The term “sales team” has been in our business vernacular for many years. But what does it really mean?

What differentiates a genuine team from a group of individuals effectively just sharing the same space?

To be a High Performing Team means that you must get a better result from the collective effort than the sum of the individual parts.

The irony is that most sales teams only rewarded individual effort and achievement.

There are two examples which I have experience of recent times that reinforce this view:
One of our facilitators was conducting a team development workshop with a sales team. In one of the sessions we had discussed the types of behaviour that are really rewarded on the team. One member disclosed that if he were to miss a sale he would prefer the client to buy from a competitor rather than a fellow sales person. He said the reward system was skewed toward individual sales and he would sooner see a “team loss” so that his performance at an individual level was not affected.

On the second experience, I was invited to speak at a national sales award dinner. I delivered my views on the challenge of being a great sales team and the behaviours I see as being pivotal to great teamwork. The presentation was well received, but when I sat down the CEO leaned across and indicated that my presentation had created someone what of a dilemma for him. I asked why? He replied “we are about to give our two most important sales awards and both the winners are near enough the worst team players we have.”

It’s a hidden story. Inherently sales or business leaders, though reluctant to admit it, must actually fully support the person that delivers the results at all cost because they themselves benefit from the outcome. They aspire to create teams who are considerate team players, but at the end of the day they must possess a results driven focus. So no-one admits to it. In fact, they even build cases internally to justify why it’s OK, and thus the practice continues. A little secret that has the capability of rotting teams to the core.

So, if we want to be a genuine sales team, how do we reward team behaviour?

As a co-owner of business, like Leading Teams Australia, we have the same dilemma. Whilst we are in the team alignment and leadership development business, we still rely on people being able to sell our programs. So as a business that had shown steady growth over number of years we eventually had to resolve the issue of how we reward as a bonus for going the extra distance.

The first commitment we made as owners was that whatever we did would need to reflect the belief and culture of our business. The first step we took was to engage a cross section of our team to construct a bonus/incentive system. The only constraints we placed were that the team as a whole needed to achieve the bonus amount (which was based on targets achieved above budget); and the bonus had to acknowledge and reward team behaviour that we had developed in our company values.

The exercise of having the staff produce a reward system was an interesting process in itself. The model they come back with recommended that there be a split of the bonus dollars of 35% against achieved sales and 65% against desired cultural behaviour (our “team trademark”). The sales component was easy to split – who had generated what number of $$ and then do the maths around the split. As an owner, my own sales and the other Directors were included but we didn’t take bonuses.

The incentive around behaviour was interesting. We put aside a morning to go through the process. Firstly all staff (even non-sales) were included. Each person got a team list and had to rank in order the team members whom most lived our behaviours from highest to lowest. It is an important cultural distinction to note the person who ranks the lowest is still performing above the minimum requirement in living our model. As in our organisation anyone who had not met the minimum expectation would not have even be in the room -even if sales figures are sound.

We then worked around the room and all ratings were noted and trends become obvious. The most important thing that I noticed was that although the staff were interested in their rankings they were much more interested in the open and frank discussions that followed. After everyone had the chance to discuss, question and explain their responses, the list was finalised and then the behaviour component of the bonus was agreed upon. Interestingly, the staff split the money quite quickly. The guts of the discussion revolved around behaviour rather than dollars. Owners were included in the ratings but did not take money from the pool.

It is crucial to note, that there had been significant work done with our team to build the level of trust required to implement this type of reward system safely. However, the model sits comfortably with me, as an owner and team member, that within what is effectively a sales environment we have found one way to reward teamwork in our team. It is a method we still employ annually today.

Ray McLean

Ray McLean

Ray founded Leading Teams in 1992 after working as a leadership officer with the Air Force. He has published two books, ‘Any Given Team’ and ‘Team Work’. Ray is based in Geelong.
Learn more about Ray.