Sep 5, 2007

Team Selling in Enterprise Environments

Companies have been selling in teams since the dawn of IBM. But, with today's dispersed and global environments, an executive recently asked me: "Does Team Building work within enterprise selling environments, today?" My answer was "Yes, team selling can work, but you can only create the explosion of sales success by blasting away outdated systemic issues that block the natural flow of selling your organization to the client's organization."

I'm not providing statistics in this article. But I can tell you the challenges of selling in teams, and ways to overcome some of them.

Common problems with selling in teams include:

1. Structure of selling organization.

2. Problems with functional organization rather than team organization.

3. Job descriptions and the role of Human Resources aligning (or mis-aligning) human capital.

4. Compensation based upon functional output rather than team or cross-function output.

5. Focus on short-term results rather than long-term benefits to customer.

Now, if you drill down into each of these areas, I did a few searches on team building, and for kicks and giggles, came up with a few that I think illustrate my point well.

1. Structure of selling organization. Most problems in the business world, today, are systemic. You'll notice I said the structure of the SELLING organization, not BUYING organization. Why? Because the company you're selling to can structure however they want. A good sales team will be flexible and able to adapt to a variety of environments they sell within. The real issue is in how YOUR organization is structured to go to market.

Here (,0) is a URL with an article that is well-written, focused on team selling, and mentions key roles within the sales force team as:

  • Specialist
  • Market Researcher
  • Business Developer
  • Rainmaker
The problem with this list is it suggests team selling but only within functional roles of a the sales team function. It completely fails to consider that operations, services, administration, and management impact the sales process and half of the positions mentioned are not the mover/shakers who actually write sales deals or build customer relationships but the reporters/analysts who report on the deal or effect of the deal. The people who makes deals happen are the Rainmaker, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Business Development, but Research and Specialist are people who usually want to "see more" data before they'll move. One of the key people who can make a deal happen: Senior Executive, is missing from this list. The operations point-man and implementation expert is also not included here.

The author of the article went on to suggest bi-weekly meetings without stating an objective for the meeting. Rainmakers abhor meetings without purpose! This type of article is the reason for the problems in the current business environment with building cross-functional teams. They're only looking at the "sales" silo and missing the bigger picture. The author makes a good point about training the entire sales team, it just seems that training ought to expand outside the sales silo boundaries across the entire cross-functional team.

I've addressed this concern with my Sales Diamond Model which you can find at:

2. Problems with functional organization rather than team organization. I came across this PDF, which is a reprint from a Sales and Marketing Executive Report from Darnell (

This article hits upon two problems I see: 1) Silo by organization function (sales, engineering, administration, etc.) when organizations try to get cross-functional, they haven't blended or created any type of system that enables teams across functions, (2) Lack of pay based upon team results. People are paid individual salaries based upon their job description. And the job description is, again, based upon function (sales, HR, Operations, Strategic Planning, etc.) without inclusion or consideration of payment for team performance or impact upon team's productive results. The other inherent problem within this is the fact that job descriptions are based upon general individual contribution within the function group rather than job description for unique capabilities and contribution to the whole, with a nod to the functional aspects. If companies were to shift this payment structure in their compensation plan, they will drive team-performance and create better cross-functional teams.

But if organizations create teams only within their functional groups, then they miss their opportunity to truly build an empowered environment. I once participated in a contest, and the Director of the project was brilliant to notice that EVERYONE wanted to participate in the contest. He made sure that each functional group got enough "points" from the contest to assure them a potential prize (i-pod, gift certificate) so that every employee felt the benefit of the contest. Yes, sales people had more opportunity to win than administrators, because they had more impact and pay scale, but every person came away with something for helping grow customers as a team. What I found interesting about the contest is that administrators started calling me with leads, operations people started to discuss ways to better help certain clients, and managers worked overtime with me to help me get certain deals structured to win for the customer. In short: it worked to drive more cross-functional performance, at least for a short period of time.

3. Job descriptions and the role of Human Resources and the utilization of human capital. As referenced in the article above, if job descriptions don't describe the accurate work that you expect people to do, then you'll get what you've asked for. It is about the law of attraction. If you point people at a tall building, tell them they have to sell your business services to the organizations in that tall building, then why would you be surprised when the deals they bring in are from the companies in that building? That's the whole idea, isn't it? Now, today's customers aren't all located in one tall building, they may be spread out over multiple cities, states, or even countries. In addition, it isn't just the customer's organization we're selling to within enterprise organizations, there also is the impact of outsourcing within the enterprise that affects how to go after deals. But, nevertheless, if your organization's job descriptions describe how people will interact with organizations you seek to do business with, then you're likely to produce a better result. I'm working on a software tool that will deliver a better team structure and enable organizations to track "jobs" or team projects by key words. That way, job descriptions may be re-written to include key phrases of the team and build better results.

4. Compensation based upon functional output rather than team or cross-function output. Now, this is always where the rubber meets the road, isn't it? If you have someone that you're paying to move a brick, and he grabs a hose and pours water instead, you'd ask him "Why didn't you move the brick?" Wouldn't you? I would. Yet, how many organizations are using the same re-tried compensation models promoting individualism, private results, and functional results? Almost ALL of them are using compensation models based around the results of individual or functional programs.

I tried to find an article discussing the impact on sales that EVERY function needs to own (administrative roles, operations roles, management roles, etc.) but couldn't find one. You know why? Because people have come to associate "salespeople" as the people who "sell" and the other people "just doing work" contributing to the company. It's a fallacy that has been created over time by sales v. operations battles, and as a result of bad habits. For example, it is a bad habit to think you don't have an impact upon selling by processing billing in accounts receivable. The billing people often find some of the greatest opportunities for a sales development. It's a bad habit to think upper management need not be part of the sales team. Upper managers want to meet with other upper managers. Use the cross-functional team but more than that ALL employees need to be actualized in the compensation process to also show the benefit to creating complete win-win solutions across the enterprise.

I see a need for compensation overhaul. If the client is measuring our success by delivering the benefits we promise them, then wouldn't it make sense to build our OWN compensation programs by delivering BENEFITS to the CLIENT? It's a whole new way of looking at compensation. I'm developing a payment description model and compensation model that rewards based upon client goals, rather than seller goals. It's exciting, and drives a considerably larger result to production with each employee.

5. Focus on short-term results rather than long-term benefits to customer. I dug around and found an article on sales teams that hit this problem square on the nose: the problem is FOCUS.

I think of the Buddhist and consider FOCUS to be part of the RIGHT THOUGHT structure of RIGHT THOUGHT, RIGHT ACTION, RIGHT SPEECH. Without RIGHT THOUGHT, none of the other desired results can happen. So, if you focus upon the right things, you ought to have the right results. This article ( discussed the challenge that sales organizations are focused on hitting numbers. Those numbers are not numbers of benefits clients receive, but numbers of revenue dollars coming in from that account to the SELLING company's coffers. Focus on numbers might impact numbers, short-term; however, for the long-term it is the wrong focus. Yet, you'd be surprised how many meetings I've had with upper managers where all they look at is the NUMBERS! Crazy idiots, if you ask me. They ought to be focused on CUSTOMER BENEFITS. Because, if their organization delivers a high value of customer benefits, they'd likely hit MORE sales numbers as a by-product. Makes sense, doesn't it?

The quote that stands out to me from this article is:
"Developing a sales team can be very difficult in an environment unfamiliar with the team selling approach. The hurdle is shifting the mindset of an organization and its salespeople from lone rangers selling products to selling teams providing solutions for customers. 'Results from organizations who try this change actually show some organizations facing up to a 30 to 40 per cent turnover in their sales force,' says Barclay [the author of the article]. According to Barclay, organizations who implement true team selling must change to move from a short-term focus to a "continuous, evolving relationship with customers with the relationship building under the guidance of a selling team."

This is, in my experience, correct. Turnover may happen. But that type of turnover is healthy turnover if it results in a longer-term, more honest and responsible approach with the customer. This is the objective I've been working to implement with organizations through ARRiiVE Business Solutions ( It's about the customer, it's about their needs, and the benefits they receive. Ah-ha! I've found a modern mantra for the modern businessman. Say it again with me: "It's about the customer, their needs, and the benefits they receive."

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