Key elements of team selling that won’t help you at the holiday dinner (but they will everywhere else)

Anna Tukachinskaya wrote this on Dec 14

One of my friends spent several years working in sales for a bigger tech-enabled company. We used to meet every 2-3 months to talk shop - from industry events, to newly-discovered sales tools, to prospects we can introduce each other to. My favorite part about these conversations was this awesome feeling of sales camaraderie, sense of community, and understanding that we’re doing a similar job and have a lot to learn from each other. My friend enjoyed these chats and shared these sentiments, too. I know because I asked, and he said he was so happy to talk about how he can do his job better, because he can’t do so at work. As sad as it sounds, I bet it’s familiar to most of us.

The organization he was with was pretty old-school. Now, there is (possibly) nothing wrong with being old-school, respecting traditions, and following the once-established workflow that proved itself through time. However, in this case the “traditional approach” meant that every account executive was pretty much on their own out there after their initial training was over. They were discouraged to talk to each other, they didn’t have a clear process of involving specialists from other teams to help with the deal. What’s more, other teams, especially technical, often perceived their colleagues in sales as “talking heads”, someone who doesn’t know much about the product, is easily replaceable and should not be taken seriously. There was no support system for an account executive or a way to share best and most effective practices from others, and harsh competition is the main engine. Needless to say, it was very hard for the reps to hit their quotas, and churn rates were insane. All in all, it sounded like it was that "every man for himself" cutthroat environment that gave sales the bad rap in the first place (and that we talked about in our blog here).

With this kind of environment, lack of support from his co-workers, and no way to learn best practices and perfect the art and science of sales, our rare coffee meetings were one of the few tools he could count on to exchange ideas on sales in general and whatever opportunity he worked on that day.

While this probably worked for a whole bunch of companies to some extent, it becomes quite obvious that it is time to rethink this approach to get better results. My friend’s story once again proves the importance of conversations about how selling, especially to complex and strategic customers, can be more effective and more human. In our increasingly connected world, when your customers are most likely well-informed about what they are looking for and maybe even how your solution works, and are looking for expertise and attention to go along with whatever product they are buying, the “every-man-for-himself” approach won’t work anymore. Selling, be it a physical product, a SaaS solution, or your worldview to your significant other’s uncle at the holiday dinner, will be so much more successful if there’s team knowledge and validation and collective expertise behind it. Well, with the exception of that uncle and the holiday dinner. He’s probably too stuck in his ways and you’re better off focusing your energy on bonding with the rest of the relatives and eating all that pot roast.

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In every other situation though, it’s useful to remember that, in the words of R.L. Stevenson, "Everyone lives by selling something”. So why can’t everyone in your company actually take part in closing that deal?

What in the world is "team selling"?..

As Steve Waterhouse puts it, team selling is “selling using multiple people who each bring something unique to the sales process. The difference between team selling and just selling with more people is that team sellers plan their process and use their team members effectively”.  

As we see, there are three key elements of team selling:

  1. Every person involved in the process possesses a unique expertise that adds value to the meeting or an interaction with the customer.
  2. Team selling requires using each member of the team effectively. In other words, the team lead or the person who gathered them all together is supposed to know very well what strengths their coworkers possess, and leverage these strengths to achieve business goals.
  3. Team sellers have a clear plan in place, and following this process helps them achieve their goal (read: close that deal) faster, more efficiently and with a better outcome.

Let’s dive into a little more detail on these key elements and what to consider when implementing them. 

Be human and ask for help

In the words of Patrick Henry of QuestFusion, “even if you're the smartest person in the room, you aren't as smart as the collective knowledge and wisdom of the rest of the people in the room”. Bringing together a team of people who each possess unique expertise, among the rest, requires intellect and a great deal of humility to admit that one person can’t answer ALL questions that might come up. So go ahead, ask for help. In the end, your whole company lives off those high-margin deals you are working to close. Everybody will be willing to jump in and provide their feedback and their knowledge to make the process better or faster.  

It might be a somewhat unconventional resource in an article about selling (albeit team selling), but I would greatly recommend reading or listening to Brene Brown and her research on the power of vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to check your ego at the door. The benefits you’ll realize will most likely trump the risks you take when admitting to your teammates that despite your experience you don’t know everything and you need their help.

To go back to my friend’s story, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of listening and learning from your peers. But to be able to learn from them, the company should encourage professional growth and foster the spirit of collaboration, and any person should feel empowered and safe to ask questions and look for help.

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Take time to know thy teammates' strengths 

This is a tricky piece of advice that also goes hand in hand with transparency and open communication.

Of course, knowing what your colleagues are especially good at and how they can contribute to the main goal of closing that deal is key. Yet this is only possible if the organization encourages open communication - otherwise it will be nearly impossible to predict how this person will fit in with the rest of the selling team and how they’ll behave with the customer during face-to-face negotiations.

What is more, there’s a lot more to every employee than their job description, and knowing this might help you determine just the right person to bring in to talk to this particular prospect. You might have 10 project managers in your company, but only one of them collects post stamps in her free time - just like your client’s decision maker.

Another remark would be that every strategic customer is different; their goals and needs are probably not the same either, and the people you’re negotiating with are nothing alike. This calls for gathering different selling teams for every deal to make sure you’re using the strongest teammates for this given task.

Always, always have a plan

Now that you, all humble and vulnerable, asked for help and gathered a rockstar team to help you sell, and even figured out what (sometimes hidden) strengths your teammates possess, you all need to come up with a plan on how to combine all this knowledge and expertise to achieve the desired business goal.

When working on putting together a strategy for bringing in a new or upselling an existing account, it’s vital to also regard it as a team project. All the members of your selling team should be encouraged to express their opinions, concerns and propose their ways to achieve the goal. Being open to ideas, discussion, and sometimes criticism is crucial for every member of the selling team. After the initial strategic planning, it’s critically important to make sure that your teammates have a simple and easy way to build, share, update and track the status of this project as the deal moves forward. You might want to look into using a product like Synap that is specifically designed to give client-facing teams an easy and intuitive tool for account growth planning as well as tracking the progress of opportunities and deals.

It’s a lot of work, sure: assess the strengths of individual teammates, sit down with all of them and come up with a team selling plan, take each of their expert opinions into consideration, and (!!) check your own ego at the door, even if you’re the team lead… However, if you’re working on a strategic deal that will possibly define the direction your business will go in, either in terms of revenue streams or even product roadmap, my guess is that it is totally justified. After the goal is established and agreed upon, every member of the selling team knows their role in how to achieve it, and everyone is using their strengths, you’ll dramatically increase your chances to close that big deal!

What do you and your team do to be team selling rockstars? Drop me a line at anna@getsynap.com.

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