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 Eric Chaffe.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit of your 'backstory' and what brought you to this specific career path?
The pleasure is all mine! Well, like most professionals in this field, sales somewhat found me.
I guess the first ‘sales’ job I had was working in a hardware store in my teens. It was a pretty mundane job as far as the day-to-day, but I did really enjoy connecting with people and solving their problems. I also realized that I personally found a lot of satisfaction in learning as much as I could about whatever it is I'm doing. I was the guy in the store that knew every piece of inventory we carried and exactly which aisle and bin to find it in. I found something about being the go-to guy in that store really rewarding. The idea of constantly elevating my game, being the best around at what I do, and over-delivering on expectations was like fuel for me. Kinda like leveling up your character in a video game.
Now, at this point, I didn’t think I was going to be in sales for the next 15+ years, but I kept chasing that feeling. Turns out sales is the perfect industry for competitive people who want to push themselves and constantly test the limits of what they're capable of.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
Good question. One that comes to mind is years ago when I started one of my first real corporate sales role at a big brand company. Two days into my onboarding I was tasked with traveling across the country on behalf of the corporate side of the business. I was going solo to meet with some stakeholders as the all-around subject matter expert (I felt that I knew very little about the company or industry) and run a booth at a tradeshow. There are a couple of layers to this story that made it amusing, but none of them are related to selling—sorry in advance.
Firstly, this was my first time doing any business travel and I was being sent to a city that, at the time, was very well known for its violence and high crime rate. However, I was completely unaware of this fact.
I was already nervous about presenting myself as this ‘corporate expert’ and finding ways to educate these people on things that they already knew more about than I did. But my nervousness reached an all-time high when my colleagues picked me up from the airport to drive me to my hotel.
Here is how the conversation in the car went:
“So where are you staying”
“Hmmm, okay… So you’re staying in that area”
“Where are you planning to eat dinner tonight? Are you going to leave your hotel?”
“Not sure yet, I’ll probably just go for a walk and find a place”
“Okay but where exactly are you going to walk to?”
“I’m not sure, I don’t know the area”
“Okay well, make sure you stay between X street and X street, if anyone stops to talk to you just keep walking, don’t look anyone in the eye and you SHOULD be okay.”
I realized they weren’t joking after I was the only one in the car laughing.
In all seriousness, I learned on that trip that it is okay to not know everything immediately after starting a new role. I learned to be honest with those around you, trust the learning process, and rely on the skills you do have that made you successful in the past. The meetings and trade show went very well because we leveraged the skills of everyone on the team.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
Well, I’m very fortunate to be heading up sales for my current company, Prenuvo, where we provide whole-body scans using MRI aimed at the early detection of cancer and other diseases. Our scan takes a total of one hour and we collect thousands of images from head to toe with zero contrast or radiation—all while you enjoy your favorite streaming content! Our technology detects over 500 different cancers and other diseases all at very early stages, leading to much better health outcomes. Ben Franklin said it best 300 years ago: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Our goal is to build a future where we never need to hear the words “I wish we caught this earlier.”
We experienced significant growth over the last year and are positioned to completely open up across North America this year. The most rewarding part of this journey has been the relationships that we have been able to build with our members. It’s extremely rare for any person in sales to say that what they're selling is literally saving lives, so when our members say this… it’s the best customer feedback one could ever receive.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
I am a product of great coaching and great leadership. I owe everything I’ve experienced in my career to the many people who have invested their time in me along the way. In one of my past roles, I had the opportunity to go through a coaching certification process which really helped shape my approach to leadership.
The process took nearly a year and a half and throughout that time I was fortunate to work with a gentleman named Tim who delivered the training and certification. He was highly experienced in the world of business coaching and I was a sponge.
One piece that he would grill me on constantly was the idea that, as a leader, “I” don’t hold people accountable for their results, “THEY” must hold themselves accountable. I still hear his voice in my head “Keep the accountability on their side of the fence, Eric!”
Now as a leader, we are always held accountable for the performance of our teams, but this way of thinking changed my perspective like nothing else. It paints the picture that, as leaders, our responsibility is to create leaders. And people need to first learn to lead themselves before leading others.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?
Certainly! I’ve been in different levels of sales since my first job in my teens really, but I have been in leadership positions for the last six years or so. It started with leading a small group of 3 to 5 sales reps performing the same functions, to leading a larger team of 10 to 12 or so, then to a slightly more senior position leading about 30 across different cities to the point where I now head up sales in my current company where we have 40+ people across multiple sales channels and locations.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
This is a really good question because you can get quite granular with the answer but at the end of the day, the strengths and characteristics of a great sales team are simple.
You want to have a team of people who are 100% committed to the goal and have a strong “why” for wanting to be on the team.
You need to have a team of individuals who can lead themselves and possess the grit to push through the down months and challenge themselves further during good months.
You need a team of individuals who know what it takes to win for themselves and each other and are motivated by the work in doing so.
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?
Evaluating and motivating a sales team can be a real challenge, especially when every rep has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. It's like trying to solve a Rubik's cube where each side represents a different set of metrics like revenue, activities, communication ability, work ethic, etc. And just when you think you've got it figured out, you realize that it’s not possible to solve it 100%.
For instance, some reps can close deals with minimal activity, while others could be working their tails off but still falling short of targets. Some reps crush the target every month but are too abrasive with their peers, while others fall short of the target but constantly lift everyone up around them. What are you supposed to do with this?
My solution to this issue has involved a fancy little chart called the 9-Box Grid. Picture a 3 x 3 chart with two axes, one for performance metrics, and the other for A-player attributes. The key is to develop 5 or so individual metrics for both axes that can be scored on a 1 to 3 scale. (1 = below, 2 = meets, and 3 = exceeds). Some of these metrics could be revenue, activities, funnel management, etc. on the performance axis, and then you score A player attributes such as leading by example, playing to win, challenging the status quo, and communication.
Average the score on each axis and you'll end with a 3/2, a 1/2, a 3/3, etc. These two numbers plot the rep on the grid and then the motivational factor for that individual becomes improving their position on the grid.
You'll be able to see who's a superstar, who's a workhorse, and who's got room for improvement. It's like a GPS for personal development and motivation.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all; the stranger, the better!
I’ve had my fair share of fun (maybe corny) attempts at increasing motivation and productivity outside of good 1:1’s and coaching. As a competitive person myself, I like to run monthly competitions or incentives within the teams. Ways for them to drive more results in the areas we need them or to build a habit around a behavior we want to increase. Plus, it allows us to get creative and have entertainment for a few weeks!
One of the stranger ones was the big fish award. My colleague bought a fishing trophy off Amazon and we would give it to the person who finished the month highest to target. Not even sure how we landed on this being the award, but sometimes you just have to roll with it.
Or another one was the golden dialer award for the rep who did the most sales calls in a month. We got an old, heavy vintage telephone from a thrift store and would place it on the desk of the winner each month. This one actually ended up costing us a lot of money because we would have to air ship it across the country most months since our reps were working from different cities.
I really do believe in the power of incentives and rewarding people who go the extra mile. We’ve done trips to Vegas, handed out thousands of dollars in cash, spa getaways, new computers, etc.
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did it have a direct correlation to sales?
To be honest, there is no secret strategy or shortcut that is going to crank up the motivation for a sustained period of time. You might get a bump here and there from competition or incentives, but it doesn’t last. Plus there will always be some folks that are key members of the team yet they aren’t interested in playing along with those extra initiatives—and that’s fine.
My opinion is that the reps on your team need to feel like performing at a high level and putting in the work to do so. Creating a culture of development and progression is key to keeping your team motivated. You need to have weekly or, at most, bi-weekly 1:1s where you are helping them with their goals, you need to shadow them on sales calls and provide actionable feedback, you need to demonstrate and make it extremely clear what great looks like and show them that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get them there. The only caveat is that they need to put the work in themselves and meet you halfway. By fostering a positive environment where reps feel valued and supported, they will be more likely to put in the work to achieve their goals and perform at a high level.
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?
Sales can be a bit of a roller coaster! If you’ve been in it long enough you realize that the best thing you can do is actually develop a very even-keeled approach. Move on quickly from the down months and even quicker from the up ones. So I’ve had my fair share of exceptional results in the past but I don’t really take them with me or talk about them too much. I’m much more in love with the process than the results. You can control processes and, over time, you will get everything that you deserve.
I guess one that comes to mind is back in 2020 when the pandemic took hold of the whole world at once. Our company was concerned, rightly so, and made adjustments to targets, spending, and overall strategy. We expected the revenue to be cut in half but instead, due to some amazing work from the sales reps, what we achieved was essentially our original targets. It was so great to see the way everyone was able to accept the fact that we were entering tough times. They knew that their earnings would be impacted, they recognized that they were lucky to still have jobs (myself included), and they simply bound together and did what they had to do. It was a very inspiring thing to witness as a leader.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
I’d love to give a quick and concise answer to this question but there are far too many variables to consider. A good team can come in many shapes and sizes which makes the path to a great one fairly unique. Some of the areas that make a massive impact on creating a great, high-performing team are talent recruitment and hiring, training and development, coaching and performance management, leadership and support, compensation plans and structure, the list goes on.
The size of a team will impact the timeline.
A team that may need to level up in all these areas could take a good 6 to 12 months to take shape. Other times, all a team may need is higher expectations for performance. I have to be real here and say that most of the time there are people on the team that are simply not happy and not performing. For the team to go from good to great it may take parting ways with the people who aren’t happy and not performing.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
This may sound simple and obvious but the more you understand the overall needs and P&L of the business, the better you can deliver not only big top-line revenue but also do so in a strategic, profitable way for the company.
For example, a sales team that is tasked with converting a bunch of paid leads, inbound requests, and driving referrals is pretty common. Each of these channels serves a different purpose to the organization and you need to understand that in-depth. The paid lead conversion might be priority number one because the better you convert them the more you can lower CAC, plus this increases the pool for more referrals, which then raises awareness, resulting in more inbound traffic, and so on.
2 . Develop systems and processes that scale.
Once you have a clear understanding of the sales team’s key objectives, you need to put the puzzle pieces together and develop systems and processes to achieve the desired results. This comes down to understanding and quantifying your inputs and outputs. Inputs are the behaviors and activities, and outputs are the results generated from behaviors and activities. It’s critical that you can understand and present the data to inform these decisions too. The clearer the picture you paint here the better position you are in.
Let’s run through an oversimplified example. Let’s say you have been tasked with bringing in $500,000 per month in net-new paid acquisition and you’re leading a team of phone-based sales reps. Let’s say that one rep can make 2000 calls per month effectively and on average it takes 5 calls to connect with one lead. So one rep can handle on average 400 leads per month (2000/5). Let’s say the average conversion rate for a sales rep is 5% and the average deal size is $4000. So one rep should produce $80,000 per month (400*5%=20, 20*$4000). Now, because we have to bring in $500,000 per month we are in need of roughly 6-7 reps to achieve this target. ($500,000 / $80,000). This example covers one potential process for the team, there are dozens to work through.
You should have a process for outreach cadence, CRM workflows, sales process and methodology, talent acquisition, 1:1 meetings, customer meetings, the list goes on!
3 . Hire and keep the right people.
Having a very clear picture of the type of candidate you are looking for is critical to building a high-performing team. You will want to document all the traits, experiences, and skill sets that make for an A player. If you don’t know where to start then base it on your current top-performing reps. Once documented, create a scorecard and diligently fill it out for every potential candidate. Have a threshold score that needs to be met at each stage and stick to it.
On a great team every rep who joins will advance and develop in their skill set, however, the higher the baseline is for any rep coming in, the further their potential for development will be. Don’t have the headcount available to keep hiring? Keep a funnel of candidates active anyways. There will always be people exiting from the team, voluntarily or not, plus there is always room for another superstar!!
4 . Coach and Support the reps to WIN the GAME.
All sports have a structure, all teams have processes, and sales is no different. We know what winning looks like (hitting targets, etc.), We know how to win (making X calls, working on soft skills, managing your funnel, etc.), and it is our job to elevate the entire team to peak performance within this framework.
One example is the 1:1 meeting. This is hands-down the absolute best time to elevate your rep’s game. A structure that I have run with for several years is a combination of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, reviewing the results, and thoughtful reflection. I am a believer that reps not only need goals for the KPIs, but also 1-2 personal goals geared towards bettering their performance (think better objection handling, time management, improving discovery questions, etc.). Every goal should be written in a way where one can clearly measure the result - was it a hit or miss? Regardless of the outcome, reflection is an impactful and necessary step. What worked? What didn’t? How will I approach this differently next time?
Too often 1:1 meetings become a list of to-do’s where it feels like we’re being productive, I mean who doesn’t love crossing a task off the list? Ahhhh feels so good. But what gets missed is the focus on leveling up our game. Do this every week and you will be surprised by how much your people can develop.
5 . Align the team to a singular vision.
A great sales team possesses a competitive, yet collaborative culture. It's a team of people that want to win individually but also as a group and are there to help lift each other up because at some point everyone will need it. Every rep on that team should be well aware of what the collective mission is and it should burn deeply within them. This level of commitment to a singular vision or goal builds enormous trust among the group and when you have trust in each other you can be vulnerable. And vulnerability is fertile ground for growth.
One of my favorite stories is when President Kennedy approached a janitor at the NASA space center during a visit, the President introduced himself by saying “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy, what are you doing?” to which the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President”.
When each individual is a part of the team for a bigger reason other than collecting a paycheck this gives the group the strength to endure whatever challenges are thrown at them.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would it be?
I may be a little biased but I believe that the work we are doing at Prenuvo is taking us in this direction. I want to see a world where everyone has access to the world's best health technology and we can put an end to the pain and loss that results from late diagnosis of cancer and other horrible diseases. It saddens me to think of all the people who are losing loved ones and the ripple effect that causes. My mom lost her sister to a brain aneurysm in her early 30s. She left two young girls behind. Those young girls are now in their 30s and not a day goes by when they don’t miss their mom.
The technology exists today to look for aneurysms well before they burst. My dream is that the approach to healthcare takes a full 180 and shifts the paradigm from reactive to proactive.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Feel free to reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn!