Can sales ever be a team game?
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Earlier today, I was discussing with an industry colleague about a book they were reading that eloquently argued that sales is a team game. However, his view was that it can't be as salespeople are inherently selfish and self-motivated.
At the time, I initially compared it to a round of golf, where you might form a fourball, but ultimately you're playing your own game against the course.
But then I got to thinking about it from the perspective of a football team.
In the widest sense, the MD acts as the team manager, co-ordinating tactics and deciding who to recruit and where to play them. You have your defender, those whose jobs it is to stop you conceding (support), those who do the hard work in the middle of the park (delivery), the midfield, creative maestro creating chances (marketing) and the striker (sales), putting the ball in the net and getting all the glory. When you look at it that simply, sales is absolutely a team game. If you concede more than you score, you don't win the game.
But do your sale folks really care if you win the game?
In reality, they tend to care about their own contributions, not because they are selfish or self-motivated, but because the entire system is shaped to encourage those behaviours.
So, let's revisit that football team.
Imagine that team has four first-team strikers. At the start of the season, the boss calls them into his office and sets them each a target of 15 goals and tells them that if they don't achieve their individual target, they'll be released at the end of the season. However, to make it worth their while in this high risk, high reward scenario, he'll give each of them a £50,000 bonus for every goal they score.
"What about assists, gaffer? Or a win bonus?" one of the strikers ask.
"No bonus for assists or wins, I'm afraid." the manager responds defiantly.
The manager has very clearly given them a task. Put the ball in the net. The only important thing, at a proportion of 50000:0, is that you score goals. And it's the same for the salesperson. They have a target which they need to hit and ever single metric they work to relates to that number - it's all they get beaten up over and all they get rewarded for. Hit your target and you'll be forgiven for anything, don't and you'll be looking for alternative employment.
So when it's 1-1, the last minute of the game and they get the ball on the edge of the box, is their first thought to be a good team member, or to just try and get a shot off and score themselves? When they got a hat-trick but lost the match 4-3, are they encouraged to care? Even if their club gets relegated, their 30-goal season is going to lead them to getting recruited by a bigger and better team.
So if you want sales to be a team game, stop encouraging the wrong behaviours, because if it's the last day of the season and I'm on 14 goals, I'm sure as hell shooting every chance I get.
WRITTEN BY ED HALSEY
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not the views of any of my employers. They are personal views based upon a 15-year career in insurance across underwriting and sales roles at mainstream insurers, consultancy firms and technology providers.