What makes a great sales team? There’s no real consensus. Some say charm; others cite instinct. In some quarters, it’s even thought that greatness only results from years of experience on the frontline. But the truth is, if you’re looking for a miracle cure-all, you’re going to be disappointed: there’s no one right answer to this question. In the modern age, building a good sales team needs a sustained effort across all fronts. It can, in some respects, be compared to a car: having excellent suspension isn’t much use if you’ve got a flat tire.
To be effective, your team needs to be a well-oiled, well-equipped machine that can demonstrate excellence across multiple areas simultaneously. At sales-i, our research into the psychology of successful sales teams suggests that concentrating on these four areas will yield good results.
In order to hire the right people, you need to be able to attract them. It isn’t always possible to tell if you’ve done this in the interview room. Part of this is because the true nature of an employee will often only reveal itself over a longer period: you can’t know that a new sales hire will get you results until you’ve given them sufficient time to close deals.
Another issue is that prospective employees tend to say the same things in interviews – things they’re not expected to prove. They may project confidence and self-belief, but it may mask extreme insecurity and emotional fragility; they might say they’re driven, but they don’t have to show any actual drive.
One way to get around this is to create an interview process that forces them to demonstrate their seriousness about the position. For example, in ancient Jewish tradition, a prospective convert would be rejected by a rabbi three times before finally being welcomed into the fold; in recent years, HR professionals have adapted this procedure for their staffing needs. The ‘first round rejection’ technique involves rebuffing all initial applications for a position whether they’re excellent or dreadful. The ones that ask for feedback – or better yet, a second chance – have proven their drive, and are invited to interview.
The public perception of salespeople is that they’re fundamentally pushy and aggressive by nature – the good ones, anyway. This is reinforced by films like “Glengarry Glen Ross”and “Lord of War,” where they’re portrayed as amoral operators who take advantage of their customers.
But that’s not the case. Killer instinct is important, but it’s equally important to understand that it’s a relationship – and relationships that are all take and no give are always doomed to failure. The customer has always been at the centre of sales, but in the digital age, with search engines and online reviews, this is more apparent than ever.
Understanding customer needs requires emotional intelligence, but it’s a hard thing to quantify. There are certain standard procedures in place to measure empathy – psychometric testing, for example – that may work, but if you find them still lacking, consider a “worst-case scenario” exercise in the interview: asking a candidate what they liked least about their previous job. Those who can turn a negative into a positive and understand the employer’s perspective usually find it much easier to relate to customers.
Hiring capable people is one thing, but you can’t just wind them up and watch them go. Talent needs to be nurtured, and employees need to be given the necessary skills to succeed as professionals. This is especially true of younger, graduate-level employees who may not have reams of experience, but it can also apply to seasoned salespeople who aren’t acquainted with the way your company works.
Your training and onboarding should be designed with one goal in mind: get everybody on the same page, regardless of work history or prior accomplishments. They need to understand the way your company does things, and to get in sync with your processes and business objectives: it’s much easier to get your salespeople aligned with your company philosophy early in the game than it is to do so later on.
The importance of digital channels to sales won’t have escaped anybody reading this, but it’s worth mentioning anyway – particularly since nothing may be more critical to business success than a technological edge over your competitors. Charisma, training, determination; they’re all essential criteria for entry, but they won’t necessarily win you business anymore. To really get ahead, you’ll need to wield slightly more potent weapons.
For example, the advent of big data means that sales teams across the world have access to vast pools of potentially actionable information on their prospects and customers. Sales intelligence software unlocks this potential, providing valuable insights in an instant. Got a big client meeting coming up, but can’t remember everything you covered in the last one? You can get caught up on the train journey to their HQ. Need to know if, let’s say, a recent uptick in the sales of dessert spoons might lead to an opportunity to cross-sell cake forks? You can get a recommendation grounded in real data.
The essence of the trade remains the same: a salesperson needs to be able to mount a good charm offensive in order to thrive. But using appropriate software will give them a stronger platform to do so – ensuring that they, and your company, spend time and money where it counts. With the right technology, the enterprising business owner has an opportunity to tilt the odds in their favour; whether they seize it or not is ultimately up to them.
Paul Black is CEO and co-founder of sales-i, a provider of customer intelligence software as a service (SaaS) in the United Kingdom and the U.S.