Everyone in business wants to sell more. And why not? Sales generate income, which is the lifeblood of any business.
But good selling doesn’t come from following a rigid playbook or a worn-out sales script. Tactics and frameworks can be helpful, but in today’s complex business world, the human side of selling is more important than ever.
In a previous post, I wrote about co-opetition–partnering with competitors for mutual success. In this post, we’ll take a look inward rather than outward. How can we do better in sales by focusing more on teamwork?
Trust is Essential
Let’s begin with a music metaphor. You’ll get this if you have heard a live jazz ensemble playing. There is almost always a section of the song where instruments swap the melody back and forth. They trade riffs on the melody as the rest of the band hums through the chord progression.
It’s remarkable. With no verbal communication, the jazz players carry on, trusting each other and playing their part, even though there is an element of improvisation.
This works well most of the time. But sometimes, you’ll have a musician who gets impatient with how the soloist is performing. They want to jump in with their own solo, throwing the other musician out of the spotlight.
Egos are now involved, and the music loses some of the magic because they are competing, not cooperating. They’ve lost trust and have created a micro-culture of suspicion. The other bandmates seem confused, yet they play on, hoping for a musical (and emotional) resolution.
When you’ve lost trust, it’s awfully hard to function as a team.
The Art & Science of Selling
Teamwork is an essential part of business, just as it is in music. Selling is not just an exchange of products and services for money. A relationship is involved, between the seller (you) and the customer (the hero). In team selling, your relationships with your colleagues are just as important.
There is always an art and a science to selling, especially team selling. The science piece is finite and guided by constraints such as what your solution is or isn’t, how much you are allowed to negotiate, or what is required internally for a deal to advance from one stage to the next. Team selling is about knowing the different team roles, their areas of expertise, and how to utilize them in a sales process.
The art piece comes from the real-world improvisational skills that are required. At SAP, one of the more strategic workshops I helped create and run was around team collaboration and team selling. The focus was not so much on up-front sales but more on driving consumption of SAP solutions over the long term.
For their largest accounts, that meant many specialized resources being brought in at the right time across the customer lifecycle.
Leading the process is a Global Account Director (GAD). This person plays a kind of quarterback role running the team, including several solution and industry account executives, pre-sales solution architects, and industry value engineers. This group is responsible for shaping the total deal, which includes discovery, showing demonstrations, building a business case, and any technical validation.
The next step is partnering with a second team focused more on adoption and consumption over a long period of time. This second team includes individuals such as customer success, services, and other internal and external partners as needed.
Everyone on this extended account team (collectively called a VAT) has a specific role. But more importantly, they each need to know each other’s role, area of expertise, and how to utilize them in the sales process.
The Most Important Role
The role I haven’t mentioned but is likely the most important is the customer. The group I mentioned above has to constantly be in step with what the customer seeks at each step of their collaboration.
I liken this to a piano where each member of the SAP VAT is a white key. The song they play doesn’t always go “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” until there is success. Sales isn’t that linear anymore.
Was it ever linear, though? What if the customer wants it sped up or slowed down? What if they want two or three notes played simultaneously? This requires some level of improvising.
Glenn Wallace, the GAD for the Lockheed Martin account, recently announced a new twenty-five-year partnership with SAP. He said it best:
“We’ve been working as an account team for so long, we know and appreciate the strengths each brings. Sometimes, we are all doing parts of the team roles, depending on the customer’s need at that time. It takes a lot of trust, improvising, and shared accountability.”
This doesn’t happen overnight. And just like most of my clients, there are team frameworks that lay out an ideal way to operate. It’s good to have sheet music to study and learn, but you also have to give yourself permission to improvise by focusing on what the customer needs.
Team Selling is a Must
Sales is more complex than it used to be. The need for team selling has increased in almost every organization I’ve encountered. Collaborating with other team members for their expertise is no longer a nice to have. It has become essential.
Despite this, many sellers maintain a hero mentality and don’t use an artistic approach toward bringing in the right collaborators at the right time and mutually trusting each other. Organizations also fumble this up by being too rigid when putting together a process to create teams.
Even though things are more complicated these days, one thing remains the same: the best way to serve the customer well is by focusing on teamwork, selflessness, and collaboration.