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6 Characteristics of a Successful Sales Team

A question I get asked a lot is “What makes a high performance sales team?”

Many of our clients want to know what characteristics they should be looking out for in their people and what separates a great sales team from an average one.

Having worked with hundreds of sales teams and conducted extensive research into what makes the real difference between an average sales team and a great (or ‘world-class’) sales team, we have come up with the following characteristics:

1. Customer orientation

Since selling is all about aligning your solution with the customer’s needs and desires, a superior knowledge of the client’s world is crucial to the success of any sales team.

To gain superior customer knowledge and outsell the competition, team members should gather as much information about their customers as possible. They should be passionate in their pursuit of customer satisfaction and should immerse themselves in conversations around the customer’s external environment, internal ‘pain points’ and their (known and hidden) needs.

Individual team members should also ‘sell’ their customers’ needs to their own company and portray their customers as the most important that the company has.

2. Own company capability knowledge, relationships and innovation

To acquire a superior knowledge of their own company’s capabilities, each team member should be encouraged to familiarise themselves with the features, advantages and benefits (FABs) of all their products and services.

Along with superior customer knowledge, a high degree of product knowledge will make it easier for your sales people to align solutions with customer needs and desires.

Individual team members should also map out innovative ways in which their company’s capabilities can be positioned and/or adapted to differentiate their proposition from that of the company’s competitors. This should also help team members to up-sell and cross-sell solutions across their portfolio.

3. Proactivity, drive & determination for results

The sales team should be highly self-motivated and proactively create and drive sales opportunities forward. This should enable individual team members to deliver benefits for their customers, as well as great results for their employers, the team and themselves.

4. Collaboration and a balance of personality types

To be a successful sales team, it is really important that individual members of the team work together rather than in competition with one another.

By working collaboratively and being dependent on each other’s selling skills and knowledge, members of the sales team will be deterred from behaviours that can be destructive to the entire team. Collaboration will reduce the likelihood of a destructive blame culture developing in the sales team, for example, while it should foster a more positive and creative working environment – in turn, improving team performance and results.

The team also needs to be balanced with creators, shapers and completer-finishers. If you have a team that simply consists of fiery hunters and you ask them to work together, sparks will most likely fly and team members will clash. On the other hand, if all of your team members are farmers, it is most likely that your sales strategy will take too long to bear fruit.

5. A ‘factory’ approach to planning and actions

The sales team must take planning really seriously and ensure that they develop and implement plans that have direct and tested links from the analysis stage right through to action and results.

So many times we have seen teams implementing a sales strategy that fails to credibly link the past, the present, the near-term and the long-term. Successful sales teams make their plans (and all associated activities) Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound (SMART). They make their plans drive their activities and constantly revisit, review and test their plans.

6. Manager, leader, coach

Great teams need great leaders. Great leaders are inspirational in the way they are able to adapt to different situations and different challenges.

Sometimes they need to tell and drive; sometimes they need to create a credible vision for others to aim for; sometimes they need to facilitate and coach; sometimes they simply need to let go… In fact, every day and every task requires a slant towards different requirements and the sales team’s leader has to let go of his or her own ego – they need to be agile when it comes to switching their leadership style.

In summary, great teams need to be put together carefully. They need to love their customers while leading the way for their own company. They need to plan and drive results. They need leaders who can adapt their style from being a sales manager to a sales leader to a sales coach when the time is right.

Many say that great leaders are born and that great teams rarely come together by chance. But we firmly believe that successful sales teams can be designed, built, developed and emulated in any situation. You need intelligent, willing and passionate sales people on board who are willing to work together for the customer, the team, the company and for their own ultimate gain.

Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase