also start to gather better intelligence on what your customers need. When sales can work a two-way communication channel — sharing internal expertise with customers, and bringing back intelligence about customer needs — your entire organization gets better. And that brings us back to another core principle of resiliency: By understanding the evolving demands of customers and the marketplace, sales teams can better plan for the future, and better equip the organization for the challenges ahead.