Harvard Business Review is arguably the most prestigious publication for business leaders and management thinkers. Here’s one of my recent Harvard Business Review articles titled “Is Your Sales Organization Good or Great.”
What separates great from good sales organizations? After working with over two-hundred different companies the evidence suggests that the best business-to-business sales organizations share specific patterns of organizational structure and behavior. These similarities can be defined into the seven different attributes listed below. Conversely, underperforming or weaker sales organizations tend to be missing some or most of these critical characteristics.
Strong Centralized Command and Control with Local Authority. There is no single greater influence over the success of the sales organization than how the sales leadership creates the sales culture and environment for the people who will work for them. In this regard, the best organizations have strong leaders who exercise authoritarian control, dictate team direction, and establish the codes of behavior that all team members must abide by. Although these tenets are similarly used within military units to enforce chain of command, sales leaders prefer to use motivation and the force of their personal character before employing the power associated to their title.
In addition, the senior leadership team typically does not micromanage their sales teams below. Instead, there is independent and autonomous local decision making that operates within the guidelines and protocols established by the leaders above. But rest assured, the actions of the lower levels of the organization always take into account the goals and desires of the senior leaders.
Darwinian Sales Culture. There are two different aspects of a Darwinian sales culture. The first is in regards to hiring. In essence, the next hire by the organization is of such high quality and capability that it actually “challenges” the more tenured sales team members to perform at the highest level (so that they are not resting on their laurels). The second aspect is that the sales organization is continually “culling the herd” and comparing each member’s performance against stringent criteria. Weaker sales team members who do not contribute their revenue share are quickly let go.
United Against a Common Enemy. I have found the best sales organizations, those who are driven to succeed against all obstacles and odds, have an archrival competitor whom they both resent and fear. This is actually a very important differentiator since it drives individual behavior. As a result, there is a higher win ratio because accounts are pursued with greater preparation, higher intensity, and a life or death seriousness.
Competitive but Cohesive Team. In one sense, a sales organization is an amalgamation of cliques. For example, a sales organization may be comprised of three areas that include North America, Asia-Pacific, and EMEA. Furthermore, North American sales may include three regions: east, mid-west, and west. In great sales organizations there is more than a friendly rivalry between the various regions. Each region is on a mission to prove it is the best. Although all the salespeople and their sales leaders are intensely competitive individuals by nature, they will support their area and regional teammates when needed. It is highly likely that the key sales management leaders have worked with each other before at prior companies. They know, like and respect each other.
DIY Attitude. Many underperforming sales organizations share something in common. The sales organization tends to blame the other areas of the organization (engineering, marketing, support, etc.) for the own failings. Members of top performing sales organizations not only take ownership for their own success, they have a “Do It Yourself” attitude. For example, they will not solely rely on marketing to provide their leads but build their own pipeline without any expectations of leads from marketing. When troubles arise at customer accounts, they will spearhead problem resolution efforts.
They Suspend Negative Belief Systems. Sales is a career that experiences tremendous highs and lows. Circumstances change very quickly in sales. A competitor’s new technology may leapfrog yours. The company whose account you worked so hard to close may want its money back because the product isn’t working right. The funnel of deals you may have been counting on for months could disappear in a few minutes. The sales team members in great organizations live “in the moment,” meaning they do not fixate on negative thoughts that prevent them from moving forward and taking action. They are not debilitated by bad news or self-defeating rumors heard through the grapevine.
There is Energy and Esprit de Corps! While all sales organizations can be defined as a collection of individuals trying to succeed as a team, there is a tremendous amount of peer pressure inside great sales organizations. If a member doesn’t achieve his revenue targets, not only did he fail personally, but he also let his team down. On the other side of the coin, when sales team members post great numbers, they are honored and respected by the team. This type of sales culture is very different from an individualistic “every man for himself” environment because it fosters team cohesiveness, morale, and a continually high energy level.
The members of great sales organizations don’t believe they are in sales by happenstance. They are professionals who believe they are fulfilling their own destiny. Collectively, as an organization they are united for a greater purpose than themselves. While the company’s goal may be to go public or reach certain revenue milestones, the greatest sales organizations are on a never-ending mission to prove to the world that they are the best.
Other Steve W. Martin Articles That Might Interest You:
Personality Study of 1,000 Top Salespeople
What is Wrong With Your Sales Training Program
The Six Real Reasons Why VPs of Sales are Fired
Top Reasons Salespeople Lose Business