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 Kyle Borner.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit of your 'backstory' and what brought you to this career path?
After studying marketing at Canisius College, I was immediately thrown into the B2B world where sales teams are 5 to 10 times the size of the marketing team. This sales to marketing ratio was always accompanied by the age-old complaints, “We don’t have enough leads”, “MQLs are not sales-ready”, and “We need more support from marketing.”
Most marketing colleagues reacted in a panic, rushing to deliver more while never meeting sales’ demands. I took a step back and always made three consistent observations: 1. Sales teams were never close to optimizing sales enablement. 2. Sales teams were spending more time on the activities that didn’t produce revenue and less time on those that did, and because of this 3. Marketing was spending more time on the selling activities that belonged to the sales team.
These observations lead to the creation of the “Simplifying Sales Strategy”: a strategy that removes all complexity, uncertainty, and resistance from a sales team’s daily productivity.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
Working as the lone marketing colleague at a B2B company that staffed 30+ sales people—where more than half were outside sales reps who traveled three weeks out of four—an amusing story came out of their monthly call blitz week. Essentially, all outside reps were tasked with making 150 calls a day in an attempt to fill out their calendar for their three weeks on the road. A new hire from the Midwest came in for his first call blitz, and while all other reps reached the 150 calls minimum that day, he only reached 50.
The amusing part is that this new hire had 3 times as many scheduled meetings as any other rep, yet he was reprimanded in-front of his colleagues by the owner. I already knew that most of the reps who met their daily minimum of 150 faked their number by dialing and hanging up after 30 seconds. When I shared this with the Vice President of Sales, he already knew, and recommended to me to “just surrender to our status quo.”
The takeaway? No matter how inefficient or backwards a sales process at a successful company may be, it’s more than likely they have an entrenched “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
As the Director of Marketing at Veloxy, a Top 50 Sales Software startup in Silicon Valley, it’s exciting to enable field sales teams with our powerful sales technology, but what’s even more exciting is our proactive approach to helping sales teams fill their revenue gap during economic uncertainty.
How are we achieving this? We review companies large and small in our ICPs, we use their key numbers like annual revenue and team size to forecast their 2023 revenue, and then we show them the “simple sales strategy” to fill their revenue gap with an additional $500K to $1 Billion in new revenue. It’s been a game changer for our sales staff because they’re now seen as a “trusted strategic advisor” and not a traditional salesperson.
Here’s a eureka moment—the major benefit of the “simple sales strategy” isn’t the new revenue, it’s the optimal sales enablement, team morale, C-suite MVP status, and new budget to expand the sales team that is the real benefit to people.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that you're grateful for?
Easy. My all-time favorite college professor, Guy Gessner. I’ll admit, when students are getting good grades and they’re only 20 or 21 years old, their confidence can be a tad bit too high. Gessner always made sure to humble students on what exactly they knew, and how prepared (or unprepared) they were for the real workplace.
There were no exams. Rather, he would walk into class, give us very difficult cases in marketing and sales, and leave us to it. No guidance. No cliff notes. If we really knew everything, we’d be able to solve the case’s problems in one week’s time. This helped myself and my classmates take a much more comprehensive approach to “everything business,” leaving no stone unturned, and this has only strengthened since that class way back in 2003.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?
With ten years’ experience leading sales teams as a Marketing Director, and eighteen years of experience as a key marketing collaborator for sales teams, I would not trade my experience for a career removed from leading sales teams even if you paid me.
From sales teams sized 2 to 50+, I’ve come to find that marketing and sales need to be a collaborative unit, and that starts with understanding who is responsible for what. Trust me, I’ve heard it from both extremes. Marketing leadership saying, “Sales is under the marketing umbrella, they should listen to us!” and Sales leadership saying, “We’re the ones that close the deals, Marketing should take our direction!”
Organizations with these problems NEVER grow exponentially. As I shared earlier, the disconnect is when marketing is responsible for a variety of selling activities, and sales is responsible for a variety of marketing activities. Do you know what this disconnect creates? For sales teams, very poor productivity and efficiency, which waterfalls into low morale and missed quotas.
In my experience, when salespeople are focused on the activities that generate revenue, and nothing more, they will not only have improved morale and numbers, but the team overall will grow at a multiplier or exponential-level on a predictive basis. It’s this simple “and nothing more” recommendation that at first startles and makes salespeople uncomfortable. No one knows where this “successful strategies must be complex” or “great copy should be technical” came from, but it should be avoided at all costs.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
A great sales team starts with continuous sales enablement. What do I mean by that? It’s more than just giving your sales team the knowledge and resources they need to succeed. And it’s definitely more than seeking salespeople with “excellent communication skills” or “good cold outreach capabilities.” You need to continuously improve their selling/employee experience, much in the same way you expect your sales team to improve the customer/buyer experience.
Sales managers and the C-suite constantly fall into the “top of the Org Chart trap.” This is where they decide what’s best for their sales team, usually by a piecemeal approach, and if that doesn’t work, they find faults in the salespeople without looking in the mirror.
I’ve seen this one too many times. Sales leaders need to work from the bottom up to enable a great sales team. Don’t believe me? Here are some of the most popular sales rep complaints according to Salesforce: “I spend too much time on data entry.” “I have too many tools in my tech stack, some of which have duplicate functionality.”
If sales leaders knew these pain points, they would immediately address it, prevent it from happening again, and relish in the rise in their KPIs. However, as you may already know from Salesforce’s State of Sales reports, most sales teams are stuck in the Moderate or Underperforming category.
Start sitting with your salespeople individually and as a team, improve the selling/seller experience, and find out what it will take to fully enable them on a daily basis. When sales teams are fully enabled, working with zero or little restraint, they predictably hit and exceed their numbers quarter after quarter, year after year.
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?
I worked with a successful, diverse sales team once, and one of the sales reps referred to the team as, “The land of misfit toys,” a reference to the infamous Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie. Everyone on that team embraced it because it was true, especially when it came to differing personalities.
There are three paths to managing a diverse team:
1. Get buy-in to a single, simple goal
2. Embrace team selling
3. Let salespeople choose their champion status
First, as with any culture, all agreeing on a common goal or belief is critical for sustaining a team atmosphere. As with my other recommendations, this should not be complicated or hard to do. It can be as simple as, “Help people first, Serve people second, Create customers third.” If you step away from financial and performance goals, and focus on a “human” objective, your path to success will be much faster.
Second, you should always embrace team selling. While your unique business model will need to find ways to accommodate quota KPIs, this is a friendly reminder that the customer experience (CX) is the new #1 KPI across sales teams. Why? Because most customers are actually demanding team selling. Not just across departments, but inviting other sales reps into the conversation to add their unique “strengths, weaknesses, and personalities”. It’s a true differentiator when your sales team is battling competing reps in the field.
And third, asking your sales reps to become a champion for something will further improve their morale, and that of the team. In my experience, sales reps usually act as a champion for specific sales technology or sales processes like proposal generation. This way, no matter the salesperson, collaboration and communication will occur on a consistent basis to the benefit of the individual involved and the team overall.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all, the stranger, the better!
Let’s start with the unstrange strategy first. As a sales leader, Ive experienced unmotivated, reluctant, unproductive sales reps at times. The causes for these behaviors are often mixed, however, the underlying reason is often the same.
Underperforming sales reps are often “unheard”. I encounter this more times than not, and it’s usually at the beginning of the leadership process. Again, the answer is simple and often ignored. I meet with every single sales rep on a 1-to-1 basis. This is usually an invitation to lunch or some other casual setting, and the conversation always starts with the shortest, most open-ended question you can ask, “What do you need?” Don’t lead them, don’t say anything else. Just let them word-vomit anything and everything.
Here’s the kicker. Either agree to give them what they want or find a middle ground, and then send them a calendar request for 3 months later to review their improved KPIs. What does this do? It gives them the “Oh s***!” moment where they realize they’re “individually enabled”, ie. they won’t be able to talk their way out of underperforming KPIs ever again. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a micromanagement strategy. It is indeed an enablement strategy, but one that holds underperforming sales reps accountable while also demonstrating your willingness to listen and improve their daily selling life.
Now to the strange. Reluctance to engage with prospects, ie. cold outreach, has been the most common underperforming sales activity that I’ve encountered when beginning to lead a new sales team. I heard all the popular excuses, “Nobody opens my emails.” “Nobody replies to my emails.” Luckily for me, I was connected with these sales reps on social media, and the night before, Miley Cyrus made headlines at the MTV VMA’s for all the wrong reasons. But guess who shared this content on social media? The sales reps.
I pulled up their posts in a meeting and asked them, “Why did you share this, and, why did your friends like/comment on it?” After they gave their unique answers, I replied, “Email is the original social media. If you share shareable content created specifically for your prospects’ persona, they’ll engage with you more times than not.” It was a eureka moment and I empowered them to craft outreach content that was “shareable.”
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did this have a direct correlation to sales?
Improving and simplifying the selling/seller experience. This always correlates with a rise in customer/buyer experience KPIs. Dorothy Day was once quoted saying, “God meant for things to be much easier than we have made them.” This is common sense.
The easier something is, the more enjoyable it will be. Once your sales team’s selling experience is easier, they’re going to also sell faster and smarter. Any chief executive will tell you that there is power in simplicity. For whatever reason, most business professionals are suspicious of such an approach.
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?
Two memories come to mind, and the high-performance had to do with three things:
1. Breaking an old, stale sales process
2. Breaking an old, stale content process
3. Breaking an old, stale lead generation process
For sales teams that rely on inbound leads tied to events (eg. tradeshows, conferences, etc.), the process and results can be very repetitive and frustrating; lacking total optimism pre and post event. I quickly went in, flipped the process on its head, especially the value delivered at the events and the accelerated follow-up after the events, and the result was 2x growth for the next three years.
The companies were stuck in a repetitive process of no pre-event outreach, sharing the same outdated flyers and pitch at the events, and waiting 3 to 4 weeks after to follow-up. They replaced that with personalized pre-event outreach, handing out a limited supply of high-value offerings (FOMO, in this case binders and books filled with emerging best practices), and starting the follow-up process 24 hours after the event. There were so many new meetings with new contacts that we had to hire new reps.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
If you get buy-in from the C-suite, 3 months. Hesitation may arise due to financial loss, such as with canceled technology contracts, however, you can create and share forecasts with the C-suite that communicates the short-term loss, and the sustainably long-term gains.
Sales and marketing are two of the three primary functions of a business, ie. to generate revenue and customer satisfaction. If you can’t get 3 month buy in to improve those core KPIs, there may be bigger problems to address that are likely out of your control.
Based on your experience, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
If you’re a sales leader and you want to put my aforementioned plan in action, I’ve ordered everything below in a five step chronological roadmap.
1 . Simplify sales: Write up a sales plan for 2023 and inspire the C-suite that a simplified sales strategy is the most efficient, productive, and revenue-generating plan in your industry. If they ask what you mean by “simple”, list out how you’re going to keep the sales team focused on selling—anything else is suspect for automation or elimination. Highlight cost-savings via a less-complex and consolidated tech stack with higher adoption and ROI. Point to team selling activity and customer engagement that will be 2 or 3 times higher than it was in 2022 due to an elimination of non-selling activity.
2 . Improve Selling/Seller Experience: Always keep the morale of your current and prospective high-performing sales reps high by continually meeting with them one-on-one in an effort to keep them fully enabled and capable of success. At the very least, meet with them once a quarter for 30 minutes. Do not focus on the time spent in these meetings, rather focus on your raised confidence level that your sales team is going to continually improve and deliver as part of this reciprocal relationship.
3 . Optimize sales enablement: When you’re simplifying the sales process and constantly improving each seller’s experience, you’re optimizing sales enablement on a continual basis. Salesforce shared that the average time spent on selling activity last year was 28%. That means most of your competitors, if not all, are hovering around that same underperforming number. What would it mean to your sales goals if you moved selling activity to 90%? The path to achieving this number is simpler than you’d think.
4 . Collaborative selling: How else can your salespeople resonate as “trusted advisors” to your customers, and not “salespeople”. Not just by bringing more value to the table, but by bringing more people to the table—people who can offer unique perspectives and insights on solving the customer’s pain points. This includes colleagues from other departments, as well as other sales staff, whether reps or those in operational roles. If you think this isn’t the way, I’m not the only one recommending this—customers are demanding it.
5 . Consistently consolidate & optimize tech stacks: First, most salespeople complain about the size, complexity, and lack of training associated with the sales tech stack. Second, this also means that your average cost per rep is through the roof, and the return on investment is through the floor. Make the C-suite happy by reducing the technology spend while increasing the usage and ROI.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Food-insecure households are still a problem in the United States, and in most countries across the globe. For children, malnourishment can have lasting negative impacts on their lives. While food banks are great, it still requires transportation, something not all families own. It would be great if there was a partnership between the United State Postal Service, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and manufacturers of “food staples” that would deliver food staple subscription boxes to homes in need.
How can our readers further follow your work online?