Team-based Selling: the future, or just a passing fad?

A recent article by McKinsey was quoted on LinkedIn as saying: “There is no doubt the role of sales in successful organisations is changing. The tools needed to be successful are changing. The structure of successful sales teams is changing. The role of the customer and the collaboration required between buyer and seller is changing”.

Undoubtedly, all of the above is true and is already happening to some degree in most forward-looking organisations. Partly this is being driven by the age-old pressure for increasing revenues coming from senior managers keen to grow rapidly (although not always for the best reasons) but it is also a reaction to the way the decision-making power is shifting heavily in favour of the buyer who is now better informed than ever before. It is also fair, and painful, to say that many sales organisations have brought this on themselves by exhibiting and rewarding behaviours that are very short-term in their effect and which are not focused on bringing value to the customer. A perfect storm you might say, with added currents of big data fuelling the winds of change.

If we unpick this a little, it’s clear that old-style sales processes (where we expect the customer to follow our pre-defined sequence of stages and activities) go hand-in-glove with highly leveraged sales commission plans where the salesperson is the “hero” and pockets the rewards as a percentage of the sale value. Meanwhile the rest of the people who have supported his/her efforts are all too frequently left to sort out any problems with little reward for their efforts. We hear lots of cliché style statements around this such as “there is no I in team” and “sales is a team sport” yet often the only person on the team who gets any real recognition is the goal scorer, i.e. the salesperson. The others who put him in that position in the first place are overlooked. Does any of this encourage the right selling behaviours, as seen in the eyes of the customer?

If the collaboration between buyer and seller is changing (and it is) then the sales approach, including team structure, process and tools to support that change must come together. Firstly we need to ensure our sales process can be adapted to the customers buying process; secondly our sales process needs to treat all roles involved in the sale as first-class citizens. Sadly, many traditional sales processes only pay passing lip-service to the roles played by others involved – from pre-sales technical advisors, to implementation engineers, to marketing and even to finance and legal. Without these other functions, the sale won’t happen no matter how big a hero the salesperson is  – so what can we do to make the changes needed to strengthen and transform the buyer-seller dynamics?

This is where Essential Sales Process (ESP) can accelerate your own transformation and with it your ability to deliver greater and more relevant value to your customers. ESP looks at the entire engagement through seven different “lenses” if you will, to get the most complete picture possible of the status of any opportunity being worked on. Specific aspects of a sales opportunity, for example the customer relationship, the solution offered, the contract negotiated, are individually called out to ensure that a more “holistic” view is taken, with each aspect being independently planned and tracked. Planning and tracking uses simple checklists based on outcomes that add value and advance the opportunity forward, enabling the team to act in a more customer-centric way.

But ESP goes even further – one of those aspects, or lenses, is “Team” – in other words, team-based behaviour and decision making are fundamental to the process. By doing this, the impact of acting as a team is a highly visible key indicator of the maturity of the sales team, how well they are functioning, and – crucially – how likely they are to succeed. As with the principles of agile, upon which ESP is based, the team should (ideally) be self-organising – i.e. the team decides how to organise itself, owns its way of working, and (again ideally) how the recognition and rewards for success will be shared between the members. This might sound radical to many sales managers, but if done right, it works.

As the days of high pressure, commission driven, individually focused sales activities are left behind and replaced by measuring outcomes that deliver customer value from the whole team, ESP will grow with you and provide the rigour, but without the rigidity, needed to move quickly and effectively in step with your customer.

No-one likes the feeling of being pressured into a buying decision dictated by the needs of the person selling to them, so ESP forms the foundation for a radically different approach that brings many benefits. And in a world where salespeople are perceived as increasingly uniform, differentiation based on a customer-focused behaviour set, backed up with a sales process that encourages and rewards those very behaviours, is no longer optional – it is essential.