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 Bill Nulf.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit of your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been a people person. My natural affinity for people has been a defining trait since childhood in a small Montana town, where I enjoyed interacting with others. At 17, I enlisted in the National Guard and worked with exceptional mentors who instilled discipline and helped me mature during my formative years. I served in the Guard for 20 years, committing a weekend each month. This was during the early stages of my sales career and gave me an outlet to balance my obligations and responsibilities, as well as improve my time management skills.
My initial sales position was in the copier industry, and it was quite a challenge. The job required rigorous training, cold calling, and knocking on countless doors with "No Soliciting" signs. However, I discovered that building relationships was critical to success, and this principle has guided me throughout my career. Presently, as the VP of channel sales, I focus on establishing strong connections with our resellers and partners. I remain devoted to my belief that interpersonal communication is vital to achieving our goals. I’m always on the phone.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
The funniest moment of my career coincided with April Fool's Day some years back. My coworkers and I had a playful relationship and weren't shy about pulling pranks on one another. On this particular day, I received an official-looking letter claiming that some of my coworkers had filed complaints against me and that disciplinary action was forthcoming. At first, I was rattled and concerned until I realized what day it was.
I was about to hit the road for meetings, but before I left, I looped in my manager and told him to inform my coworkers that I had resigned. This was back in the day of car phones—I had no mobile phone to communicate with as I headed out. When I returned to my car, I had tons of messages from my concerned colleagues who thought I had taken the prank seriously and were scrambling to make amends. But I left them all hanging, letting them sweat it out.
In retrospect, we all found the situation hilarious, but it did cause some stress in the moment. We all learned a valuable lesson about considering the consequences of our actions, even when we're just horsing around.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
With the current challenging economy, many smaller resellers face hardships in maintaining their businesses. We are closely reviewing our partner program to identify ways to assist them in improving their sales margins, such as offering discounts, rebates, or demo units. Our program allows resellers to register their deals for protection and keeps them updated on new products and promotions. Additionally, our program seeks to help resellers uncover opportunities in niche markets.
I was able to assist a museum in my hometown at the customer level. During a visit, I noticed that their touchscreens weren't functioning, but they lacked the resources to replace them. Luckily, we had the correct size in excess inventory from an acquisition. Through our reseller partner, we coordinated getting the touchscreens to the museum, solving their problem.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?
I first met Steven Abramovich in the late 1990s when I joined Tyco Electronics, and he later recruited me for another role at Henkel Corporation. Steven is a man of integrity who values family and prioritizes people. On my second day at Tyco, when my daughter fell sick, he encouraged me to skip a sales meeting and go home. This was a clear sign of his exceptional character. I strive to emulate Steven's people-first approach, whether dealing with customers, colleagues, or employees. I continue to speak with him weekly, discussing family and sports while seeking his wise counsel.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?
Since 1997, I have held leadership positions in sales teams, with only a brief five-year break. Throughout my career, I have managed teams of varying sizes, ranging from a few reps to an entire channel of resellers.
As a manager, I take a hands-off approach, empowering my team by providing them with the necessary tools, autonomy, and my availability for support. However, this only works when you have the right team members. That’s why I prefer to hire people from my network or individuals referred to me. When recruiting, I seek out those smarter than me in specific areas. From experience, I have found that surrounding yourself with intelligent, ethical people leads to success.
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? Is there such a thing as a blanket motivator?
Individuals will differ in various ways in any group, and some may require improvements. However, I believe it's crucial to concentrate on the positive attributes and not on shortcomings. Continuously reminding people of their weaknesses can make them forget their strengths. On the other hand, focusing on the positives encourages and motivates people to improve in areas where they may be lacking.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
To excel in sales, transparency and communication are critical. The top-performing sales representatives are skilled listeners who ask insightful questions and convey empathy while communicating a product's value. In today's high-tech, instant gratification era, sales reps can gain an advantage by mastering the basics. Developing these traits can propel a sales professional to new heights of success.
Similarly, sales managers must understand their teams as a whole and as individuals. Key managerial duties include engaging with the team, delving deeper into what motivates them, and helping them succeed.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all!
Surprisingly, criticism can enhance engagement. However, it's all about how a sales leader handles it. I never publicly criticize sales reps; instead, I reserve such conversations for private meetings. Additionally, I'm willing to accept criticism, creating a sense that everyone has a voice and we're all part of the team.
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did it have a direct correlation to sales?
A group incentive approach can be highly effective for a mature sales team. This strategy shifts the team's dynamic from competing individuals to a collaborative unit, with team members supporting and assisting one another. However, this approach is only successful if all team members contribute equally, as it doesn't work if new or ineffective reps rely on their colleagues' efforts.
When executed correctly, seasoned salespeople motivate each other to perform better, resulting in high compensation. I also always strive to share credit for success with others, even if I could take all the credit. Acknowledging everyone's contributions creates a motivating and supportive environment while gaining recognition from company leadership.
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?
While working with a team of four, our company launched a promotion campaign to drive large-format touchscreens, which was very successful. By the end of the campaign, all four team members had earned double their sales incentive targets, an amount they had never seen before. While the company saw it as an opportunity to expand a new product line, the sales team recognized the chance to boost their compensation.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
Companies that support their sales teams with resources and compelling offerings are destined for success. With the right foundation and training, business leaders can elevate their sales reps from good to great within a few years.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
1 . Empowerment and autonomy:
Empowering and granting autonomy to your sales team is crucial. First, build a team of reps who can work independently. Provide them with the necessary tools and training, then allow them to take the reins. Encourage them to make decisions independently while stressing the importance of representing the company ethically. While managers should assist with complex accounts and pricing, trusting your team to use their best judgment to make the right decisions is essential.
2 . The right tools:
To succeed in technology sales, reps need information at their fingertips, demonstration units, professionally produced documentation, efficient communication methods with their sales manager and team members, and other necessary tools. Sales leaders must guarantee that their reps have everything they need to effectively engage with customers and close deals.
3 . Company support:
It's crucial for sales reps to feel the company's support, both as valued team members and professionals. Providing the team with a reliable CRM tool to manage their work and helping them develop basic and advanced sales skills through training and classes can be very beneficial. By encouraging and providing the necessary resources, sales leaders can equip their reps with the tools they need to succeed.
4 Improve sales success through emulation:
Learning from the success of other companies is a smart move. If you find something that could work for your sales team, don't hesitate to adapt it to your approach. Reach out to successful companies to learn what strategies and tactics have worked for their reps and what hasn't led to good outcomes. However, it's important to view this advice through the lens of selling yourself first, then the company, and positioning yourself as an advisor. By doing so, the customer will trust you to provide the best possible solution.
5 . Encouragement and recognition:
Encouragement and recognition are essential for salespeople to perform at their best. Acknowledging their hard work and reminding them that their team and the company recognize their efforts can be very motivating. Positive feedback and encouragement can inspire them to continue striving for excellence. Awards presented in front of peers can be very effective, and non-monetary rewards such as trips to special events can create lasting memories. Such rewards can be more impactful than traditional monetary incentives, and incentivizing sales reps in this way can be very beneficial.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
In today's digital age, face-to-face interaction is more important than ever. The trend toward remote work and digital communication has been rising for decades, and COVID-19 has only worsened it. However, the lack of human interaction is hurting us. People tend to text instead of making a phone call and meet virtually instead of in person. This has led to bad behaviors such as multitasking during video conferences and not giving others our full attention.
Additionally, it can be easy to misunderstand someone's tone or intent in a message, which can damage business relationships. The lack of human interaction can also lead to poor health and depression. To combat this, we need to find ways to encourage more in-person collaboration and for people to build real relationships.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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