There are many different approaches about how to manage a sales team, but my focus will be exclusively those teams involved in consultative selling[1], which have to build up a long lasting relationship with the clients to generate a revenue flow.

In more than 20 years of professional experience I have seen, been part or leaded different management models and I want to share my personal conclusions, so each one could decide what could be best for his/her Organization. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the model that influenced me more was the one implemented by Google in the mid 2000s, to scale up a world class sales force.

My key points are these:

1. The strength of a team is weighted by its weakest link.

2. Peer pressure is more effective than management control.

3. Talent calls talent and talented people work extremely well together.

4. Never hire someone who fits only for a position, hire those with a promising career path.

5. Objectives must be fixed quarterly and must be aligned with the objectives of the team and the company.

Let´s see more in detail each of them.

1. The strength of a team

The members of a team must work coordinated and all of them have influence in the group, affecting its perfomance. Thus it is key to hire talented people and be aware of how they integrate and perform, quarter after quarter. And if there are problems, motivated by issues of aptitude or attitude or both, a Personal Improvement Plan must be launched for a quarter, to help the member of the team to understand what are the problems and try to solve them. And if finally that is not possible, that person must leave the team. The Manager cannot avoid this kind of tough conversations and decisions if he wants to preserve the perfomance and integrity of the team.

2.  Peer pressure

When all the members of the team share the same objectives and the quantitative one is common, you get two excellent results:

a) All the members of the team penalize the underperformer and instead of tolerating an attitude of non commitment, they point it out and force the confrontation, as the underperformer is affecting the retribution of the rest of the team.

b) All the members of the team collaborate, as none of them is the owner of any client and the success of each member helps to achieve the global objective and thus the retribution. So, best practice sharing is something natural within the team.

To be really effective, the team shouldn´t have more than eight members, what means that for larger teams is convenient to appoint middle managers and split the group into smaller units.

3. Talent calls Talent

No doubt that talent attracts talent, in four levels :

– City level: Silicon Valley, Bay Area, New York, Boston, London, Singapore, are cities where most people would like to work and it generates a virtuous circle.

– Company level: Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, eBay, Expedia, Priceline, GE, Procter & Gamble, McKinsey, etc.. are companies where many of the most talented people want to work and again a virtuous cycle is created.

– Team level: if a team is considered within the Organization as a consistent overperformer,  with outstanding delivery, many people would like to be part of it.

– Manager level: If the Manager of a team is a respected professional, there will be a lot of applicants who would like to work with him, to learn and grow. Logically, this implies that the Manager accepts as part of his responsibilities the training of the team members.

Thus, the previous circumstances are competitive advantages which allow to create brilliant and successful teams, not being the salary the main driver.

4. Career Path

This consideration is very entrenched with the permanent quest for talent and it goes against the extended idea of not hiring people over prepared for a role. My experience confirms that if you are capable to attract talent, you must hire people capable not only to undertake the initial role but also with academic and professional competences that potentially will allow them to complete a career path. That implies to look for people with a global vision who understand that the initial role is a first step in a continuous process in which they will get experience, knowledge and exposure. On the other hand, the Manager must support that evolution and forget his comfort zone, helping the members of the team, tutoring them, to grow professionally, looking for new opportunities in other Units of the Organization or even outside.

Each 2 or 3 years the members of a team should evolve to new roles, what means that the Manager should be prepared to keep a pipeline of new candidates, that will be also motivated by the opportunities to grow professionally been part of that team.

I am proud to say that in my six years at Google I had the chance to hire talented people, who used the experienced acquired in the Spanish Travel Vertical, one of the consistent top performers within Google, to grow professionally and work later in different countries for Google (USA, UK, Mexico, Argentina) or in other areas apart from Sales (YouTube, Media Solutions, etc) or become entrepreneurs (Hall Street, ) or work for other large companies.

5. Clear and aligned Objectives

This is one of the most complicated solutions to implement in many companies because they are not prepared to handle it properly, as many of them are not data driven, but for me is a key success factor. What I recommend is the following:

–          Set, each quarter, OKRs[2] at Company, Team and person level, aligning all of them.

–          Set, each quarter, the team quota number, with the split per client. But there is no a split per salesperson, as all the members of the team are conditioned to deserve the variable part of the retribution only when the total quota number is achieved.

–          Set a retribution model in which the variable part is high (as a percentage of the fix part of the salary) and is calculated each quarter attending the quota achievement (quantitative) and the OKRs achievement (qualitative), in a relationship 70% versus 30%.

Needless to say that the company must fix the quota number before the beginning of each quarter, in a bottom up process; and the manager has to share and agree, with each member of the team, with total transparency, their OKRs, as well at the beginning of the quarter, and must have, at least, three one on one conversations during the quarter with each member of the team, to analyze the OKRs fulfillment.

This solution guarantees that all the team members are aligned with the company objectives and are willing to cooperate, as the success of the team is their own success. Therefore, there are not commissions or personal quota objectives.

 

Logically, there are many additional enhancements to be more precise in the determination of the objectives and quotas, as well it is important to liase both with the promotions models, but that would exceed the aim of these simple guidelines.