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 Tom Snyder.
Thank you for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this specific career path?
After completing my graduate studies, I landed a job on the White House staff, where I worked for several Presidents over ten years. The longer I was in that arena, the clearer it became that politics and government were not for me. I left government service and became a serial entrepreneur.
During my time operating and selling multiple businesses, I became increasingly frustrated that sales seemed far more difficult than it had to be. There must be people who have researched sales best practices based on the principles of real science. My search for this sort of scientific sales research was a big disappointment. Most of what I found was opinion/anecdote masquerading as bona fide sales practices research. Most former sellers were trying to show you how to be “as good as they were.”
I eventually found a scientist with superb credentials who had done the research I was looking for. Ironically, it turned out that he lived only about 25 miles from my home. I met and had coffee with him. After several such coffee meetings and turning down his offer of employment multiple times, I agreed to join his company for 90 days. I stayed for ten years and became CEO of the company. During that time, I fell in love with science and the impact it could have on companies, leaders, and salespeople.
Can you share an interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? What was the lesson or takeaway?
Early in my study of science, I had an opportunity to sell our training programs to a large national corporation. Being more devoted to science, I proudly applied what I had learned and some of the elements we taught other sellers. I sold the deal! It was the largest sale my mentor’s company had ever made up to that point. After the training was completed and we transitioned into a supporting role, we included the CEO of this company in a customer survey conducted by an outside firm. One of their questions was, “How much more did your team sell due to the training you received?” This CEO’s answer was short and to the point…”none.”
I was devastated. However, I felt compelled to speak to the CEO. I called and sheepishly inquired as to how we had failed him. He laughed a bit dismissively and explained that he was thrilled with the results they were seeing. “You and your team really hit the mark,” he shared. Seeing that I was completely puzzled, he then added the part that taught me a lasting lesson. He said, “You see, I did not hire your firm because sales were lacking. We exceeded our goals every month. I hired you to create a common language to unite an otherwise disparate sales culture.”
At that moment, in addition to feeling a bit foolish, I learned the importance of understanding what each decision-maker views as the success they seek from a purchase.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Tell us about it!
I guess “exciting” is in the eye of the beholder. For our team, we continue to concentrate and innovate in two areas: (a) increasing participant engagement and adoption, particularly around self-directed online learning and (b) using cutting-edge technology to expand our library of resources, which enable participants and their managers to move quickly from the end of the learning experience to the point of fluency, mastery and habit around sales best practices. It is amazing how fast new technology creates better/shorter paths to improvement.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?
By far, my most important mentor was a colleague at the firm I described above. His name is Dr. Dick Ruff. Not only did he teach me much of what got me fascinated by this field, but he was a demanding, superb coach.
I vividly remember the first time he and I were meeting with a large company's senior team. We planned the call carefully (imagine that!), and as part of that planning, he asked me how I would introduce myself at the start of the meeting. When he cut me off, I began to answer in general terms about what I thought would be appropriate to share. "I didn't ask for your ideas; I asked, what are you going to say?" I was shocked. It's not like I was right out of school in my first job. But he was making a point. There are some things in sales that most folks take too casually. What you choose to include in your introduction and how you deliver it can often set the tone for the remainder of a meeting. Lesson learned.
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 have worked with hundreds of sales leaders with teams ranging from 5 to 5,000 over the years. I have managed a team of 20 individual contributors, a team of 10 sales managers and a group of 4 sales VPs. This has allowed me to have both hands-on experiences and observe and coach leaders from various industries and companies.
What do you think makes a sales team great? What strengths or characteristics do you try to cultivate?
Volumes can be written about this search for the holy grail of revenue generation. In the interest of brevity, let me offer a brief statement of what decades of field research have shown. A great vs. average sales team exhibits the following:
- Individual passion for helping customers make informed, productive buying decisions
- Relentless, but not obsessive, attention to honing their skills and their approach to strategy
- Intense desire to win the “right way” by employing honesty, transparency, expertise and insight
- Ability to be honest with themselves
There are a host of others, but research reveals that with these, the rest make more impact. By the way, these are not intentions, declarations, or part of a mission. These are specific skills that can be learned and relied upon.
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?
Of course, there is no blanket motivator. The skill of managing a high-performing team is to coach the team you have, not the team you want. Some people are self-motivated in that the awards for high performance mean little to them if they are not happy with their work. Some great sellers are mercenary, motivated by money. These folks can be great assets if they exhibit the characteristics I list above. These are only two examples of a myriad of motivators that individuals may prefer. There are several ways for leaders and managers to assess motivation, but far too many rely on their instinct. That is a path to mediocrity.
What strategies have you tried to increase motivation, engagement, and productivity? We want to hear it all!
The primary thing we have been surprised by in our research is the importance of evaluating candidates from the perspective of their motivators and how these preferences will align with the corporate culture. I can remember implementing a competition where the top seller of the quarter would get to shave my head. Bad idea in many ways, it turns out. But the woman who won thankfully refused to claim the prize, indicating that “I am not comfortable with an adolescent male bonding exercise.” Yes, I did feel silly.
Of all the strategies you've tried, which did you find to be most effective? Did it have a direct correlation to sales?
As I indicated above, several strategies, like competitions, rewards, and recognition, will work. Many of these produce suboptimal results because they focus on the results rather than the key activities. Many factors can contribute to a seller having a great quarter or year. They may have received a fantastic hot lead, or they may be in fertile territory. If you want a motivating competition, focus on rewarding the individual who executed the most critical activities at the most productive cadence and did so with the most adroit execution. That way, everyone sees what it takes to be the best.
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?
Our team has exceeded our goal every year we have been operating. Several of our clients have the same experience. There is no one reason. However, all of these examples share the following common traits:
- The leadership team sets goals based on the analysis of market data, not on the wishes and hopes of the senior team
- Coaching and management efforts are focused on the activities that sellers execute and not on the results they produce
- Wherever individual performance is particularly high, the things the high performer is doing to be exceptional are analyzed and socialized to the other members of the sales team
Great things often take time. What do you think is a realistic timeline to take a sales team from good to great?
This is way too difficult to answer with any specifics. I would need to understand what the senior leader defines as “great”? Where is the team starting their journey to “great”? Is it really a destination, or is it a continuous process? And several other such questions.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five strategies that will help turn a good sales team into a great one?
1 . Focus on managing and coaching activity, not results.
2 . Ensure the sellers are aligned with company culture.
3 . In addition to financial performance measures, measure first-line managers on how well their team members improve over time.
4 . Ensure that sellers have the skills of professional inquiry, organized strategy development and understand how to demonstrate empathy, honesty and expertise.
5 . Derive quotas and financial performance metrics based on market data and not what senior leaders dictate.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
That sellers would exhibit far, far greater pride in the profession and base that pride on their mastery of what the science teaches us about best practice. Doctors, accountants, and a host of others exhibit such pride and work hard to learn/improve continuously. Why not us?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can visit our website at www.funnelclarity.com
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