9 Elements of Building a High-Performing Sales Team

Recently I came across a really interesting quote that provided a great perspective on the true team nature of selling.

Stick with me on this. Yes, this is another “Andy is using soccer to talk about selling” story. But instead of rolling your eyes and looking away, spend a couple quick minutes to read this.

The quote is from Kasey Keller, one of the all-time great US soccer goalies.

When I first read it, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a succinct recipe for how to win at sales.’

You’re probably thinking that I’m crazy. What does soccer have to do with sales?

“Winning soccer games is about getting the right combination of players on the field with the right attitude and mental approach who can execute better than the other team. The game isn’t that complicated. Mark the unmarked man. Fill space. Work harder than the opponent. And hope a deflection goes your way in a key moment.”

Let’s me translate the key points Keller made from soccer speak into sales talk.

Winning in selling is about:

“Getting the right combination of players on the field.” In sales terms that mean hiring sales people with diverse experiences, skill sets and backgrounds. Too many managers hire to a single candidate profile. It’s the combination of people who can share and learn from others with different backgrounds and perspectives that make the best sales teams. The top performers on my best sales team ever at a start-up consisted of a software engineer, a hard-core gamer, a PhD in American literature and a scrappy hustler who had never finished college. We crushed it.

“The right attitude.” In sales terms this means hiring people with the right character and values. The winning values in sales are found in people who are customer centric, service oriented, empathetic listeners and curious, open-minded problem solvers. Extroverted “hunters” and “closers” rarely fit the bill.

“Mental approach.” In sales terms this means mindset. What are your motivations and your purpose? Are you in the game for your customer and your teammates? Or just for the cash? I’ve never hired a salesperson who said their primary motivation was making lots of money. I’ve interviewed lots of them. I just never hired one.

“Execute better than the other team.” Selling is a team sport. In four decades of sales experience and having been directly responsible for winning hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, I’m hard pressed to think of a single deal where it didn’t take an orchestrated team effort to win the business.

“The game isn’t that complicated.” My favorite first boss told me “Selling is simple. It’s not easy. But it is simple.” That’s so true. And, yet, today I see sales managers and “sales experts” advocating complex sales methods and processes that make no contribution towards actually helping the buyer make their decision to buy your product or service. Complexity for the sake of complexity is a strategy for losers.

“Mark the unmarked man.” In sales terms this means having situational awareness and being adaptable. It means being able to see the big picture of what is happening in your deals and having the ability to make unbiased assessments of your competitive vulnerabilities. And then changing your strategies and tactics to take decisive action to address them.

“Fill space.” In sales terms this means to be responsive; to quickly and completely fill the gaps in the buyer’s understanding of your offer, your value, your story and your vision of the value they’ll receive from implementing your product or service. It means helping them quickly gather the information they need to make a good decision with the least investment of time and resources on their part.

“Work harder than the opponent.” It means just that. Work harder than the competition. Think harder. Go the extra mile. Be more connected. Be more curious. Be more understanding. Be more responsive. Be more helpful. Be more creative. Constantly be thinking about what you can do at any one moment to deliver value to the buyer that will enable them to move closer to making their decision.

“Hope a deflection goes your way in a key moment.” In sales terms this means to get a little lucky. Every single deal we win in sales contains an element of luck. And, that’s okay. Embrace luck and put yourself in position to exploit it. And have the humility and gratitude to acknowledge luck when you’re asked how you won the deal.

Right values. Right mindset. Teamwork. Be more responsive, connected, curious, understanding and helpful. Be aware. Work harder. Get a little lucky. Win the deal.

Selling isn’t easy. But, it can be pretty simple. You’ll win more if you keep it that way.