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When I first entered the B2B sales arena in the late 1970s selling radio spots, it was a numbers game. Make the calls, fill the funnel, shake loose the real buyers, and fulfill your quota. I sold belly to belly, often to a single decision-maker, or at most a mom-and-pop duo. The funnel approach was the right strategy for sales management at the time, given the situation. It worked.

Three decades later, the playing field for sales has changed dramatically. Playing the numbers game doesn’t produce the same results that it used to, and a paradigm shift is in order: Sales is now a team sport. While activity management will always be necessary, it’s no longer sufficient to win your market.

Instead of the game being one-on-one (or so), it’s now us against the buying team.  According to buyer surveys conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, the average sale involves almost six decision-makers or influencers. They range from the principal users, IT, procurement, finance, and operations. And it’s only going to get worse. International Data Corporation’s latest research on B2B buying trends suggests that the number of decision-makers for a technology purchase is rising at a rate of 15% year over year.

Making it even harder for the lone ranger or dynamic duo is the fact that the buyers now collaborate with each other in order to get more value from their suppliers. In other words, the rising number of selling targets isn’t just another example of bureaucracy — it’s proof positive that buying is becoming a team sport.

Team up or lose.

As your sales executives traverse the process from initial contact to signed contract, they face obstacles and adversity. The shelf life of a prospecting tactic, selling proposition, or closing technique is shrinking quickly as the buying teams compare notes and counter with their own plays. It takes a network to defeat a network, and innovation must be answered with innovation. This is exactly what you need to do as a sales leader today.

Some sales organizations do this already, and Miller Heiman Research Institute has a name for them: world class. In 2014, Miller Heiman conducted extensive research to separate the good from the great and, in this case, the world-class sales organizations outperformed their competition by an average of 20%. When they looked for what separated them from the pack, “conscious collaboration” emerged as the deciding factor. Sales leaders at these companies cultivated a culture of cross-departmental teamwork in pursuit of large or strategic sales opportunities. Specifically, there was a strong alignment between sales and marketing, where they worked together early in the sales process, then scaled innovations across the enterprise rapidly.   

You may be thinking, “We operate as a team already,” but more likely, you really operate as a line, like factory workers manufacturing a product. Account executives hunt, sales engineers configure, sales managers advise, and when the stakes are high, big-dog executives are brought in to close. That’s a silo, not a team! True teams fulfill all the required roles to compete, coordinate well with each other, and possess a shared vision that glues a wide variety of skillsets together.  

To succeed in this new selling world, you need to foster a new way of thinking: When you get stuck in a sales challenge, don’t go down alone. Build teams comprised of everyone who has a stake in the outcome or expertise in the problem and then lead them to solve sales challenges faster than the competition. Not only does this diversity of thinking lead to more innovation, it greatly improves delivery later. Instead of throwing work over the wall, you are creating more seats at the table.

Spin up your dealstorms.

Your first step to make the leap from funnel management to team leadership is to start a dialogue with your account executives that encourages them to identify strategic opportunities for cross-disciplinary team building. Use pipeline review as a trigger point for wide area sales collaboration. Encourage your sales managers to sponsor these teams (I call them “dealstorms”) and help recruit the right players across department lines, and attend meetings to provide support.  

Teams should be staffed and resourced according to the value of the sales opportunity and the degree of difficulty in capturing it. There is a cost of collaboration, starting with efforts required to recruit and onboard team members. Meetings gobble up precious time that might be spent better elsewhere. So match the team with the challenge.

Whenever possible, account executives should assume the leadership role for these dealstorms with their managers serving as sideline coach. Require AEs to leverage Salesforce to create comprehensive briefs that every member of the team can read prior to collaboration meetings. As they lead meetings, they should promote the mantra that “ideas can come from anywhere.” Non-sales team members should be appreciated as volunteers — not shared service providers satisfying internal customers. Dealstorm leaders should report progress to all team members, noting top contributors that have helped move the ball down the field.

As you rack up wins, elevate them quickly into “war stories” that are distributed via video case studies, sales conference presentations, and president club awards. Culture is a conversation — led by leaders and punctuated by actions — about “how we successfully do things here.” The more you infuse teamwork and collaboration into the conversation, the more ingrained it will become in your organization’s culture.

It will take a lot of repeated conversations and reinforcement of positive actions to change a culture from one of sales-centric thinking to one-team-one-company behavior.  Salespeople are accustomed to controlling their own destiny, often seeing other departments (engineering, revenue recognition, legal, operations) as the “land of no.” But as they form teams that include these key colleagues, gain insights from them, and win with them, all of that will change. Your salespeople will realize that teamwork makes the dream work, especially when the opposing side is formidable.

Salespeople are accustomed to controlling their own destiny, often seeing other departments as the 'land of no.'”

Tim Sanders | Author and Keynote Speaker

Learn More

How to Craft the Perfect Sales Pitch By Annie Simms,
Account Executive, Salesforce
The Simple Client Meeting Rules Every Salesperson Should Follow By Laura Stack,
President and CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author, The Productivity Pro, Inc.



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