In recent years, especially as organizations have emerged from the financial crisis of 2008, sales has evolved from a one-to-one process to team selling, or what Michael Dalis, senior consultant at Richardson and author of the new book “Sell Like a Team,” calls the many-to-many sale. Since the skills that are required for a one-to-one sale aren’t necessarily the skills required for a many-to-many sale, it’s important for sales trainers and managers to prepare reps to wear the new hats required to sell on a team.

Modern Selling: How did we get here?

Several factors on the buyer and supplier sides influenced the move to team selling. Thanks to the financial crisis, buyers are wanting to manage costs and decrease risk, so they are increasingly putting the decision-making process into more than one person’s hand. And thanks to technology, buyers have access to much more information about sellers than they used to, placing increased pressure on sellers to make sure they’re communicating value effectively.

The economy has also increased the pressure on sellers to “drive immediate revenue growth and account penetration,” Dalis says. It also means that “because those organizations that have survived after the financial crisis have started to build out their capabilities, there’s a greater need among senior-level executives to make sure that the client-facing teams are selling the firm … not just one solution.” Finally, while reps may be closer to a client, they also need access to subject matter experts, senior leaders or technical resources, who may not be located in the same office. “All of a sudden,” Dalis says, “you’re pairing up with people who you’ve never met before under high-pressure circumstances.”

The Core Team and the Extended Team

To face these challenges, organizations are creating teams to sell their products and services. The teams should have roughly the same number of people as the corresponding customer team and should be limited to the individuals who will play an active role at meetings.

Dalis identifies two different teams: the core team, which attends sales meetings, and the extended team, which supports the core team outside of meetings. The core team typically consists of the team leader and subject matter expert and, often, a technical resource, a senior manager and a junior staff member whom managers are “grooming for a client-facing role.” For that junior staff member, meetings are a training opportunity; while playing a support role by, for example, setting up presentations or taking notes, they’re learning important skills about selling on a team.

The extended team consists of the people in the organization who ensure that the core team is successful during meetings. They include a person with strong organizational skills who helps the team leader stay organized and manage projects, and a coach who provides “a feedback loop … so that when they arrive at that sales meeting with that important customer, they’re at their best, they’re current and they hit the mark.”

Developing Effective Sales Teams

The most important consideration to keep in mind while developing a sales team is whether the team is “enabling the conditions that create collaboration,” Dalis says. Those conditions are communication, coaching and compensation. Leaders must communicate their expectations that all sales professionals are collaborating with each other across divisions. Managers must be committed to coaching their employees. Finally, compensation plans must reflect the behaviors expected across the organization.

Salespeople wear many hats when they work on a team, and they need training to develop the skills those hats require. The first hat is that of a recruiter: They must be able to select team members strategically and persuade them to join the team. The second hat is that of an organizer: They must have good project management skills to ensure that the team is organized and prepared for meetings. The third hat is that of a producer or director: They must be able to help team members practice and provide feedback to each other before meetings. The fourth hat is similar to that of a point guard on a basketball team, according to Dalis: They must be able to lead their team through a meeting and effectively facilitate discussion among their teammates and their clients. Finally, the fifth hat is what Dalis calls the reorganizer hat: They must be able to understand their clients’ expectations, make their teammates’ expectations clear, and provide development opportunities for team members both individually and as a group.

Steve Andersen, president and founder of Performance Methods Inc., wrote in 2010 that it’s also important to make sure that sales teams are well aligned: “Customers tell us that when they sense that their ‘supplier team’ is not aligned it creates a sense of concern regarding the supplier’s ability to set realistic expectations, execute and deliver results … In short, effective teamwork can reduce the customer’s feelings of risk and exposure, and provide the supplier with more balanced sales performance as a result.” Coaches are critical in making sure expectations are clear and team leaders are communicating effectively.

Training individual sales reps for one-on-one meetings is insufficient for today’s sales reality. When buyers buy as teams, sellers sell as teams. Organizations that aren’t training their reps accordingly will fall behind.

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