At InsightSquared, our Sales VP, Steve McKenzie, is famous for his memorable sayings. Sometimes this is because his distinctly South African expressions don’t quite translate to American English. (The end of the month is always “squeaky bum time.” [Don’t ask].)
Other times it’s because he just has a knack for picking the perfect aphorism to distill a relatively complicated idea into a pithy sentence that actually changes the behavior of our sales team.
One of my favorites in this category is “Will it make the boat go faster?” Steve regularly asks the reps and managers on his team this question, with the implication being that everything they do should make the company work more effectively and efficiently. He’s also reminding our salespeople that their goal is always, always, always the success of the team, not their personal achievements.
Although this philosophy may not be surprising, it has only recently truly taken root in the sales world. New tools, metrics and management philosophies have slowly but surely shifted sales from an individual sport to a team game. In this post, we’ll look at the reasons for this evolution as well as the steps you can take to transform your inside sales team into a collaborative, unified bookings machine.
Celebrate Each New Deal as a Team-Wide Accomplishment
When a sales rep closes a new deal, there’s an instinct to heap praises on that specific rep. He may be singled out in the next team meeting or applauded when the contract comes in. These plaudits are understandable ‒ every deal requires a great deal of work and execution from the closer who brought it in ‒ but focusing too much on this individual effort threatens to corrode the true team-nature of every deal.
I was recently reminded of this concept while watching the Women’s World Cup. In the semi-finals, up 1-0, U.S. reserve Kelley O’Hara put the nail in the coffin with an expert finish in front of the net.
What’s amazing about this moment, though, is not the goal itself (although it is quite impressive). No, what I remember is O’Hara’s reaction. On the grandest possible stage, at the most critical moment, O’Hara does something incredible. Watch the clip again.
First she does something totally expected ‒ she sprints toward the middle of the field, screaming and pumping her fists. She’s just scored the biggest goal of her life, and she can (understandably) hardly contain her emotions.
But then she realizes something. Her goal was not truly a piece of individual execution; it was the result of a truly team-wide effort, especially the impressive assist from midfielder Carli Lloyd that set O’Hara up so expertly.
So what does O’Hara do? She spins on her heel, finds Lloyd, points at her emphatically, and brings the rest of the team to Lloyd so they can celebrate as a group. Now that’s the way to honor a team accomplishment!
The sales parallels here are clear. In today’s business environment, no deal is the result of a single individual. Maybe the lead came from marketing or an outbound prospector. Maybe a sales manager or sales engineer hopped on a late-stage call to help out. And, of course, the product itself had a little something to do with the deal, right?
So why are we celebrating as if the closer is 100% responsible for the new deal?
Sales leaders should instill a collaborative culture in their sales team by ensuring that all deals are celebrated as a team. Congratulatory emails should include all parties involved. Public announcements should be shoutouts to a variety of contributors, not just the closing rep. These tactics may seem small, but they can have a profound effect on how your team views success.
Because of this, it is important to not only track the sales activities that brought in a deal, but also the other efforts that contributed to the deal. In the report below, you can see which marketing campaigns have influenced the most deals in a given time period.
Rethink Your Compensation Plan
Celebrating new deals as team wins is a great place to start, but sometimes you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. Which brings us to compensation plans.
Comp plans are probably the best evidence that sales has historically been an individual endeavor. To encourage maximum effort and healthy competition, sales teams have typically built their sales rep salaries around an escalating system that rewards closed deals. There are years’ worth of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this is the best way to hit your bookings targets, but lately, some really smart people aren’t so sure.
A recent article from the Harvard Business Review spells out the case for why individual commissions could be hurting your sales team. Specifically, the article details the compensation decisions of Microchip, a global leader in semiconductors. “[Microchip’s sales team] is taking an approach that looks strikingly similar to what you’d find elsewhere in the company: competitive base salaries coupled with a small variable component based on company and unit performance,” the article explains. “The results? Record growth and profitability, increased rep engagement, and near-zero attrition.”
Commissions are designed to incentivize sales reps to put in maximum effort. If reps are rewarded for their results, and not just showing up for work, they will go the extra mile, the thinking goes. But there’s a risk to this mentality, and many companies and researchers are starting to fear it more and more. Individual bonuses can sometimes incentivize the wrong behaviors. Instead of encouraging reps to go the extra mile to help the company reach its goals, they may instead be prodded into collaborating less, withholding rightful credit, or sandbagging. Any of these things can make the boat go slower.
Invest in Collaboration
When you start thinking of sales as a team-wide enterprise, you will naturally start to look for new ways for your employees to work together. This is true in an intra-sales team sense ‒ helping prospectors collaborate with closers, for example ‒ as well as in an inter-team sense ‒ helping sales and marketing work together. But accomplishing this isn’t as easy as wishing it so.
The most important thing to do to encourage collaboration is to align goals. Having meetings promoting group work might be great for morale, but unless there are clear, unambiguous behavioral incentives to collaborate, no one will. The companies that truly value collaboration get results by setting formal agreements between (and within) departments to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.
As the leader of the HubSpot sales team, Mark Roberge learned quickly that creating an airtight service level agreement with the marketing team was the best way to get people working toward the same goals. Ultimately, this has created an environment where everyone knows the ultimate goal, and has a clearly defined path for getting there.
“We have to have great communication between sales and marketing about what is needed to reach the bookings number,” Mark said recently in an interview with InsightSquared. “Our service level agreement is essentially a contract between the two departments.”
Every company is ultimately dependent on bringing in revenue, so there’s no reason that this goal shouldn’t be reflected throughout the entire organization. And in this sense, sales isn’t a distinct, cordoned-off department, but simply the final part of a company-wide process. Treat it this way by acknowledging every contributing factor to a new deal, compensating employees to promote teamwork, and aligning goals to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.