Recruiting, onboarding and training a sales organization is a balancing act to take seriously. As a sales leader, you’re always on the lookout for people who offer the right personality and team fit combined with competency in selling skills. Once you’ve secured them, you’re on the hook to hold them accountable and reward their successes. Yes, it’s a balancing act, to be sure.

I’ve hired, trained and coached thousands of sales professionals at all levels. Working with both multinational sales organizations and rapidly emerging firms for the past 20 years, I have found five common characteristics of high-performing teams.

1. They hire the right people.

Jim Collins said it well: “Get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to go.” Each organization defines the “right” team members based on company culture, team makeup and job requirements.

High-performing sales leaders hire individuals with the right attitude, the right enthusiasm and the right work ethic. They look for people who love to learn and who can accurately self-assess and adjust. These traits are all innate. You can’t teach someone to be an optimist or have a positive attitude.

It takes time to get the right mix and the right team members. One person with a bad attitude can be viral to your team. It’s worth the wait and due diligence required to build a strong team.

2. They close competency gaps.

Whether you hire seasoned pros or train new hires on your organization’s sales methodology, have a plan for onboarding and continual reskilling. Then, make it happen.

Know the skills your team and your organization need. Assess each individual and train him or her to close the gaps. You can have great people – likeable, easy-going, hard workers – but if they don’t know what to do and how to do it, they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs.

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is not how new team members should be operating. Instead, provide the right training, education and coaching. To make training stick, be sure it’s easy to implement and fits within your existing processes. Offer a learning environment that’s engaging, relevant and ongoing.

3. They measure what matters.

We’ve all heard that what gets measured gets done. Apply that adage to identify the metrics that truly matter. Hold your sales representatives accountable to the things that are important to them.

Are you building a culture of continuous improvement? Do you have a team where nobody gets complacent? Where they continually stretch, learn and grow? Those are the people you want on your team. As sales professionals, they’ll serve as shining examples for the new hires.

To recruit and retain the right people, create metrics that are meaningful at the individual, team and organizational levels. When all three are aligned, the team is high-performing and unstoppable.

4. They recognize and celebrate their people.

As Ken Blanchard said, “Catch people doing something right.” High-performing leaders recognize and praise more than they correct and criticize.

When they do have to correct a team member, they do it in a way that’s constructive and motivating rather than destructive and criticizing. Make sure your positive feedback outweighs the negative, two-to-one.

Nobody’s perfect, and no one likes to be called out after making a mistake. Praise in public, and correct in private.

5. They drive incremental performance.

Create an environment where you can use coaching to drive incremental individual performance. How can you get all team members to do their jobs just a little better? Do you have a culture that celebrates team success or only individual success?

Consider a baseball team analogy. The coach’s goal is for the team to play better. How does he do that? By making each player’s performance better. While every player has a distinct role on the field, success in one position doesn’t diminish the success of other positions.

By increasing each person’s skills incrementally, the competencies of your entire team come together. With this coaching strategy in place, you are positioned to win the game.

Finding the right balance of these five characteristics is the foundation of high-performing teams.

Leading a High-Performing Sales Team

What does it take to lead such a team? At one time or another, all of us have worked for managers we didn’t respect. We know firsthand what doesn’t work.

Here’s what does work:

Credibility: As a leader and a coach, you have to be credible. You can’t just rely on power or authority based on a title. You have to earn respect by adding value and showing that the people on your team can learn from you.

Flexibility: The best sales leaders use situational management. They understand that each team member is personally motivated by different things, and they are able to tap into those motivations. Yet they are also able to connect that personal motivation with a team goal so everyone is working toward the greater good.

Communication: Their vision is inspiring. Their expectations are positive. Their feedback is constructive. A big part of being a sales executive and manager is practicing and mastering the communication process.

Coaching: The culture you promote within your team will determine the level at which your team feels individual ownership. Make sure you and your team get better year after year, quarter after quarter and month after month.

Empathy: Good coaches know what their players are experiencing. They have traveled the same career path and overcome similar barriers. They demonstrate not only that they care but also that they understand. Can you imagine being on the receiving end of coaching feedback from someone who didn’t understand your world? Most likely, it’d be ineffective.

As you build a high-performing team, gain the respect of, rapport with and credibility of your team members by staying flexible, communicative and empathetic. Because you can’t be a leader if nobody’s following.

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