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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 Dave Brown.

Dave Brown

As an elite-level sales and leadership coach and senior partner for Southwestern Consulting, Dave Brown has trained hundreds of thousands of sales professionals across the globe. A sought-after keynote speaker and certified trainer, and author of the new book, Servant Selling, Dave strives to help individuals and organizations reach peak performance in business and in life. With a passion for empowering salespeople with key principles to make selling more emotionally and financially rewarding, Dave himself knocked on more than 50,000 doors before he was twenty-five. He continues to hold the record for the most customers ever sold for the Southwestern Advantage college program, out of more than 250,000 salespeople. Since then, he has made more than 200,000 cold calls to companies worldwide. His infectious excitement for helping people achieve their goals in life continuously encourages his audience to embrace their roles with passion, blow through their belief barriers, and achieve unprecedented success. Dave resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

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?

Twenty-two years ago, I was a sophomore in college working part time as a waiter and playing volleyball for the school. My coach invited me to a dinner about a summer job that was organized by Pat Roach from Southwestern Advantage, a 146-year-old company. The job involved college students selling books, study guides and software door-to-door. Pat acknowledged how hard the program was and presented it as a challenge that few would succeed in.

As part of the job, we would get to travel all over the US, work on our communication skills, learn how to run a business and meet some amazing people. He said the average student made anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000 in their first summer if they follow the proven system. I was intrigued, so I signed up and am so thankful I did. I made a little over $18,000 in 10 weeks of work that summer, finishing as one of the top performers in the company. I completely fell in love with sales.

Halfway through that summer, I had a moment of clarity after I had sold 7 or 8 families in a row. I kept thinking that one day I wanted to teach others how to sell. For the rest of that summer, I cultivated that thought and even had a few chances in our organization to train our group at our weekly meetings.

On my way back to Chicago after the summer, I knew what I was destined to do. I signed up to be a student manager with Southwestern Advantage and recruited and trained thousands of people over the next five years, breaking sales records and making a little over $300,000 in that time. A few years later, several of us who had done well started Southwestern Consulting, a sales and sales leadership coaching and training company.

The company is 17 years old now and we have coached over 20,000 individuals to greatness, with over 200 coaches living in 10+ countries and having sold products in 30+ countries. Our vision is to be the leader in personal and professional development, creating positive impact worldwide.

Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?

One of the core principles at Southwestern Consulting is the importance of laughter, so I’m on the hunt for these goodies all the time. One that comes to mind happened at our international sales meeting 5-6 years ago. I was training our company on one of the key steps that is part of our sales cycle. We were doing a skit with three of our team members who were playing the part of typical business operators that we would sell to.

I was following our process when things started to get wacky. The three team members started throwing out the most obscure arguments. I played along, but they continued and kept getting more absurd. Eventually, the “manager” of this made-up company changed his accent in the middle of the skit saying he was embarrassed to show me his true background but that he was ready to let it all out now; the woman who was part of their “leadership team” was coming onto me as awkwardly as you could in a public setting; and the “office manager” was doing illegal activity right in front of me, asking if I was going to tell on him with their entire sales team about to come into the room in a few minutes. Our entire company was laughing so hard, and here I am trying to hold it all together. I couldn’t hold it in any longer and everyone in the room burst out in laughter!

I found out after the fact that those three had been planning this for months and creatively came up with each wacky scenario that they threw at me. The lesson learned was that we all should strive for fun, that most of our work life is a grind, and that we can laugh with the people we work with. Each of these three have become great friends and we work incredibly well together. And every now and then we will repeat a line from that skit to each other and just laugh all over again!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!

My new book, Servant Selling, is part “self-help” book and part “help-others” book. For so many years I feel like the sales profession has been frowned upon. Yes, there are legitimate stories of salespeople taking advantage of others, and we all know that “used car salesperson” is a derogatory term. But there are also many positive stories that you never hear. I have done training in over 100 car dealerships all over the country and most used car salespeople are decent and beautiful people that care about helping others. If I can somehow bring the spotlight to the best of them in this life-changing profession, I am all about it. 

Servant Selling is about putting your potential customers’ needs and desires ahead of your own when selling your products or services to them. It’s how the best sell, so I want to define, promote, and demonstrate to the current and up-and-coming sales professionals how to best perform this job. This book is 20 years in the making!

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?

As strange as this may sound, I am grateful to everyone who told me NO—everyone who rejected me along my journey. As a sales professional I have knocked on over 52,000 doors in communities across 8 different states, and I made close to 300,000 prospecting phone calls. I am grateful for ALL the people that told me NO. The yeses are great, and I love them all, but my NOs were the people who contributed to my character, that gave me a reason to keep pushing. I’m so grateful for the rejection because without them I would never have been able to work on one of my strongest attributes: persistence.

A story that comes to mind is when my future wife Emmie told me that she would “never, ever, ever” date me. Yikes! I was so sure she was the one, but she clearly didn’t see it the same way for a while. It was close to 6 months of working together, being friends and the occasional charity date that won her over. I didn’t think about it at the time, but this was the greatest sale I was in the process of making… In service to her, of course. Just kidding, but we do talk about this a lot; we are both so thankful for each other and happy that we are together forever, and we probably wouldn’t be IF she had told me yes in those early stages. I tell our story fully in Servant Selling.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?

Leading Southwestern Consulting is such a blessing. My wife and I (yes, we do work together, successfully) manage 23 direct reports that have another sixty something coaches underneath them. And we are growing every year. The name of our organization is Invictus, and we make up around 55% of the total revenue at Southwestern Consulting, a company that should do close to 30 million in sales in 2023. I also indirectly manage all the coaches as one of the founding partners of our business alongside six other senior partners. My life’s work is recruiting and training the next generation of sales leaders, I am clear on this and will do this till I die.

What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?

The practiced habit of going to the next door or getting on the next call after you have been told no makes all salespeople great. One of my all-time favorite lines, which Southwestern Advantage taught me, is: “the answer lies behind the next door.” Many salespeople fail out of this business because simply put, they don’t go to the next door or make the next call. Rejection is inevitable, success is not… unless you make that next phone call or go to the next door. I have been pushed off porches, screamed and cussed at over the phone, and made to feel insignificant. But I press on because the answer lies behind the next door. This is persistence at its finest! And when you mix persistence with enthusiasm, you have the best combination of characteristics needed to crush your sales goals and really accomplish anything in life. I try to live out and cultivate these 2 things with everyone I speak to.

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?

Managing many different personalities is the richness of leadership. I work hard to get to know each of my peoples’ work and life goals and then do all I can to get every barrier out of their way to achieve them. In my opinion, one-on-one time is the only way to do this, and once you know where they want to go, your job as their leader is to hold them accountable to staying on track. I always caution my people about giving me permission to hold them accountable to whom they want to become, because I will fight harder for them to accomplish this than they will sometimes. I am there to hug them but also kick their butt when needed. I believe proper accountability is a blanket motivator when any individual gives you consent to do so.

Our entire company is based on accountability, and on average our clients see a 20% increase in their personal production if they give us a year to work alongside them. But, we do not let them sign up for coaching unless they are going to be coachable and want to be held accountable. So, we onboard them with correct expectations and what they can count on from me and the other leaders here. We cultivate their assets and go to work on their weaknesses, growing closer together as friends and work-family the longer we work together.

What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all!

I share my struggles, my true weaknesses, and the issues I am working on with whomever I am speaking with on my team. Then, I always ask them what they are struggling with. It’s fascinating to me how much we as humans want open and honest connection-type conversation, and the only way to get there is to be fully real with the person you are talking to. Be honest and open.

I find this so uncomfortable at times, especially with people I am closest to. But we all perform better at everything in our lives when we are truly seen and heard by others, because most of the time, they are struggling with something similar. When we increase engagement with each other, motivation and productivity also naturally increase. As a coach I could go on and on about this one because the biggest reason people sign up for coaching with me or any of our hundreds of coaches is to increase these 3 things.

Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did it have a direct correlation to sales?

The most important strategy of mine is self-talk. I have written affirmations and goals pinned up all over my world. My office, my bedroom, my shower and even each bathroom in my house. I’ve gotten so many great comments over the years from family and friends that have visited us and gone to the bathroom! When I am programming my mind with positivity 10-12 times a day, my attitude stays up and I’m excited to speak to as many different people as possible. Ultimately, this means I set up more appointments and make more sales. And when I get rejected and am feeling down, I immediately read my affirmations and get back on the phone or knock on that next door. This has worked for me for decades.

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?

I have always been a believer in having 3 different targets to shoot for in each major trackable area for mt teams. Meaning: I set a low, medium, and high goal. The low goal is something you have already done, so if you made 100 sales last year, that should be your low goal because your mind fully believes it is possible to do again. This gives you momentum and is a great place to focus your eyes until you pass it up.

The medium goal is the number you would set for yourself IF you only had one goal. Using the previous example, if you wanted to grow 25% this year, your medium goal would be 125 sales for this year. And the high goal is defined as something that scares you. It is something that you have not done yet and that you really would love to have happen, but you don’t fully know how you are going to get there. So, a high goal in this instance would be 150 or 160 sales.

At Invictus, we set an ultimate high goal about 10 years ago that we just achieved this past year (2022). Our goal was to sell 51% of Southwestern Consulting’s revenue. When we set this goal, we were at maybe 5%. So, each year we set a low, medium, and high goal around the percentage of revenue we wanted to finish the year at.

It started in 2013 as a low 4%, medium 6%, and high 10%. It grew a little each year that we either hit our medium or high goals—and inevitably got to our ultimate goal of 51%. And we are not stopping. This year we have established 55% as our low goal, 57.5% as our medium goal and 60% of the total revenue of Southwestern Consulting as our high goal in 2023.

Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?

Wow, putting a timeline on this one would depend on so many factors. Am I taking over a team in a new industry? How many people are on my team? How complex is the product or service we are selling? Am I starting with this team in a completely different market or territory than I am used to? How much support do I have from my leaders or corporate initially for my own education and development? Are my team members in one geographical area or all over the US or world? There are a lot more questions we need to know in order to make a timeline.  

The first thing I do when asked to lead a new group of people is to get in the field with each person as quickly as possible. I shadow them doing each part of the cycle of the sale. We have always said that one day in the field with your team is worth one hundred calls or meetings, as you get to know people really well when you are spending a couple of full days with them. During breaks, learn about their passions and motivations, and get to know their families. However long this shadow time takes you is your answer to the question above - because once you have accomplished this, you usually know exactly how to steer the ship and lead this team to greatness.

Having reached this point in your career, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?

1. Jump-start your enthusiasm, as it is a key to success. Nothing in life is fun without enthusiasm. It’s like a secret weapon. Enthusiasm gives you motivation, joy, clarity, and energy.

2. Create or update your vision board. Vision is essential for anyone who wants to move toward greatness. Vision energizes you, guides you, and propels you forward. No matter where you are right now in your journey as a servant seller, you can cultivate a vision for the future that motivates you to succeed. And you can harness the power of that vision to set achievable goals that keep you on track.

3. Do your homework. Servant salespeople care about the people who will be on the other side of the door, on the other end of a call, or sitting on the other side of the table. They care enough to do research on their prospects first so they can connect with them at a deeper level. Servant salespeople see their prospects as real people—individuals to get to know so they can connect with them in a stronger, more genuine way. Genuine conversation usually leads to authentic connection, which is exactly what servant selling is about: connecting with your prospects as quickly as you can to help them with your product or service.

4. Accentuate Accountability. It is impossible to imagine a successful businessperson who lacks accountability. To be accountable means to live with integrity—when all your thoughts, words, and actions are consistent with one another and align with your overarching vision.

5. Never stop learning and growing. After years in the business, I once made the decision to phone a nice family that I had taken advantage of when I was a sales rookie. I apologized to them and they forgave me. It changed my life!

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

Easy answer! I am about three and a half years into a ten-year commitment that I made, which I have also enlisted around 100 people into it with me so far. 

At the end of 2019, I was in the worst shape of my life. One day, my five-year-old son challenged me, asking me if I was doing anything hard at that time. I had previously taught him a saying: “If you do what’s hard, life is easy. If you do what’s easy, then life is hard,” and he called me out on it!

That night I couldn’t fall asleep, and I prayed for God to show me what hard thing he thought I should do. Then the next morning, I got an answer. I literally heard a voice say, “Don’t eat for a week… Zero calories, no food.” So, I did it and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Then, that voice came back on the last day of this weeklong fast, saying, “Now do this once a quarter, for the next 10 years.” So ever since, the first week of every quarter I do a 100+ hour, zero calorie fast.

I have brought along friends, acquaintances, co-workers, prospects, church friends, and even my high school principal into this quarterly commitment. Not everyone does it each time with me, but they know when it takes place and join when they can. It’s nice to have others that are around me going through it together.

I believe it has turned into a movement and it is only going to get bigger and bigger. We have our biggest group of fasting friends yet committed, with more than 50 that are going to do it next quarter. I hope one day it will be over 100,000. I could go on and on about how much this has helped me and so many others that have participated. I’m hoping it inspires some of you to reach out and join in with us.

How can our readers further follow your work online? 

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By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.