A strong, high-performance sales team is critical to a successful business. But what makes a sales team truly great, and what strategies can leaders use to create a team that's highly successful? To address these questions, we're talking to CROs and sales executives about "How To Turn a Good Sales Team into a Great One." As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry Maher
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we begin, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us what brought you to this career path?
I grew up in the Boston area. As a kid, I sold greeting cards and magazine subscriptions, then during and after college, I built my own advertising specialties business. On Easter morning, I got a phone call from a major multi-national and before I knew it, I was in the corporate world—albeit with a different Fortune 100 company. Who wants to work for a corporation that calls you on Easter?
From there, I wrote books on sales, management, and marketing which led to my career in speaking, consulting and writing.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took from that story?
I once took a position as a sales manager with a Fortune 100 company, having been told that my unit had been first in the division the year before. When I got there, however, I found that the six person unit had three new talented but floundering rookies and one opening—where the top salesperson in the region had recently transferred out.
This year, the unit was dead last in the region, so far in the hole that no matter how much they sold some of them wouldn’t see commission checks for at least two months. And because of the way the previous manager had manipulated the current canvas to ensure his promotion, each rep was stuck with a desk full of problem accounts—all of which had to be dealt with in the next three weeks.
In my first meeting with my new unit, I’d told them that within one year they were going to be the number one unit in the region. Within less than a year they were. So how did I build their morale and turn the unit around?
I didn’t. They did. I just made it possible for them to do it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
No Lie: Truth Is the Ultimate Sales Tool, my latest book, is designed to help salespeople sell completely ethically—yet extremely successfully—as well as to help non-sales people who ever have to sell anything to anyone.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
A sales manager named Jim Brittan took a chance on me when I had no track record in this particular industry. He gave me the chance to prove what I could do when no one else would. That chance was the opportunity I needed to prove myself on a big stage.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell about your experience leading sales teams? How many years do you have, and what size teams have you led?
I’ve got twenty years of leading sales teams. They've truly ranged in all sizes from units of five or ten all the way up to literally hundreds of sales reps.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
To me, the three most important characteristics in any sales professional are ethics, empathy, and persistence. But they need to be persistent without appearing to be persistent. The more “no’s” they can get without ever appearing to push, the more successful they will ultimately be. The most successful salesperson in any organization is always the person who hears the most “no’s.” In the end, they hear the most “yes’s.”
As with any department, there can be a lot of different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. How do you manage such diversity on an individual basis?
The most important thing is to discover what truly motivates each member of your sales team. Every salesperson is different and responds differently to different incentives. The key job for any sales manager is to match the incentive to the team member, making sure not to show favoritism while doing it.
Can you tell us about a time that your sales team outperformed their targets? How high over did they go, and what was that like for everyone involved?
I routinely had the top sales team in the organizations I was in. As I said, we created a team mentality and everyone on that team was concerned with making it—and then keeping it—the best team in the organization.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
Depending upon the team, it’s my experience that it can be done within six months.
Amazing. Let's get to the meat of it: What are your five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
- Demonstrating faith in them. To me, great leadership is about showing people that there is more in them than they know: so they'll be unwilling to settle for less. I made it clear to them that I truly believed that they had the capability to be the best. Then I acted as if that were true. Within a very short time, they were all trying to live up to my expectations. A little while longer and they had adopted those expectations as their own, which meant they worked even harder to fulfill them.
I had one rep who lacked the confidence to make important calls without my support. When I felt he was fully trained and ready I called him on the day he was scheduled to handle his biggest account. I told him that he was now the one person on the team who could best handle that account and that I’d only be getting in the way. He ended up making the biggest sale of his life and from that point on, he was helping other reps.
- Demonstrating loyalty to them. I fought for them and championed them in the division and in the company. I had their best interests at heart. I found out what their short and long term goals were, and together we worked out concrete plans for reaching them. I never asked them to do anything without making it clear what was in it for them, and it wasn’t long before they were doing things for me and the company.
- Working for them. I explained my belief that the company was a selling organization and that made those who did the selling the most important people in the company. I told them that all the rest of us, the administrators, the managers, the VPs, the CEO, were support. Then I acted on that belief and supported them in every way I could.
- Praising and rewarding them for their accomplishments. When every member of my team but one qualified for the incentive trip, I reexamined the numbers in detail and realized that she’d sold more than some reps who had qualified. She just hadn’t been with the company for quite the full year. I fought to change the full year qualifying requirement and she ended up coming to France with the rest of the team.
- Creating a team mentality, together. We were going to be number one, and we were going to help and mentor each other to make sure that we all made it. We set up a mentoring program that went beyond the constant training that I was doing. No one who wanted or needed help was ever left alone with a problem, and mentoring others made the reps who did it more conscientious and ultimately more accomplished.
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective?
Demonstrating faith in people has always been the most effective strategy for me. If people think you have a high opinion of them it’s amazing how hard they will work to maintain that good opinion. And the more they respect you, the harder they will work.
Lastly, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I’d love it if I could make people realize how successful they’re actually capable of being—at whatever they might want to do—if they only believed in themselves.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me at the website MotivationalPresenter.