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 Mark Williams.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit of your 'backstory' and what brought you to this career path?
My path into sales wasn’t typical. I started out as an assistant to the chief executive officer of a software company, where I got a very broad view of the business, including everything from running meetings to leading an engineering team to buying a company.
From there, I went on to product pre-sales and then moved into sales. Initially, I hadn’t thought of sales as a good fit, but I’ve found that my background and process-driven approach to identifying reasons for underlying business issues have served me well in both individual sales and sales leadership roles.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
My company, Datasite, is at a real inflection point in its evolution as a leading SaaS technology provider for the capital markets and deal communities. In March, we started offering a suite of applications, known as Datasite Cloud™, which goes far beyond our original applications. The new suite allows dealmakers to use all of Datasite’s applications in one place to source their next opportunity, move through due diligence, close their deal, secure their data, and repeat for all their future transactions, creating successful outcomes.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience leading sales teams? How many years of experience do you have, and what size teams?
I’ve led sales teams of several sizes and at a variety of software-as-a-service companies for more than 15 years. Before joining Datasite, I led sales for both a digital marketing company and an educational technology company. Today, I lead a team of over 130 sales representatives and sales leaders, setting and executing the sales strategy across the US, Canada, and Latin America.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
There are three characteristics that I look for and cultivate in building sales teams. These include curiosity, possessing a strong work ethic, and being a true team player.
If you are curious, work becomes fun. One of the key questions I ask of candidates during the interview process is to give me examples of how they’ve been curious and what that’s led them to do. In sales, we need people who are curious about the market, about our customers, and about the problems Datasite is solving.
There’s also no substitute for hard work. In sales, there’s a direct line between output and rewards. A sales professional who puts in the energy and time to succeed will be recognized and rewarded.
Lastly, because of the market Datasite serves and the types of customers we support, collaborating with team members is critical. We want to surround a deal by supporting all sides of the sales equation, including buyers and sellers facilitating the M&A deal. This can’t happen without collaboration. Yet to create a team-oriented culture, organizations need to create opportunities for team members to share ideas and build trust. At Datasite, we do this through robust training, events, and other activities where our sales team can connect and share best practices.
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 enjoy coaching, mentoring, and advocating for my teams and see my role as providing additional perspective in helping them problem solve and use their critical thinking skills. For example, I actively participate in training and accreditation sessions for new joiners at Datasite. Most employees usually only meet senior leaders after they’ve had success, but new joiners often need the most help when they are starting out. I believe in investing in people upfront. This not only shows them my commitment to their success, but it demonstrates how important the organization’s investment in them is.
Organizations have a choice in how they motivate, which can include providing higher compensation, buying more things for employees, or sending them places, but there’s no way to buy or make more of a senior leader’s time. This approach sends a strong message that the employee is a priority. At the same time, it helps me get to know the members of my team more deeply, which has been effective in running the business as well as retaining talent, as is evidenced by Datasite’s low annual sales turnover rates.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all; the stranger, the better!
Uncapped commission plans, quarterly global and regional sales program incentive funds (SPIFFs) and networking opportunities, including internal sales kick-offs and quarterly business reviews, are all strategies that can help.
One other activity I’ve been doing over the years is suggesting a book for my team to read. This has included The Systems Thinker, which shows how to identify, analyze and provide solutions to even the most complex problems, and Turn This Ship Around, which addresses the topic of leadership and how individuals can think and act proactively, determining what needs to be done and the best way to do it.
The ideas from these books are meant to be discussion thought starters throughout the year. They are also representative of the actions and behaviors—problem solving and being accountable—that I want to reinforce with my team.
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
Building a well-integrated, high-functioning sales team is a continuous process. An organization’s culture is constantly changing whether that’s in response to new hires, market, or business conditions. One approach that I continue to be focused on this year though is the idea of surrounding our sales process on all sides of a deal. Given current market conditions, this will be even more important as it helps to de-risk the process if various members of my team are representing all the counterparties involved.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
Throughout my years in sales, I’ve found that there are really just three strategies that help produce high performing sales teams.
- Ensure the team is well-supported, but there is no substitute for hard work. Research shows that sales success is dependent on sheer effort. When we work hard, we expand the possibilities and develop our abilities. But, while hard work can certainly determine success rates, the direction of the effort is also important. This is where training and support can help. At Datasite, for example, new joiners receive extensive and robust training and resources to prepare them for any scenario. This helps remove any anxiety they may have on how and where to find the right answers to their questions, which could be demotivating, and gives them the time to focus on building their skills and knowledge to be successful.
- Hire talent that are curious. Sales leadership and sales enablement teams can help train on products and even enhance sales skills, but if there is no sense of passion or curiosity there is unlikely to be success. At Datasite, we’ve have hired sellers with very little sales experience that went on to be top performers in their first year because they were driven to continuously learn and apply their knowledge. If a candidate has the passion and willingness to continuously learn, they will succeed, which means the sales team will succeed.
- Collaborative sales teams have more success. Teamwork within a sales team and organization can not only increase numbers but can also lead to a better work environment and higher customer satisfaction, which, if not already, should be among the top priorities for employees and the company. There are other benefits, too. Teamwork can provide perspective on new ways to approach sales challenges and helps to positively brand the company, in turn making it easier for sales.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
Supporting greater diversity in technology makes a lot of sense. For example, research shows innovation happens best when differing perspectives and diversity of thought are supported. At Datasite, I’m glad to serve as the executive sponsor of the Datasite Champions program which supports strong connections between local communities and Datasite employees, and which provides funding to charitable organizations which align with the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy.
For example, this year, we are recognizing International Women’s History Month with a donation to Girls Who Code, whose mission is to help close the tech gender gap.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am happy to exchange ideas and discuss best practices on LinkedIn.