Sales Is A Team Sport


Elango R. is President – North America – New Clients Acquisition at Mphasis.

An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” Apply this to how the sales function is changing against the backdrop of an equally rapidly changing business ecosystem and you can see why sales is not and should not be an individual endeavor.

Instead, as buying journeys transform and become more networked, creating more choices, channels and decisions with multi-year executions, one person cannot shoulder or execute the sales role impactfully. It requires companywide buy-in and the insertion of sales in every employee’s job description.

In a crowded, complex marketplace, where brands are competing for discerning, connected customer attention, vendors must offer integrated solutions, not single products, and do this at competitive prices with shorter cycles. They must aim to deliver a sticky customer experience (CX). 

Pushing Ahead By Deploying Team Skills

It’s becoming clear that one of the easiest ways businesses can start to deliver this kind of customer experience is by marshaling in-house expertise — combining multiple domains and teams behind a shared goal. Their aim should be to solve customers’ problems by understanding their pain points from many vantage points — creatively, comprehensively and effectively.

Research confirms that when companies undertake selling as a “team sport,” they increase the possibility of deal closure by a whopping 258%. This is not too different from the approach top bicycle racing teams adopt during competitions. Members typically take turns riding in the front during different stretches of the race, by turns coasting on one another’s effort and pumping adrenaline. On steep slopes, some riders may choose to set the pace by outlining the best path to climb. And during timed trial rounds, some members may keep a deliberately slower speed over long distances to help lower the team’s average time.

Although individual talent can never be overlooked, the outcome of most races, whether on the racing track or in business, depends on how teams pull together to deploy their collective talent over time. Let us take a closer look at an example.

Growing A Brand By Leveraging The Village

Consider the global cloud-based phone system and call center software Aircall. Founded in 2014, Aircall, which is valued at over $1 billion today, serves thousands of customers across 84 countries. However, contrary to common perceptions, the global brand did not hit the big time because of heroic sales professionals working by themselves in silos. Instead, what has helped the company expand its reach in a relatively short span of time is its unquestioned embrace of team selling. With the help of smart collaboration platforms, the company routinely ropes in multiple teams and external partners to discuss, thrash out and curate, all in real time, the best possible offers for prospective clients.

Although the pandemic threw a wrench in the gears of how any business operates, sales teams across domains were facing challenges even before the onset of Covid-19. Buyers spoiled for choice were already getting harder to please and more demanding. The pandemic only exacerbated the situation.

Adopting A Tribes And Squads Perspective

In many ways, team selling is comparable to the “tribes and squads” approach several companies deploy to drive agility, breaking away from traditional company structures toward a more competency- and capability-based approach. “Tribes,” with their own oversight, serve at the head of the organizational structure and are grouped based on common business focuses, while clusters of multi-disciplined and autonomous “squads” reach out to meet individual customers’ needs.

The strength of these tribes is not just the expertise in high-demand tech areas, but also how multiple tribes collaborate to structure and execute on higher-order deal archetypes favoring increasing deal sizes. This approach helps ensure the customer always has a 360-degree macro view of the vendor organization. It also leverages the immersive and detail-oriented problem-solving approach of the squads.

In this context, a companywide, collaborative, team selling approach turns the tables by helping vendor organizations leverage their colleagues’ knowledge and expertise irrespective of their team or department. It helps sales teams deliver exponential value at every stage of the buying process.

Pivoting To Team Selling

How do you get teams to pivot to this new approach? In my view, by keeping a few things in mind. First, ensuring there is employee buy-in. Change is hard. But when leadership walks the talk and includes everyone with timely information and insights into expected benefits, it paves the way for acceptance and adoption.

Second, once there is buy-in, company leadership must ensure that a team-selling culture is embedded across departments and functions. And yet, very importantly, team selling should not be pushed at every potential sales opportunity. Some businesses and customer contexts are made for large, multi-functional team selling, while others are not. Knowing the difference is crucial.

Some companies will face challenges while attempting to make this pivot. This could stem from apprehensions about what the pivot involves and how compensation may be affected. Enterprises can address these questions by being open and transparent about their objectives, sharing whatever information is necessary to gain a clear view of the road ahead and hearing assurances from senior leadership that trying out this new sales style will not invite any penalty or punishment.

As the world prepares for a post-Covid future, organizations would do well to embrace a team-selling approach. This will ensure they can provide their customers with the tools and overview they need to understand their market better and stay ahead of the competition.


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