Monday, October 05, 2009

Compare Apples to Apples…


when using sport’s teams analogies to coach sales teams.



A Sales Team is a Sales Team or not?

There are at least two definitions that come to mind:

  • A group of sales people reporting to a sales manager
  • A group of specialists (an account team) all facing a particular customer orchestrated usually by an account manager.

How are they different? An account team is a work group, whereas a team of sales people reporting to a sales manager is not.

What is a Work Group?

I came across the term reading “The Skilled Facilitator” by Roger Schwarz. Schwarz defines a work group as follows: ” A work group has a collective responsibility for performing one or more tasks and the outcome of the task can be assessed” He goes on explaining that a work group is a social system with boundaries distinguishing members from nonmembers. To qualify as a work group, its members are interdependent in producing their work.

While both two types of sales teams fit to a large extent to this definition, there is though a key difference; the interdependence of the members to produce their work. In an account team, the interdependence is a prerequisite to success.

The team of sales people reporting to a sales manager however is a set of individuals each pursuing his/her own goal. They are primarily paid on making their quota. There is though a team goal. But there is no collective responsibility for that goal; it is primarily the sales manager’s. It is reached if all sales people make their individual contribution. So only the sales manager is dependant on the performance of the individual team members and can achieve his/her goal if he coaches the individuals to maximum performance. For some it might help to define a workgroup by describing what it is not. In the words of Schwarz “A set of people working on similar but essentially individual tasks is not a work group”.

Why is this relevant?

Examples how sport coaches lead their teams are of little help unless we the equivalent types of sport’s teams. To the above defines types of sales teams.

A set of sales people, reporting to a sales manager, resembles more a team of individual athletes such as swimmers or skiers. The result of the individual matters most and the performance of the team (e.g. the numbers of medals won at the Olympics) is merely the addition of the performance of the individual members.

An account team however resembles more to a soccer or baseball team. Here the sum of the individual contribution does not necessarily make up the performance of the team. There are many examples of well coached and motivated teams having been more successful than a team of uncoordinated stars.

What are the consequences?

While work groups can be coached similar to team sport’s teams, a set of independent specialist has to be coached on a one to one basis. Using the wrong approach is a waste of time and causes frustration as the hoped for success cannot be had.

The productivity of the respective team meetings is a good indicator if the approach is matched to the characteristics of the team. For example if a sales manager has to declare attendance to sales meetings mandatory is an almost sure indicator for unproductive meetings. Sales managers confusing their own goal with the team’s goal as described above are more likely to have mandatory meetings.

There is more advice available how to run meetings for workgroups.

Understanding the different characteristics of teams is also essential for promoting the right people. Sales managers and account managers are distinguished roles requiring their own set of skills. Star account managers do not necessarily make good sales managers.

The most demanding sales manager’s position is probably leading teams of account managers. The dimension of work group leadership must be added when coaching account managers. In this role sales managers must though be well aware that “do as I do” is not a recipe for success.

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