More Isn’t Always More: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Team Selling

Brian Williams, PhD

Paul, a rep for an alternative energy company we work with, recently won the largest deal of his career. In fact, it was the largest deal ever for the 12 other people on his team as well.

Paul knew he needed help from others to close the opportunity. For five months, Paul swiveled and pivoted between stakeholders in engineering, finance, operations, and IT. At the same time, others on his team scrambled to deal with the multiple decision makers.

The concept of a single sales rep managing a sale – even a simple sale – is long gone. The traditional solo-rep model is simply outdated. With more and more stakeholders involved in deals, coordinating it all is a team effort. Even a super-star can be left scrambling to keep up with consensus-driven opportunities.

But effective selling means more than just adding more folks to a pursuit team. Consider all the roles involved a sale today: SDRs, Account Executives, Product Engineers, Client Managers, Solution Architects, Professional Services, Customer Success… and on and on. Yet, the 'more bodies' answer doesn’t always translate into better sales performance. A ‘more is more’ mindset brings its own set of problems. 

Today’s team selling model often reminds me of watching my son play soccer when he was five years old: 8 kids on a team, moving like a mob around the ball. Parents would shout, “You’re on the same team,” as teammates pushed and shoved each other to get to the ball. The enthusiasm was certainly there, but with a little more team work, the young players might have actually scored!

Sales today is a team sport. But just like young soccer players, a little structure goes a long way. It’s impossible for a single rep to line up against the specialized constituents in complex opportunities. Adding more players to the team helps sellers see the problem and solution through more focused lenses. Diverse sales team members can better face-off to diverse buyer needs with targeted activities and messages.

But getting team selling right requires smarter sales management. It’s hard enough finding the right balance of structure and individual accountability in solo-rep models. Adding two, four, or even six players to a deal is a test for even the best sales leader. The team approach also multiplies the pressure on sales enablement.

Consider the following six strategic implications team-selling brings to sales organizations:

1. Sales methodology – Driving process and tool adoption with individual contributors is a major undertaking. A natural response is to simplify things so the concepts apply to all sales roles. But this inevitably dumbs down the power of the methodology. Make sure your methodology addresses the consensus selling realities and what it means to sell as a team. Don’t ‘peanut butter spread’ the elements. Define tools and processes for each role.

2. Incentives Team selling requires an entirely new, and potentially complex, structure for rewards and incentives. Many sales organizations are struggling to manage the rising cost-of-sales brought by new selling team roles. Credit allocation and adjudication is becoming a major time-suck for sales leaders. New comp designs are needed to win in this model.

3. Talent selection – The lone-wolf rep stereotype can be a common reality, even today. We see these personalities struggle the most with consensus selling. Team work isn’t their strong-suit, which creates tension with other sellers. While we believe there isn’t a single ideal rep profile, today’s sellers must embrace collaboration. Recruiting the right talent and then assessing a team-mentality is a major new challenge.

4. Training – Sales training must reflect the role while also helping individual team members see the big picture. Avoid the temptation of putting all of your sellers through the same program. Adding role-specific breakout sessions helps, but doesn’t replace the need for targeted training content and reinforcement. Great team sales training builds a common vocabulary while embracing the nuances needed by role.

5. Coaching – Front-line sales managers are charged with bringing together the specialized roles to win deals. But some managers spend too much time working like translators at the UN. Instead of coaching to the next sales action, they’re wasting time getting everyone on the same page. Cross-functional coordination shouldn’t be confused with good pursuit coaching.

6. Role clarity – Research shows that poor role clarity is one of the top drivers of poor sales performance. Ambiguity across multiple sales roles only amplifies the problems. The best team selling organizations have taken the time to define their roles in detail. This definition becomes real through the methodology and is reinforced with strong coaching and aligned incentives.

What do you think? Does your team selling model resemble 5-year-old soccer players moving like a pack across the field? Or, are your different roles working together in close orchestration – personifying the best of teamwork?

Activating the teamwork for today’s consensus buying requires thoughtful planning and execution. Reps need a new toolset, skillset, and mindset to effectively align all influencers on the buying side. And they need new strategies for teaming internally.

Strong team selling takes on new urgency in 2019. Let us help you tap into the latest research and insights to be more effective in consensus deals. Contact us to learn more and win more.

Catch up on last week’s blog about consensus buying and check out additional blogs here.

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.