On the Importance of Creating a Collaborative Sales Culture

You may recall the scene in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” when Alec Baldwin’s character explains what’s at stake in a sales contest: First prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives; third prize means … well if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s time to get on Netflix! To many of us, that represents oldschool sales—short-term goals, huge prospect lists, and a culture of turn-and-burn, get-in-get-out selling. In today’s world, many companies are selling more complex goods and services. They know that longer sales cycles are an investment in current and future business, and they cultivate a team atmosphere where sales reps work together instead of crushing knuckles while climbing the ladder to the top.

These days, collaboration is a key tool for carving out your organization’s market share in a world of global competition and increasingly savvy customers. It’s bad for business when within your own company’s reps jump territories and pilfer leads. You might have “Glengarry Glen Ross” stragglers hanging around the margins, but the more you foster a collaborative culture, the less you’ll have to work to curb undermining behaviors.

In the spirit of sharing, below are some helpful tips for building a strong sales team.

The Hive Mind
When it comes to company culture, product information, and target demographics, the place you’ll find the most valuable data store is in the hive mind of your entire team. You know more together than you do apart, so help each other by using that collective knowledge to benefit everyone involved. Hold team meetings in which you openly discuss pipeline deals currently being worked on. Share the love over the wins, but also postmortem the losses together, so that everyone gets an education into what went right and what bombed miserably. Do like they do in the cop shows and pair a veteran sales rep with a newbie. As they work a deal together, they’ll learn from each other because their perspectives will be so different—the vet brings experience; the novice brings objectivity and fresh ideas.

Divvying Up
A word of caution about commission splitting: When two or more sales folks successfully work a deal as a team, sales managers often split the commission between them. But resentment can blossom as reps start to lob complaints along the lines of, “I did more, so I should get more.” That gets messy and runs counter to a collaborative sales environment. Instead, encourage team spirit with things like praise for work well done, spot bonuses; even a retooled delayed-compensation plan that recognizes a two- or three-person closing. For example, each of the closers gets 75 percent of the total commission that just one rep would have gotten.

Hire Team Players
When you’re looking to fill sales positions, vet potential hires to see if they’ve got a “we mentality.” Note the language they use in the interview. Is it all about “I beat my quota,” “I got salesperson of the month three times”? Or do they say things like, “We achieved X,” “We reached X goal”? Hire the ones whose work anecdotes contain as much or more about their previous company’s successes than their own personal wins.

Let the Games Begin, Nicely
Though Cadillacs and steak knives aren’t necessarily dream rewards these days (especially for vegetarian Prius drivers), sales contests are still a good idea. Competition is healthy. Just avoid divisively pitting individual reps against each other. Instead, generate a spirit of competition by having teams go against teams. This builds morale—teams can come up with names and even T-shirts and posters—it can also be a lot of fun.

Everyone benefits when you invest in your sales team. It’s good for them, and it’s good for the company as a whole. But make sure you do your part as an organization. Coach team members. Provide training based on observations and feedback. If, say, a rep is road-blocking success because he or she is not wellversed when it comes to software applications and is therefore keeping crucial notes stored in a desktop file, as opposed to in a communal CRM, offer her/him technical mentoring by a team member who knows your CRM up and down. Likewise, provide sales training classes to younger teammates and/or to those who’ve come into sales from another line of work. And provide all new employees with the tools and training to get up to speed on your products and services. Finally, your sales managers should always be
accessible and available to meet reps’ needs and answer their questions.

Ultimately, what you want are team players, so make reps feel like they’re in collaboration with the company as a whole. And here and there, just for good measure, kick it old school with donuts and coffee, same as they used to do in the less enlightened days. Go team!