Episode # 1: "Sales Genius is a Team Sport," with Tim Sanders

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Tiffani Bova

Complex sales require a team, not just an assembly line. There are many reasons why, but the first is that buying has become a team sport, too. Learn why you have to team up or lose — and how to win more often. Join the conversation with Tim Sanders, speaker, NY Times best-selling author, and former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo!, as he shares how sales genius is a team sport.

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “Sales Genius Is a Team Sport

Tim Clarke: Hi, welcome to the Quotable Podcast. Today, I'm really excited for our special guest Tim Sanders. Tim is a speaker, New York Time's best selling author, and former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo! And we'll be discussing how sales genius is a team sport.

I'm Tim Clarke, product marketing director at Salesforce and I'm joined today by guest host Tiffani Bova. Tiffani is a former VP and fellow at Gartner and now the Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist with Salesforce. Welcome, Tiffani.

Tiffani Bova: Thanks, Tim, for having me. Thanks, Tim Sanders, for being here.

Tim Sanders: My pleasure.

Tiffani: Tim, you published a piece on Quotable a few weeks ago called "Sales Genius is a Team Sport." It draws heavily on your new book "Dealstorming." We'd love to just spend a little bit of time with you hearing what the guts of that book is about, and really the philosophy that you've shared in the book, and what got you to that point. For those who haven't heard the term yet, would you give a quick summary of what dealstorming is?

Tim Sanders: Absolutely. Dealstorming combines the linear process of deal making with the lateral process of brainstorming. When you put it into play, what you do as an account executive is you put together a team comprised of stakeholders and experts to harness group genius to move you to the next best play to solve a sales challenge.

The trick to dealstorming is diversity in thinking, so the dealstorm team cannot be comprised of just people in the sales organization. The whole concept here is to harness the power of four or more perspectives, because in my experience, the four or more tipping point will triple your chances of solving the sales challenge.

Tim Clarke: When you talk about this overall concept and, obviously, the recent book that came out, and clearly the peace on Quotable, Sales Genius as a Team Sport, what was really the catalyst that led you to this whole dealstorming concept?

Tim Sanders: Tim, it goes all the way back to 1997 week after thanksgiving. I'm working for Mark Cuban at the startup, which became broadcast.com, which I'm sure you all remember that great IPO experience.

We were part of a new group called Business Services. We were going to sell video streaming, audio streaming, live services to big companies like Intel or whomever. They brought in a new VP, Stan Woodward from the technology business.

He came in. He told us, he said, "As we work on bigger deals because we've got to, as we work with bigger companies because we've got to," he said, "It's going to get complicated." He says, "Follow the process. You're still going to get stuck." He says, "When you get stuck, don't go down alone."

Then he says, "What I want you to do is I want you to grab somebody that knows something about why you're stuck, or grab somebody who really cares about how the deals going to turn out. Put their brains together, follow the process and make it rain." That's where I came up with the word dealstorming in that meeting. We tried it several times previous to being bought by Yahoo. It worked remarkably.

But what I really was motivated to build the process was at Yahoo. I get there right as the market's crashing in 2000. All of our business pretty much was with other dot coms. As that ecosystem imploded, we had to replace our book of business quickly with real companies, big companies -- Nike, P&G, etc.

They created a department for me we called Value Lab that refined the dealstorming process over the following three years. We produced over a half billion dollars equality revenue with very respectable companies. That's what started the process. I went on to be a consultant for over a decade working with all kinds of B2B companies, refining it after that.

What I learned is that when we reach out to marketing, and operations, and delivery, and finance, and recruit inside champions, the closing ratio goes up dramatically. The sales cycle is compressed fast because we just solved problems faster, and that every deal is 100 or 1,000 problems solved.

Tiffani: Tim, you mentioned that when you get stuck not to go down alone and to reach out to people either at an extended team beyond sales, someone in the organization, somebody who's got some subject matter expertise. One might think, "I already feel like I'm working as a team. I feel like I'm reaching out," but it maybe this linear process where they're not doing that.

Would you elaborate on what you mean and what are the signs our sales leaders should watch out for when you've got people on the team that think they're already working collaboratively?

Tim Sanders: A team operates around a shared vision. The team is staffed for the opportunity, which means there's usually a diversity in skill sets. I will just use a football analogy. You can't just have a quarterback, wide receiver, and a running back, no matter how good they are. What do you have to have? You have to have blockers. You got to have tacklers. You got to have a special team so a real team is wide.

When I talk to sales leaders, I ask, "You say you have a team. Is it a tall team, or is it a wide team?" A wide team is going to include people outside of the function who either have a big stake in the outcome, or they have some expertise about why you're stuck.

Oftentimes, when sales leaders say we work as a team, what they really mean is they work as a factory line. Inside that vertical silo called sales where SDRs hand leads to reps, who hand leads to AEs, who close deals and hand it to account coordinators, who hand it to delivery teams, who hand it to analysts, who hand it back to a renewal expert, that is not a team, that is a line because that is not diverse.

The team doesn't really have a shared vision. They are all really focused on their key performance indicators. In a dealstorm team, we make the transition from "me" to "we" and collectively, all of these look out for each other and we bring unique skill sets to the equation. The wider the team, you can manage it, the more likely you are to spot and notice patterns, and solutions, and combinations that can absolutely get you unstuck.

Tim Clarke: Based on this, when we look at perhaps sales leaders that are new to this approach, are there any key steps for where it should start out? Any areas, if you could recommend for them getting started?

Tim Sanders: There's an old saying, goes like this, "The best time to develop relationships is long before you need them." Before dialing into the process, what I want to say is that, for me, at Yahoo, when I first showed up, I'm talking about January 2000.

I go to the lunchroom, day one. I look around and it's like a scene out of the movie "Clueless." Everybody's clustered in how they eat. The nerds are eating together. The sales suites are eating together. The creative fashionistas are eating together. That's the content team, by the way. I just decided never to eat with sales.

Every day at lunch, I would sit down with a different group. I'd say, "Hi. I'm with sales." They beat me up, of course, because we just threw stuff over the wall and made promises they couldn't keep. I'd take the beating empathetically.

Then I'd start to hear about their projects and their problems. Systematically, I found ways to volunteer my spare time and some of my working time to help marketing, and to help delivery team, and to help engineers on their presentations or their budget issues. I created a network of relationships.

Then about five months later, when the Ford Account went south and my team was deployed in sales to create a wide area team, that was who I recruited. They came to the fight.

They helped us solve that deal and it changed everything inside the company. So, step one, build relationships outside of sales by being empathetic, doing favors and creating a conversation. That's the first bit.

The second bit is to take a look at your sales pipeline. What I want you to look for are high quality opportunities. They are strategic to either the business unit or the company, either because of revenue, because of reputation, because of position.

Then take a look at ones that are stuck, but there's a strong product prospect fit. In other words, you as a leader have a real gut instinct that you can create high-value or solve a real problem for this kind of prospect.

That's a perfect starting point. You take the high-value deal where there's a really good fit, and that's when where you can create your first dealstorm team around the process. What's really important is to lead that team very carefully through the process we'll talk about in a minute.

But if you win, it's critical you escalate this up to leadership quickly because culture is a conversation that's punctuated by stories, especially wins and losses about how we do things here effectively. In my consulting work, I've learned it just takes a couple of big wins with dealstorming to change the deal-making philosophy at a company forever.

Tiffani: Tim, that's great, if anything. That's a great description. Having been a sales leader myself, I like to call myself a recovering seller. But having been a sales leader, and when executive management looks at the cost of sales, I think they don't realize when these team dynamics happen.

Really, the cost of what it takes to do a big deal, like you mentioned Ford or someone else like that, where if you start expanding those resources beyond quota barring, then all of a sudden, these are the soft costs that are hidden and never really brought into the deal.

When you think about potentially adding cost to the business because of this team-selling environment, even though it's a loose association, if you will, how can sales leaders really capture that group dynamic and collaborative dynamic in a way that, when they go upstream and tell the story, to try to build and motivate the culture going in the right direction, that people understand that it really is a team sport, that just because people don't carry a quota that they are participating in the business.

You talk a little bit about how to capture potentially those expenses, and make it worthwhile for executives to want to continue to have that happen?

Tim Sanders: Very good question. The most important thing is to make sure, as you build the dealstorm team, you are resourcing against the opportunity. For example, let's say it's a medium-sized deal but it's a logo you really want to attain. It's only $500,000 but you really want to win this IBM deal. I'm just making this up.

In my book, I talk about a formula that says that, "Well, if it's a medium-sized deal, it should have a medium-sized dealstorm." You might have your couple of people from sales and you might recruit a couple of people outside of sales -- I call it the fantastic four.

It's not that large of a group, but by bringing in a marketing lead who knows something about your problem and by bringing in a delivery service lead, who has a big stake in the outcome, you're really expanding your point of view, and you're still getting a lot of the benefits but you're not getting a lot of the cost.

In certain situations, you might have a game-changing opportunity, multimillion dollars, positions you in a new vertical. That's when you're going to build the Justice League and that's going to be a bigger team. It could be 8, it could be 10. That's when you're really going to be absorbing some resources inside a company.

What's really important is that you track the sales cycle for this particular project, to compare it to the sales cycle for a look-alike deal that you historically work done and closed, because if you track and create metrics around it, in my experience, you will find two things.

You have at least cut the sales cycle by 25 percent if you follow this process to completion, which is a big part of the cost of sales. More importantly you have absolutely doubled, and in some cases tripled your closing ratio, against that opportunity, which is also important against the cost of sale.

With all that being said though, when I talk to senior management I usually really emphasize the fact that at least half of the dealstorm team is the stakeholders. These are the people that have a huge stake in the outcome. It could be someone in delivery, someone in engineering. It could even be someone in brand marketing who needs that logo for their work.

By involving them early, a lot of things happen. One, we deliver better. When MHI Global did their research on this world-class sales organization, the one that outperforms by 20 percent, one of the key metrics was renewals. What they found is that these world-class companies collaborate across departments, pursuing big opportunities.

It's not just because collaboration solves the challenge. It's that when you involve people early, especially those that usually have no voice in the selling process, their level of engagement later, when it's time to deliver on the promise is really high. At one of my clients, they have a saying that is this, "if you're not at the table, you're probably on the menu." That's the feeling of a lot of people in operations and delivery.

What I also talked to senior management about is our improved delivery dramatically reduces our rework cost, our account recovery cost, and our marketing cost over the long haul. You just have to really keep your mind fixed on what costs you're taking out of the system.

At the same time, understand that you don't have a lot of hard cost for dealstorming, especially since, in my experience, so many of the non-sales players learn so much more about the business they can take back to their departments and it really improves how they build products, launch marketing, and refine operational processes.

Tim Clarke: They're building on this cycle process. Obviously, in the book Dealstorming, you talked about the seven-step process. Can you just talk us through what are some of the key stages here?

Tim Sanders: Seven steps. Think of it as a cycle, it's going to repeat in a very big complex deal. Step number one is to qualify. This is what we just talked about. You've got to qualify the opportunity as needing multi-departmental collaboration. You're going to qualify based on the strategic value of it. It could be revenue, it could be market position.

You're also going to take a look at the complexity of the opportunity, and you're going to ask yourself, is there a product prospect fit? Because conceivably you could look at any big company and claim that it qualifies for a dealstorm. But you've got to ask yourself, do we think we can add value?

Step number two is to organize the team. You can organize the team by looking at who has the biggest stake in the outcome -- those are your blockers and tacklers -- and who is an expert about why you're stuck. Now, that's different than subject matter expert. It's about problem experts.

If you're stuck say at the front door, you can't get past the CISO, you may invite your own CISO to join the dealstorm team because they are a mirror and they know a lot about the psychology of the CISO. That's at least half your team, when you have the problem experts and the stakeholder experts together, you've got a good team.

You want to invite one less than you think you need, because as you meet later, you'll find that the more minds you bring around the table, the harder it is for the account executive to manage that room.

The final thing I'll say about step number two is you don't invite people to come to a meeting. That's sounds horrible. You invite them to join a team and you have clarity on the big "Why" behind winning and it's not always the revenue. You've got to figure out what's the emotional lever that non-sales is going to care about. I love to use competition like a rivalry. I love to use our pride in winning, or in an account-save situation, protecting our reputation.

Step number three is to prepare the team. This is the most important step in dealstorming, because collaboration is driven by shared information. Shared information only works if there's absolute transparency and people are willing to put information into the system.

The most important thing is to create a three to four page deal brief. It must go out several days previous to the first meeting to harness the power of incubation, so that everyone on your team knows why you're stuck. They see the influence map.

They see all the current activities today in Salesforce, including presentations, and responses by clients and each one is given a thinking assignment before the meeting. If you do this, people come to the meeting not only what ideas or ready to debate your assumptions around the problem, they also have a lot of clarity about their assumptions and it leads to a much more fruitful meeting.

Step number four is to convene. Half the book is written about this. It's really hard to run a meeting, but if you do it well, your meeting produces the next best play. That's the whole point of bringing people together. To have a meeting, isn't to come up with the one big idea or just to have a discussion that's insightful, it's to set the very next play because every deal is 100 or a 1,000 problem solved so there's a lot of place.

Step number five is to execute. What we've got to do is, in the room, figure out who's doing to do certain pieces of work but the AE, the quarter bearing AE, is the problem owners. They ultimately own all the work.

We've got to execute the next best play quickly because time is not on your side, especially if you sell the enterprise where almost 10 percent of your prospects companies are in play for M&A, and nothing will reset the sale cycle quicker, them being purchased or them purchasing a sizeable company, so you got to execute quickly.

Step number six is to analyze progress because it's a cycle. You've got to ask yourself, "To the next best pay level is up, are we still stuck, should we have chosen a backup play, is this the right team, or is this deal dead?"

The last step, step number seven, is to report. For every implementation of the next best play, you need to report back to all of your team. Be very transparent. We've learned that keeping people in the loop keeps them in the sales world, because what you're doing, you should bring in people from outside of sales into your world, to be part of your team, but reporting is the glue that keeps them together.

Final point here. When you find a field level innovation that gets you unstuck and helps accomplish your big win, it's really important to escalate that to senior sales leadership so they can test it and scale it across the organization.

When we were writing the book, Deeper Media did research with almost 200 sales leaders. One of the things we surveyed was how long does it take a field level sales innovation to snake its way through case study at marketing and become part of the new sales process. We were astounded that, for the average enterprise company, it's taking 30 months for a field level innovation to be tested and scaled and to be integrated into the new process.

Folks, 30 months is a long time. Think about what's happened to social selling in the last 30 months. With the tolerance of the average prospect rising dramatically, we're already at social selling 4.0. For companies compressing that cycle, it comes down to effective reporting of innovations and so that's the last step.

Tiffani: Tim, I want to challenge a little bit on this. I think that the steps are really important and I like all of them. The trick now is that, as you said at the beginning of this interview, it's not linear any longer.

The seven-step process, I'm guessing you're not saying it's the first step and then it's the second step and then it's the third step and life is great. Right? It may be you go to prepare and then you got a backup and go to organize again and you go all the way to execute and then you go to reconvene.

Talk to me a little bit about how the organization could manage through the fluidity of how the process may happen, like you mentioned a 30-month deal. That's the first part. How do manage this back and forth through some of these steps?

Tim Sanders: First of all, it really is largely sequential. There is that situation where you're in the execution step and something in the meeting didn't pan out, and you're given intelligence that you need to regroup the team to discuss a different alternative. In my experience, that happens about 10-15 percent of the time at most, it really is a pretty much sequential process.

If you follow the prepare step, sometimes just creating the deal brief reveals that you're working on the wrong problem or that the solution is already on the shelf. Largely, Tiffani, they move through the process sequentially. It's really a question of, "Do you repeat the entire process when you solve the current sales challenge for that opportunity and yet another one pops up?"

In my experience, you have multiple problems on a high quality deal. Earlier, when I said 30 months, I didn't mean it takes 30 months to close the deal, I mean it takes 30 months for a sales innovation to change a company's sales process. They're not very agile. We live in a world where we need to refresh at least once every year.

For sales management, looking at the seven steps, I think what's really important is that we continue to ask ourself three questions. One, are we contracting faster as a team than we were as individuals, two, do we have the right team or should we reduce the resources required to move forward, and most importantly three, should we pull the plug on the opportunity, tell the team we're going to go back to solo, let it go. Those are all really important questions.

In the book, I talk about Dan Veitkus who was first at Novell, then he went to Progress Software, and that's exactly how he did it. He learned in many situations by pulling the plug and telling the entire multidisciplinary team, "I think we're going to cut out losses here," everybody made a bunch of compromises, came together, and he said, "In one out of three situations, it was what helped make the deal in the long run."

I think we just have to understand there is a cost to a sale, we've got to analyze as the process moves along whether the process is working. We also have to understand that if we stick with the system all the way down to reporting, we will do at least twice as good as we're going to do just with the rep moving alone, especially in a highly complicated selling situation.

Tim Clarke: Tim, moving towards the end of our podcast, what are the closing thoughts that you want to leave some of the sales leaders that are listening with?

Tim Sanders: It takes a team to beat a team. We all know from corporate executive board research that the average seller out there has a big problem, a 4.5 problem, but according to IDC, the number of decision makers is actually increasing year over year because of technology integration and governance and a lot of people being touched by the kind of products that we sell.

We are up against loose confederations of buying teams and we should not go it alone. The trick for us is to learn how to organize and manage teams as account executives, as a great leadership development experience, and then harness the power of inside champions, create sales executions to help the teams on the other side of the table, the buyer teams, become more functional as well.

If we figure out how teamwork works from the sales function, we can build tunnels between those silos inside a corporation.

What I've witnessed over the last 15 years is that from companies like SAP Cloud to CareerBuilder to even smaller organizations like Jumpstart Automotive in Detroit, when the team comes together around a big sales opportunity and wins and they include what they used to call the Land of No, legal, finance, and the World of Slow, marketing, delivery, it changes the culture of an organization. That's what it means to be a sales-driven company.

When we win in the market working as a team, it spills over and, all of a sudden, product is reaching out to sales in advance of developing product, marketing is reaching out to operations and delivery, and you begin to see a truly collaborative culture emerge. When you look at today's winners of innovation, that's what they all have in common is they have that culture of reaching out across the organizations, absorbing those soft cost of matrix work and really acting like a team and looking out for each other.

Tim Clarke: Perfect. Thank you. Obviously, if people want to find out more, they can read your article on "Quotable," "Sales Genius Is a Team Sport," included in your book, "Dealstorming," as well. Thank you very much, Tim, thank you, Tiffani, and speak to you all soon.

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