How to build a high-performing sales team
- Identify culture warriors and hire for those attributes
- Give cultural warriors yes/no authority in hiring
- Set personal and professional goals as a team
- Share customer success stories
- Give consistent feedback
- Use data to identify engagement issues
- Ask teams to create their own solutions
Does everyone on your sales team give 100% during the end-of-quarter crunch? Probably not. How do I know? Sadly, data shows less than 30% of today’s workforce is truly engaged, even at critical moments.
That’s a brutal statistic. It causes expensive problems like a low average quota attainment of 58.4% and a low average tenure of 1.4 years. What’s more, if a sales rep is disengaged and under-performing, it costs 150% of their salary to replace them and takes about a month to fill their empty seat.
So, what’s the solution? A strong culture of employee engagement. That alone can make you 87% less likely to lose your people and means you can create a culture that doubly outperforms your competitors on sites like Glassdoor. I’m going to show you how to get there in seven clear steps.
What Is a Culture of Engagement?
Before you forge ahead to create a sales culture of engagement, you need to understand what it is.
It’s so much more than ping pong tables, Nerf guns, beer Fridays, or an endless number of SPIFs. Employee engagement is how employees think and feel about their company and how they act (i.e., work) based on those thoughts and feelings.
Quick Tip: Don’t mistake satisfaction for engagement. They’re not the same thing. Here’s the difference between a satisfied and engaged employee.
Every employee needs safety, meaning, and capacity before they can truly engage at work:
- Safety: I can show my true self at work without fear of negative consequences.
- Meaning: I have a personal ‘why’ behind my job.
- Capacity: I feel capable of accomplishing what is assigned to me.
As sales leaders, our most important job is engaging our teams. We do our best to maximize each team member’s performance and motivate them every day. The goal is to have teams lean forward and think like owners, so they can drive business. How do you get them there?
I’m a big believer in simple, actionable advice, so here are my top seven steps to create a high-performing sales team. They’re based on data Emplify has gathered from thousands of sales leaders, and are field tested with my own teams.
7 Steps to a High-Performing Sales Team
Step 1: Identify culture warriors and hire for those attributes
Who on your team drives the culture you’re trying to build? Think about reps who crush their numbers even when you’re out of the office. Those are your culture warriors. Think about the traits they exhibit. Are they coachable? Ambitious? Collaborative? Challenging? Hungry? Whatever those traits are, hire for them.
The traits you’re looking for may be different. What matters is that you pick no more than five (scored from one to five, where one is the lowest rating) and make a yes/no decision about whether they’re a good cultural fit based on that score.
I like to have at least three people interview a candidate using the same rubric.
Step 2: Give cultural warriors yes/no authority in the hiring processes
The simplest way to get your team to think like owners is to treat them like owners.
Once you’ve identified culture warriors, empower them by integrating them into your hiring process. They care as much about the company and its culture as you do, so why not get their feedback and trust their judgement?
One unique approach I take is to give them the authority to say no to a candidate. If they say no, I listen and go with their recommendation. This builds a level of trust and helps me share the pressure of building a perfect team.
An added benefit is that my own team members often have insights I don’t have because of my power dynamic in the interview process. If, for example, the interviewee lets their guard down for sales reps, you’ll get a more genuine picture of whether they’d succeed in your environment.
Step 3: Set personal and professional goals as a team
Do you know your employees’ "why?"
Meaning is a key motivator in employee engagement, so understanding each team member’s "why" is critically important to managing them appropriately.
In the second week of January, my team always does a two-hour personal and professional goal-setting workshop. The bonding that takes place in this vulnerable session creates a closer team and they all hold each other accountable throughout the year.
It also helps each team member find their "why," and our managers are definitely better at their jobs for knowing those. Don’t let your reps stop at generic goals like revenue and salaries. Go a layer deeper to get at things like, “save a down payment for a house” or “take the kids to Disney."
That type of motivation is what sustains a sales rep through the ups and downs of the job.
Step 4: Share customer success stories
Behind every cold call is a prospect with a challenge that can be solved. It’s important to remember that on days when sales feels like a thankless grind.
Here at Emplify, we get our CSMs, SDRs, and AEs together bi-weekly to share hero stories about how our product improves cultures and allows employees to do the best work of their lives. The motivation that comes out of these meetings is truly invigorating. It helps the team push through challenges and reminds them -- even on the most difficult days -- what they do matters.
Step 5: Give consistent feedback
We’ve surveyed more than 5,000 sales reps about engagement, and nothing shows up as more important than consistent feedback.
Few leaders give it the time it deserves, but if you want your team to get better, you have to give them feedback. It can be a real headache without the right tools, and a brilliant gift when you use the right ones.
I’ve stopped setting aside massive chunks of time to find and sort through calls. Instead, I’m using technology like Gong.io to listen to calls on my commute.
I select the most strategic calls, based on sales stages or competitors, and dig into exactly what’s happening on those calls. I’ve dramatically improved the quality and frequency of the feedback I give my team -- and they love it.
It makes them want to improve, and that helps me retain them for the long term. I’ve also found that with this culture, my team’s top reps are more open to learning from and helping others. The feedback and engagement culture is spreading.
Step 6: Use data to identify engagement issues
Too often, sales leaders use gut feel to make important decision about the whole team’s performance. No one should do that -- not even on small teams.
Instead, sales leaders should pay attention when people at multiple levels of performance flag the same issue. For example, if your top, average, and low-performing reps all mention fairness when they’re asked for feedback around engagement, you know you’ve got a meaningful issue to tackle.
To identify your team’s issues, you need solid engagement data. Otherwise you’re just stabbing in the dark. Knowing what causes disengagement lets you prioritize initiatives that unlock performance.
Step 7: Ask teams to create their own solutions
As a leader, solving a problem on your own isn’t impressive. It’s often silly or wrong.
When it comes to engagement, give your team their own data and ask them to identify the root cause of their disengagement. Challenge them to solve the problem.
Simply say, “Team, we scored low on this issue. What should we start or stop doing to make improvements?” When you ask the right people the right questions, the right solution typically makes itself clear.
Engage Your People Now
Sales leaders want to work with people who love their jobs and welcome inspiration and growth. You can find those people, if you don’t already have them, and you can move your whole team upward by surrounding them with the safety, meaning, and capacity they need to excel at their jobs.
Do that by following my seven steps. They’re proven in the field and will help you build an outstanding sales team.