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Rule 7: Make It a Team Effort


Consider the following comments from sales professionals: "My biggest frustration is that, due to our internal processes, I spend longer negotiating with different departments within the company to get things done than with customers to get more sales."

"Over the last couple of years with this company, my biggest challenge has been to find my place and role within a new sales team and to get accepted by other members of the team as a valuable player and by customers as a valuable ally."

It takes teamwork to deliver high-value, innovative solutions. Whether that involves team selling or the team behind the scenes, to deliver on time and on target requires more than just the effort of the salesperson. The salesperson can't and shouldn't do it all.

A team shares a common goal or purpose and must work together to achieve it. Having a team is the starting point. To be an effective leader, you need to be supported by a high-performing team.

In what ways do you need the support of a team to deliver reliable services for your customers? Are there times when establishing a high-performance team is a challenge for you?

The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the most successful pharmaceutical companies had taken "aggressive" steps to upgrade its sales force. Collaboration, the ability to work effectively with others, was one of the key attributes of its best salespeople and one that it looks for in new hires. Your ability to work effectively as a team member and to lead that team when needed will play a large part in determining how successful you will be. There are limited opportunities today where a salesperson can operate as a "lone ranger." People skills, not only sales or technical skills, help top producers get things done.

Your team may consist of you and a technical support person, such as a sales engineer. It may consist of you and the people responsible for product development. It may consist of you and the people who are responsible for implementation or service. While you may not work closely with all of these people all of the time, any one of them can help you make this sale and the next one.

Unfortunately, when you or the people who must support you in delivering correct solutions on time don't see themselves as working on your team, you are going to take a lot longer to do what you need to do and may not even be able to get it done. You need to overcome any tendencies among people or departments to work at cross purposes. Create a sense of commitment to a common goal or purpose that centers on your customer's requirements and satisfaction. Your ability to do this is highly dependent on your ability to communicate and to balance your own ego with the needs of the people on your team.

In communicating with your support team, especially when something has gone wrong, it is critical that you control your response and be careful not to say something you'll regret. Channel your response into preventing future problems. Be the model. Know that you are constantly on stage and being evaluated and emulated.

The four cornerstones of successful teams are four opportunities to develop that sense of commitment.

Four Cornerstones of Successful Sales Teams

The foundation of successful sales teams consists of four cornerstones:

A team must share a common purpose or goal to be a team. A sales leader often must work to gain the support of people who work behind the scenes. This might include product development, delivery, service, engineering, and support staff. It may involve working with other vendors. It may involve working with people who are going to run your sale through the design, development, implementation, or billing process. In any case, everyone on that team must work together to realize the goal.

Good communication flows in all directions in a timely and effective way. Team members know what is expected, they know how they are doing, and they know about customer changes before customers know about the changes.

Team development means that the team develops its ability to work together as a team. High-performing teams don't leave this to chance. They don't spend inordinate time doing this, but they also don't ignore it. They know that to deliver the solutions they promise to customers, they need to rely on people in support positions, in engineering, in information processing, in billing, in customer service, and in other parts of the company. Sales leaders take the time to ensure that people on their team are clear on what the team needs to accomplish, feel they are being heard, are glad to be a part of the team, and recognize the efforts of the individual team members who contribute to the team's success.

Your team development efforts might consist of having a meeting (or a series of meetings) with the people on your team. The meetings can have a number of purposes:

Team attitude means that when people on the team care about the customers and about helping each other, the team is going to find ways around problems. They will fill in for each other as needed. They will be proactive and head off problems. They will step up as individuals and assume leadership roles as needed to meet the team's commitments. As team members, they take their team commitments seriously. They consider their other team members to be their customers. They minimize hidden agendas, and although they may have allegiances to the departments or people they work for, they keep communication open, and once they make a commitment they follow through on it.

Each of these team components plays a role in the team's success. In smaller proposals, the team's attitude may be the single most important determinant of success. The team may be working with limited resources in short time frames. Communication will normally flow more easily if the group is smaller. Team development may involve one, or at most two, startup meetings to identify roles and outline how the team will work together.

In projects involving larger proposals, these elements become more significant. The team's goal must be absolutely clear; communication must flow freely and be comprehensive and timely; and the team needs to think about how it works together. Attitude will play a role and will normally be a positive factor when people are excited about the challenge ahead.

Develop Commitment with Others

The difference between commitment and compliance is the difference between want to and have to. All of us have been in a position where we were told to do something. Most times, we do it without resisting because it is a part of every job. But when you are told to do something important that will take a great deal of effort and don't fully understand why, you will do it because you have to, but your level of commitment won't be as high as it would be if you understood why it was necessary and believed that your ideas were valued. In that case you would have a higher level of commitment to the project.

You probably have seen that when people are compliant, they do what they need to do to get by. They may not put forth any extra effort. If you've been on a team that has a high level of commitment, you know how exciting it can be and how much each person will do to make sure the project is successful.

If you depict the level of commitment as a spectrum, you can visualize how different degrees of commitment are possible (see figure 9).

Level of Committment

Figure 9:  Level of Committment

Top sales professionals must influence others in their organizations in order to do what they promised the customer they would do. Exceptional sales professionals are able to win commitment from others. How do they do that?

One way is to explain the "why" - that is, the purpose or benefit to the customer of what you would like to do. How will it help or affect the person whose support you need? This gives people a sense of the big picture and a reason to be committed. Ask for and consider their ideas. People are more committed to their own ideas than to those of others. If you can't use their ideas, at least explain why not. Recognize their efforts when they achieve the objective. Without recognition, people won't extend themselves the next time.

These steps, when carried out with genuine interest in the input and success of the people you work with, are more likely to lead to their support. If you are the person initiating the change, consider product management, engineering, or support staff to be your customers. Do your homework to find out what their needs and concerns are before you present them with requests, and you will find it a lot easier to make a "sale." Be very careful to demand what you want. People may give you what you demand, but you may find it to be less than what you need.

Recognize People's Efforts

The idea behind recognition is pretty simple. People want to be sincerely appreciated for their efforts and accomplishments. When they are, they tend to want to help you even more. When they are not outwardly appreciated but aren't criticized, they will do what they need to do to get their jobs done, but may not extend themselves beyond that. If they are inappropriately criticized for what they do, they will tend to do the least they can do to get by and will spend a lot of time commiserating with each other about how much they dislike the way they are treated.

Offer Constructive Feedback

From time to time, you're going to find you need to let someone who supports you know that he or she needs to do something differently. How you say it will be critical to the response you get. Offering constructive feedback is one of the most important ways that you can influence others positively. It can mean the difference between getting what you want and getting nothing.

If I said to you, "That was a great recommendation, but it was too long," it sounds good to you until I get to the word "but." As soon as you hear that, don't you find yourself tensing up? Don't you suspect that I'm just getting ready to say what I really wanted to say?

If I said, "That was a great recommendation, and if you can get it into just one page, which we can use as an overview for the customer, it will be close to perfect," wouldn't that sound a lot better? The key is to change the word "but" to the word "and."

"But" is negative. As soon as you say "but," you negate any positive statement that preceded it. If the recommendation was 95 percent good, "but" focuses the listener's attention on the 5 percent that wasn't good. When you use the word "and," it is additive. You recognize the 95 percent that was good and say that you can add to it. "And" is future focused, while "but" is oriented toward the past.

All of us use "but" in the context of trying to give people suggestions about what they can do to improve. It is a strongly ingrained habit. Give yourself time to start remembering not to use the word "but" after you've told someone something positive.

A number of years ago I was on the telephone after I had finished a speech. A fellow who had been in the audience was standing next to me. I was on hold, so I couldn't help but overhear what he was saying. He was talking to someone at work. He said something like, "I'm glad you were able to get that out on time, but you should have . . ." He stopped at that point and said, "I'm not supposed to use the word ‘but.' Let me start over." Most of us will find that it will take a bit of undoing to start using the word "and" in these situations. (By the way, "however" is the same as the word "but," just a little milder.)

A lot of times people want to give others feedback about how to improve. They rely on the cookie-sandwich approach, which has been suggested for many years as a way to give feedback: start with the good news, give the bad news, and finish up on a positive note. It is much more productive to avoid the "bad news" tone by using "and" instead of "but."

If you need to give someone corrective feedback and the person is not producing a result that is acceptable, communicate that point directly and diplomatically. Just say something like, "There's a problem with such-and-such. I need to sit down and talk with you about it."

Always keep in mind that your tone of voice in all of these interactions says a great deal. "What do you think?" can be said with many different tones of voice. How it comes across will depend on what you intend to convey. If you expect the person to respond positively, communicate that in your tone of voice. Be in control of the interaction.

Avoid the Temptation to Say . . .

All of us are tempted from time to time to say it when we are right and someone else is wrong: "I told you so." Instead, empathize, don't criticize. Have you ever misjudged someone? Have you ever misinterpreted someone else's behavior? Have you ever made a mistake? Can you remember how easily it happened? Can you recall how quickly you realized what had happened?

Then you can put yourself in others' shoes and try to understand rather than judge, empathize rather than criticize. You will be more objective and more likely to reach an understanding. Great salespeople and great leaders are able to be empathic. They create high levels of trust and understanding that are the foundations of effective and productive relationships.

Zig Ziglar, CPAE, has advice that is extremely helpful in these situations: never try to top the customer. If the customer tells you how bad or good something is or about something that happened to him or her, don't tell your own story that shows you had it worse or better. If you do, the customer will feel you are competing. Don't even try to match the customer with your own story. Instead, listen, laugh, or empathize with his or her situation, and he or she will know you are listening.

Delegate and Deliver

Top producers delegate. They have to. They know that they need to concentrate on the most critical customer activities, the ones for which they are most uniquely qualified. Top producers know they can't get it all done themselves and still be top producers. You can delegate tasks to an assistant, to other professionals, or to a team. The bigger the sales you work on, the more you need to delegate. If you work by yourself, you will limit how much you can sell. If your vision is to grow your sales as if it were for your own business, treat it as if it were your own business. A Fortune 500 company couldn't run if the CEO tried to do everything. The only limit to your growth is how big your dream is and how effectively you enlist others to help you reach it. Don't get stuck in the mundane. It won't help you achieve greatness.

Answer yes or no to each of the following questions to get a quick assessment of your attitude toward delegation.

If you answered yes to two or three of these questions, you could become more productive by delegating more. You might immediately think, "But no one works for me. I don't have anyone to delegate to." In this age when salespeople often work without any assigned office administrators, that is a legitimate concern. But there are alternatives.

An example of an opportunity for delegation came when preparing a presentation for a client's national sales meeting. A salesperson I interviewed indicated that when a customer call came in for a quote on a specific service, he would calculate the pricing himself rather than passing that call to the service people. Calculating the pricing wasn't something he needed to do. Once the account had been won, the service people could handle specific orders. Winning the account was his job. Of course, keeping it was his job also, which is where some of the uncertainty arose about when he should or should not help serve the customer.

There were several reasons he calculated pricing for the customer on a specific service. First, he wanted to make sure the pricing was correct. Second, he didn't want the customer to feel slighted. Third, helping this customer was something that was easy to do, easier than going out to face rejection - a form of procrastination. Unfortunately, while he was in the office helping this customer he wasn't out developing new business. If this were an isolated case it wouldn't matter. But when it happens several times or repeatedly, it means that this salesperson is not doing what he should be doing. He was doing someone else's job.

If he were to pass the call to a service person, his way of explaining this delegation to the customer would be critical in maintaining the customer's trust. The best way to handle situations such as these is to make sure customers are aware of the possibilities in advance. Once the account has been won, the salesperson can let the customer know that the service people will be helping him with specific pricing questions in the future.

The best way to convince customers that this is the best course of action is to tell them the benefits of doing it the way you are suggesting and explaining why it is in their best interests. (Typically, if they save time or avoid communication or technical errors, they will willingly accept the explanation.) You could say something such as, "I very much appreciate your business. I am going to go over your account with my service people, who have the expertise to help quickly and accurately with the specific pricing on each service. They also will help you if something comes up that you didn't anticipate. I will be staying in touch with you to make sure that we are providing service to your satisfaction and to see what new services may be of benefit to you. And, of course, you can always call me if there is any problem that you feel you aren't getting resolved through them. Does that sound like a good approach to you?"

Alternatively, if the salesperson didn't alert the customer about this arrangement in advance, the first time the customer calls in with a request the salesperson could get the service person on the line at the same time with the customer, introduce the customer to the service person, and have the service person either figure out the pricing with the salesperson on the line (if there is anything unusual about it) or have the service person speak directly with the customer. In either case, the customer gets the help he or she needs and the salesperson can use that time to go find other customers to help. Obviously, you don't want customers to feel as if you are putting them off, but to know that you want them to get the best service possible.

Delegation doesn't have to be all or nothing. That's the kind of thinking that prevents people from considering delegation in the first place.

Why don't salespeople delegate? First, they don't think they can because they don't have anyone working for them. But they can ask service and marketing people to do what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it. In this way, the salesperson can do what he or she is supposed to do: sell.

Second, they may be afraid that they will be held accountable if they delegate a high-profile task to someone who doesn't do it right. That's a reasonable fear. But they also believe that if they are held accountable they will suffer dire consequences, such as a loss of prestige, responsibility, and possibly a job. They take it to an extreme and see themselves on the street and jobless because they delegated this one assignment. This may not be rational, but fears are often irrational.

So what should you do when you delegate? Here are three important steps.

Returning to our example, if the salesperson is unsure that the service people will be able to handle the pricing, he could meet with them when an account is won and go over any special arrangements they need to be aware of. If the service person was new, the salesperson could ask the service person to let him review any pricing on the first occasion or two or when specific circumstances arise. The salesperson could follow up with the service person and review the account periodically to ensure that the pricing is being handled correctly and to see whether there are trends or patterns in the customer's purchases that he should be aware of. In this way, the salesperson has assurance that the customer is getting the right pricing and service while also leveraging his time to work with other customers. He can introduce the customer to services that the customer could take advantage of. That creates a win-win outcome.

The less time you spend on service, the more time you can spend developing business and selling. That's the benefit of delegating.

Micromanaging Is Tempting, Time Consuming, and Ineffective

Have you ever been micromanaged? Have you ever felt you had to micromanage someone else? In either case, it is not a positive experience. How does this come about? What can you do to prevent it? What are the alternatives?

There are several reasons that people start to micromanage. They micromanage when they concentrate on activities instead of results, when they observe what people do instead of measuring what they accomplish. This problem often is rooted in the goal-setting process, when goals aren't clear, specific, or realistic, or aren't set at all.

Regardless of how someone comes to the point of micromanaging, it isn't good and it shouldn't continue. It should instead be replaced with a results-oriented goal-setting process and measurement of progress at preagreed milestones. Couple those actions with positive reinforcement of accomplishments and over time you won't need to micromanage someone.

Instead of thinking that you have to manage someone, think about how you need to communicate with that person. Think about how to make sure you and that person share the same understanding about what has to be done and why. Also, think about how you can influence this person to want to do what has to be done with the best possible quality. Think about how you will seek to understand the concerns and requirements that this person has. Anticipate how you will respond to his or her ideas and suggestions.

You don't need to make all the decisions. Just be aware of when you need to be involved and when it is better to not oversee work.

The three keys to avoiding micromanaging your sales efforts are to:

When you are working with someone who is relatively new, you may need to ensure more oversight at first, which may mean more frequent checkpoints. When you work with someone who is experienced, give more autonomy but always maintain good communication with that person; if you find more direction is needed, you can always give it. Approach this in a relaxed yet focused manner and other people will be more receptive, more relaxed, and more focused. They will reflect your frame of mind. A leader inspires people to do great things. No one manages people to do great things.

When Tom Hanks was filming Saving Private Ryan, the cast went through rigorous military training. After enduring this for some time, the cast approached Hanks and said that they had had their fill of it and were going to stop. Hanks called the director, Steven Spielberg, and told him about the situation. Spielberg told him, "You're a leader. Figure it out." Hanks went back to the cast and simply said to them, "If you think you can portray these soldiers the way they really were, then go. Otherwise, stay." Everyone stayed.

Sales Leaders Are Communicators

While working with a client, I had been directed to one of their best salespersons as a model for the way they would like their other salespeople to sell. Bob had been instrumental at maintaining an account worth millions of dollars. The customer had been considering shutting down the project this company was running, disappointed in its progress. When Bob was asked what he did to keep the project from being canceled, he replied that he had earned their trust. When he worked with this customer, a multidepartmental account, he devoted a great deal of time to communicating with people. He had multiple points of contact with the account in different departments. When he was with a person in one department discussing a situation and he realized that the person wasn't aware of what was going on in another department, he would say, "I just met with so-and-so yesterday. He said they have come up with another approach on that. Here's what it involves."

He played a role within the organization, that of the eyes and ears that people inside the organization sometimes didn't have the opportunity to play. So when it was time to fight for keeping his company's project on track, people were willing to listen to him. When he acted as this communication link, he wasn't doing it with a specific sale in mind. He was doing it to build the relationship by doing something that was of value to the people in the customer's organization. That was one of the things that made him one of the sales leaders in his organization.

A Minute Is a Long Time

In a presentation skills workshops, a banquet manager from the hotel did a short presentation about how long a minute seems to a guest waiting for food to be delivered by room service. He asked the people in the audience to close their eyes and open them when they thought a minute had passed. As you might guess, most people opened their eyes long before the minute was up. We all know how long a minute seems when you are anxiously waiting for something that you expect shortly.

Customers are no different. When they leave a voice message, send a text or an email, they expect a timely reply, even if it is only to say that you got their message and are working on a response. Depending on the urgency of their call, they may get increasingly frustrated with each moment or hour that goes by. They might go over your head to get an answer and then vent their frustration at your company's lack of responsiveness.

Can you think of a time when someone didn't respond to your phone call or a text message? How much did you tolerate before you decided that you wouldn't give that company any more of your business? What was your business worth?

Have a backup when you are out of the office, in meetings, or unavailable. Check your messages frequently. Leave an assistant's number. In an account with a strong relationship, they will have multiple contacts at your company. Encourage them to call certain specific people if you aren't available and then ask those other people to let you know when they get a call from a customer. Give your home number to your best customers. Be responsive in their time frame, getting back to them as quickly as they would like, given whatever constraints you have. Apologize when you can't respond as quickly as they might have liked.


Customers like to be associated with a winner. If it looks like you and your company are on the rise, they will have a more positive feeling about dealing with you. So it is in your best interests, when you communicate with customers or potential customers, that you create a positive and honest perception about the course of your success. Keep your customers informed about events affecting you or your company.

Don't leave communication to chance. Create a plan to enhance your image. Writing articles is a good way to do this. Announcing a big or unusual sale, helping a customer with a difficult situation (with their permission), or participating in community or charitable events are other possible ways to communicate progress.

If you or your company encounter downturns, it is better to communicate and explain the issues to customers (if possible) than to have them read about the problems in the paper. I'm not suggesting you simply put a spin on the event. Instead, help customers understand how this news may affect them.

During a marketing assignment at IBM, we asked a telecommunications manager from a major customer to speak to our group. He told us how decisions we had made in the past had made it difficult to manage the budget. As a result, his predecessor had been asked to leave. Because of his admonishment, we set up a communications program with our major customers that worked through account managers. People familiar with our services went to customers to tell them about the general direction of our services so customers could better plan their budgets. Customers liked the information and the attention they received. These presentations allowed customers to make more informed decisions. Effective communication helps remove uncertainty and create confidence.

"We Took the Lead"

The Harris Corporation is an international company that provides communication solutions for government and commercial applications. One of its divisions, Harris RF Communications, was instrumental in helping General Dynamics to win a major contract with the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Defence, one of the UK's largest programs for modernization of its military communications.

The Harris RF team - led by the pursuit champion, George Helm, and the proposal manager, Chris Aebli - worked as a subcontractor to General Dynamics for the project. The team helped to win one of the most important military communications projects in recent UK history and Harris's largest tactical radio contract ever. And they did it by helping dislodge an in-country, established vendor. How were they able to do it?

"We took the lead among the subcontractors to demonstrate that we could deliver the solution quickly. It was a risk-reduction demonstration to inspire confidence in our company that we would be a low-risk choice," said Aebli. Like most customers, governments want to know that what is promised will be delivered, and when there are billions of dollars at stake they can't afford to be wrong.

Leadership Principles

To win a tough competitive situation where there is an established vendor, it is imperative to start with the right solution. The Harris team knew it had the right solution; their challenge was to prove it. They knew they had to prove their solution had the lowest risk for on-time delivery, with the capabilities the customer wanted, and at a competitive price. That should be a winning combination in any situation, but the contract was far from certain unless the team could demonstrate beyond a doubt that its technology would work, and work better than the competition's. "We knew our biggest risk was incorporating the encryption module from the UK," says Helm. "That's where we figured the competition had the advantage based on an earlier contract they had won for that type of component." What allowed this team to win? Three leadership principles contributed.

First, the team identified the most important concern the customer had about Harris. It made a decision immediately that it would completely satisfy that concern - whether it could provide a working solution on time - through product demonstrations.

Second, the team "sold" the project internally by creating confidence with top management that it could win the bid. This helped get full top management support.

Third, the team made strategic decisions at the beginning about the message it needed to get to the customer.

Military projects such as these go through a bid/no-bid decision within the corporation because there is typically a significant cost in just bidding on the project. So if the decision is made to go ahead and bid, it has to be with the understanding that there is a good chance of winning the contract. In this case, the thinking was, "This was a job we weren't going to lose." That helped set the tone for everything else that followed.

The team decided right from the start that providing impressive product demonstrations early in the selection process was their one opportunity to prove their low-risk solution and, if successful, was key to its ability to strengthen General Dynamics's offer. Key Harris people had been tracking the existing program for a number of years, and before the request for a proposal came out, held a meeting in the UK with the customer. That meeting helped Harris understand what the customer considered to be the "crown jewels" of the program and allowed Harris to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of its own offer.

Establishing the Team

This was a huge opportunity for Harris, and nothing quite like it had been undertaken before. One challenge was to get a massive number of people working on it quickly - the team drew on people they had worked with before. Harris put many of their best people on the problem, gaining time by minimizing the learning curve. They collocated them, took them out of their "regular" jobs and isolated them from distractions. Other key individuals pulled into the program included the director of HF radio engineering and the European sales director. The engineering director led the effort to perform the successful product demonstrations. The director of sales, located in the UK, established the right contacts for all of the in-country meetings and provided a day-to-day contact with General Dynamics's offices throughout the UK.

One of the team's main objectives was to maximize the positive impact they could have on the award decision as a subcontractor. As a result, they knew that communicating their message to the customer was going to be key. The strategy and message were put together at the beginning: eliminate any weakness perceived in the Harris product offering and unquestionably prove, by way of early demonstration, that it had a low-risk offering that met or exceeded the customer's expectations. That preparation gave the organization confidence in the bidding process and gave the team the resources it needed to do the job. Thorough preparation and an attitude that "we have the best product and we're going to prove it" led to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Creativity Leads to a Fast Response

The team knew they were going up against an established competitor. The prime contractor on the project, General Dynamics, confirmed that getting the UK encryption module into the Harris radio within the program's time frame was viewed as one of the major program risks. They focused the design team on one mission during the bid process: "Do whatever it takes to get the module into the radio and demonstrate it to the customer before the selection decision is made."

They got creative because they didn't have the time to do otherwise.

The team came up with ways to demonstrate the product working with the integrated UK encryption and other key program capabilities. Believing that the competitive team had a significant head start, the Harris engineers had to shorten what would have been a multiyear development down to a three-month time frame. To accomplish this, they tapped into relationships that they had developed with other GD subcontractors and were able to use a UK encryption module that had already been developed by another subcontractor on an earlier program for a similar radio. Harris focused its efforts on developing a clever interface module that allowed the engineers to quickly integrate it into their standard radio product. In the end, the same basic solution was used in final product design.

What can any sales professional learn from this winning effort? If you want to win the sale in a highly competitive situation:

The Core of Rule 7: Make It a Team Effort

Few great things are accomplished solely by an individual, so gain the commitment of your team and take the lead in making your customer vision a reality.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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