Salespeople are, traditionally, the ultimate lone wolves, working towards their personal targets for their own commission. But this is far from the most productive model. Here’s how you can change that mindset and build a sales team that works together to smash targets.

The best sales teams operate like well-oiled machines. The business development reps act as the ball bearings. Salespeople function as the gears. Sales managers are the carriages, supporting their teams through each stage of the process. All of the parts work together smoothly to produce effective results.

Traditional sales organisations often place emphasis on individual performance, but this approach has its limitations. It can create competition between reps and turn co-worker relationships toxic, especially if a salesperson encroaches on another’s territory. In rare cases, a sales rep may even take the competition too far and impact a colleague’s deal.

Alternatively, when salespeople cooperate and compete together, they have a positive impact on their company’s bottom line. Here are six ways to build a sales team that successfully competes together.

1. Create clear structure

Clear team and task structures eliminate ambiguity – an enemy of cohesion.

“Within your sales team, ensure everyone is clear about their sales territory and about how they are being paid,” says sales expert Colleen Francis, author of Nonstop Sales Boom.

“Sales teams can quickly become dysfunctional when staff are expected to perform well while dealing with unanswered questions (e.g., ‘Is that my lead or yours?’ and ‘Do I get paid for this service I’m providing?’). Fill in the grey areas. Create well-defined territory agreements and compensation agreements.”

Any confusion in team structure may result in duplicate work. It can also cause the ‘bystander effect’, where team members are unclear about whose responsibility it is to address problems, so they all do nothing.

An unambiguous task structure, helps minimise chaos as team members focus on their own projects while striving to achieve shared goals. With clear organisational structures, colleagues develop a better understanding of how work is done and how their contributions make a broader impact.

2. Enhance communications

Internal communication, when operating effectively, increases company coordination, drive, trust, and employee engagement and motivation.

Opportunities for co-workers to connect and improve their working relationships increases employee happiness and team productivity. Though many of these interactions may be of the watercooler variety, some may turn into unexpected brainstorming sessions for fresh ideas to cut costs and generate more revenue.

The more team members chat with each other, the more natural it feels for people to share their successes. This can further motivate the team. Setbacks are also shared, creating opportunities for people to receive helpful feedback.

Improving internal communications not only helps sales teams boost their bottom line, it also allows companies to avoid the negative consequences of getting it wrong.

3. Hire salespeople with complementary skills

To create a well-oiled machine sales team, aim for variation of skillsets across the team.

“If every member of the team had the same set of skills, the team wouldn’t be as effective,” talent retention specialist Brian Cuttica says. “Take advantage of the strengths of each team member and allow them to become an expert in that area.

“Allow those people to lead the charge on that category. This tactic lets team members excel in their roles and add the ultimate value.”

This, of course, works best when you have a clear team structure. Within your organisational chart, note any critical skill gaps and keep them in mind when you are hiring.

4. Incentivise assists, but hands off the commissions!

Effective sales managers delegate work responsibilities so that tasks can be carried out independently, yet deliverables are pieced together later. But don't forget about collaboration entirely.

Research supports the idea that salespeople should offer support when a co-worker is facing an obstacle that could be completed more efficiently as a team. A 2014 survey by Bloomfire says the ROI of enterprise collaboration includes:

  • 20 per cent increase in workforce productivity

  • 15 per cent increase in revenue per sales rep

  • 10 per cent increase in overall deal size

To achieve these boosts, companies need to establish a mindset that values team output as much as individual performance. However, the answer is rarely to split commissions based on individual contribution.

Instead, managers can provide team-wide bonus incentives if the company manages to achieve its sales target. At the same time as being invested in their team’s overall success, co-workers will stress less about getting credit for every little thing they do. Instead, they will be able to celebrate team accomplishments.

5. Prioritise high-impact opportunities and solutions

The 80/20 rule, theorised by economist Vilfredo Pareto in the late 1800s, offers sales teams the perfect framework for prioritising their workload. Instead of distributing your time evenly across all of your tasks, you should focus more effort on actions that will drive the highest amount of revenue.

Salespeople can also apply the 80/20 rule to their daily routine by focusing on three things:

  • Follow up with leads before they go cold, since estimates suggest 71 per cent of all internet leads become lost opportunities long before a salesperson reaches out.

  • Segment your accounts to identify which lead sources deliver the most qualified opportunities and generate the most revenue for your business with the least amount of effort.

  • Personalise your sales proposal so you can hold a prospect’s interest in moving forward after you have invested so much time and energy getting to the proposal stage.

6. Rethink what ‘help’ looks like

Encourage your sales team members to adopt solutions-driven habits and take initiative in solving problems or providing leadership.

“There is a huge chasm between asking your manager, ‘How can I help?’ and saying, ‘Here are three things I can do to help – which one should I do?’,” Wil Reynolds, founder of SEER Interactive, says.

Rather than wait for marching orders from managers, junior execs can provide options for next steps. That way, employees share leadership responsibilities with their managers and are invested in thinking about what they are capable of doing to move the business forward.

This sort of mindset also builds better salespeople – what customer doesn’t want to talk to somebody who is focused on providing solutions to their problems?

Looking to super-charge your sales team? We’re here to help – download our ebook ‘The anatomy of a high-octane sales team’.