Written by Kevin Jones, Principal – Ignite Selling
Selling in teams is becoming more common in today’s marketplace. More frequently than ever before, product experts from corporate headquarters, sales managers, senior leaders, and customer support are accompanying sales people on client visits and are playing a more active role throughout the entire sales process. For many companies, this creates situations in which the representatives from a sales team significantly outnumber the representatives on the customer’s side of the table.
I recently attended a meeting with a financial services company that had a reputation for conducting sales calls with a large number of teammates present. In talking with this group about the inherent risks of team selling, I suggested that any sales team should be limited in size by its ability to get everyone to the sales meeting in one standard-size vehicle. There was laughter and smiles at the comment, and I was immediately struck by a vision of a circus car filled with more clowns than anyone thought possible. The attendees at this particular meeting acknowledged that they often attend sales meetings where the selling team out numbers the client group of attendees. While this pack mentality may work for animals as they try to take down larger prey, it doesn’t work in sales. In fact, it creates real problems.
What We Can Learn From Rock and Roll
When any musician plays a solo set in front of an audience with a simple acoustic guitar, they most certainly practice and prepare before their gig. But the gig unto itself is simple. There is only one guitar and one person playing it. As long as that person does it well, then the gig will be a success. But now add in a bass guitar, some drums, and perhaps some horns and backup singers. The more instruments you add, the more complex the situation becomes. A four-man band is more complex than a soloist, but not nearly as complex as an entire orchestra. When you have a band, it’s the entire unit, working together that determines success or failure.
The best musical groups in the world spend countless hours rehearsing and preparing. The effectiveness of the group is not only dependent upon every player doing their part effectively, it also requires that they do their part in sync with others. Sales people are inherently bad at planning, and yet sales teams are typically even worse. When asked about planning, most teams acknowledge that planning usually takes place in the car on the way to the customer’s office. Given the complexities of working in groups, this limited time spent on a task as critical to success as planning is obviously a misstep. When teams do take the time to plan, they often do it poorly, with little attention to what really matters. In most situations we’ve seen, sales teams focus on the “what” and not the “how”. We find the typical sales team will focus on sales call strategy with little regard given to executing the strategy as a team. To keep with the band analogy, it would be like a rock band creating a set list and discussing how they were going to play each song without ever picking up an instrument. To make it sound right, you have to rehearse!
Who’s the Boss?
With any great rock and roll band, there is always one leader (in some cases two.) Clarity of roles and responsibilities are the trademark of great musical groups. In fact, one of the leading reasons musical groups break up is infighting about roles that various members play.
When Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band take the stage, each member of the band knows their role, and they know who’s in charge. The audience knows as well. Bruce Springsteen’s nickname – “The Boss” – comes from his role as a leader. He is in charge and everyone knows it. In many sales meetings where a large sales team is used, customers couldn’t tell you what each member of the selling team does or, in some extreme cases, who on the team was actually in charge of the meeting. While this may seem fundamental, simple introductions and overviews of roles and responsibilities are often ignored. Every team needs to have one leader, and it is that leader’s responsibility to ensure that both the team members and customers understand the roles and responsibilities of everyone in attendance.
Do We Need More Cowbell?
In the Saturday Night Live spoof of the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult, Will Ferrell plays a robust cowbell. Some band members don’t like the cowbell and want to have it removed from the song, but the director proudly states, “I got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell.” Not every band needs a cowbell. In fact, there aren’t that many songs that actually feature the cowbell. Because of this, many bands choose to leave that instrument at home.
How many sales calls have participants that are like cowbells, not adding any value, just clamoring at the table and doing nothing to improve the meeting. Our experience tells us that this happens a great deal. Every sales team member in attendance needs to bring unique value, that others in attendance cannot. We often hear that sales teams want to be large in size to “show their commitment to the customer.” If an individual doesn’t have a unique role, save a seat in the car and leave them at the office.
At the beginning of songs, particularly in live performances, you will hear the bandleader counting off so that the entire band can begin the song at the same time. If the band didn’t have these types of signals worked out ahead of time, how would the drummer know when to strike the cymbal, or how would the bass player know when to hit the first chord? They wouldn’t! These signals, and others, are happening throughout any good performance. If you watch carefully, you will see band members watching each other for cues and indicators throughout an entire show. These signs direct the band in the unstable environment of a live performance.
Sales meetings are live performances for a sales team. However, many sales teams don’t have cues or signals worked out ahead of time and the result can be disastrous. People interrupt one another, disrupting the flow of the conversation. Topics get explored in a superficial manner. One person may pause for effect, and another person may view this as an opportunity to interject. Effective signaling takes practice and coordination. We aren’t suggesting that a sales team needs to have signals like a 3rd base coach on a baseball team, but some type of hidden communication can be very helpful. As teams work together for longer periods of time, just like rock bands, they learn their teammates’ personalities and traits. Unfortunately, learning how someone might react in any given situation takes a long period time, and if you’re not careful, a lot of mistakes can get made along the way.
There are lessons to be learned from watching your favorite musical groups that can be directly applied to team-selling efforts. First – If the band doesn’t sound good, nobody is going to listen to them. Sales meetings are about effectiveness – your team needs to be good. This takes time, planning, and practice. Don’t let your sales call be an impromptu jam session. Second – Everyone can’t sing lead. Defining roles and determining how the team will work together is critical. Third – Adding more instruments to a band doesn’t necessarily make it sound better – noisier perhaps, but not better. Think about the people you add to your sales team. Do they make it sound better or do they just add noise? And fourth – Don’t miss your cues. Every great band works well together by members doing the right thing at the right time. This isn’t by accident. Determine your signals and cues so that others know when to jump in and when to stay back.
Apply these ideas to team selling and make beautiful music together.