Team Selling – opportunities and challenges

Who are we?

We are three Master Students, Timo Huttunen, Marko Juhannusvuori and Veera Kallioniemi. We participated in Principal Lecturer Timo Holopainen’s course Technical Sales. During the course, we found ourselves to be extremely fascinated about team selling because we got to experience its power first-hand.

Why have a team doing sales?

Why would you waste resources and arrange a meeting where you have 2–3 or even more people doing sales on a single project? Why wouldn’t you just send a salesperson to make the offer and close the deal? The reason for this is more complex than you first might think.

Particularly in b2b environments – characterized by increasing complexity and uncertainty – grouping salespersons in team-based structures to encourage and facilitate helping behaviours is essential, as this stimulates individuals to share and exchange expertise, helps to alleviate the workload, and facilitates joint problem solving and creativity. (van der Borgh, M., Industrial Marketing Management, 1)

Having more than one salesperson in a team will double the changes to get a deal. Knowing the value of every team member will lead to the best outcome. All the team members have their own skills and by supporting each other, the sales meeting can be more effective.

Different roles in teams

A salesperson does not necessarily have the best understanding of the technical side of the project or product he/she is trying to sell. Sales needs someone to help with that and to argue it to the customer. The customer might also have his/her own idea, which might be impossible to do. Technical understanding is needed to argue against the customer’s idea and to have his/her head turned around, your solution which, of course, is best for their needs. Often it is that customers do not trust salespeople’s motives or do not believe he/she understands enough about the technical issues in the project. In this case, it is best to have someone in the meeting who the customer can trust and with whom he/she can discuss these matters. This also helps the salesperson to maintain his/her focus on selling and not to go too deep in the product specification.

A salesperson accompanied with a technical specialist is maybe the most common team to have sales meetings with customers; at least in the early steps of the project, where there still are many technical issues open and to solve. Often, there is also the need to have other key persons involved. One of these is the sales manager. The sales manager brings gravity to the table. His/her involvement shows to the customer that we are serious about this deal and want to do it. The sales manager also represents the company more than the product; the sales manager argues on the benefits of the co-operation on company level whereas the salesperson focuses on the product level. When settling the terms of the delivery or contract, the sales manager can have a final say whether something is possible to do according to the company policy.

There can be even more roles in the team. Even having the company CEO in the meeting can sometimes be important, even if he/she would not say a word during the meeting. Some roles might not involve the meeting itself but have nevertheless an important role in how the team performs and succeeds in the sales process. It is important to remember that in b2b project sales, the actual sales meeting with the customer can take very little time. All the preparation, planning and design can be a lot more time-consuming.

1+1 equals more than 2

The second thing in favour of having a team is that in fact, having different roles in the team contributes to the performance of the individuals within the team. When you have the right persons with a little different skills and backgrounds working together, their motivation and performance improve compared with working separately. Studies also show that salespeople’s experience relative to other team members’ experience and also how experience is split between the team members has an impact on how they perform (Mullins & Panagopoulus).

Sales itself is like an act of well-played theatre where each has their own role. Each party tries to have an advantage over the other. There are different ways to have advantages in the negotiation. One of the most common ones is to have more people in the meeting than the opponent. The aim of this strategy is to demonstrate power. It is common that there are people present in the meeting, which at the first glance does not seem to have any role but to sit there, but that is exactly his/her role.

Having mixed gender teams also seems to have an impact on the performance compared to an all-male team. Female presence in the team has a positive effect on how team members perform especially on high-performing team members; high-performing members enhance their skills, the team hierarchy changes and people share leadership more heterogeneously. (Mullins & Panagopoulus).

Garrett and Gopalakrishna (Garret & Gopalakrishna 2017) also suggest that the sales performance is positively affected by forming a sales team according to the personal sales performance track record. Research on the topic suggests that team members with moderate differences in sales performance support each other and have a positive impact, when compared to teams with high levels of difference in the sales performance. The same research shows that the impact of the sales performance between team members is higher than the impact of other factors, such as ethnicity, gender or personality traits. Therefore, putting weak and strong performers in the same selling team is not a good idea, although this is not necessarily relevant, if team members in the selling team have different roles in the sales process. A technical expert that supports the sales representative might not even be tracked by his/her sales performance.

Selling in teams also facilitates the learning process. When experts from different functions work together, it is more likely that the lessons from sales negotiations will be disseminated within the organization. The flow of information and accumulation of knowledge is multidirectional. This means that sales and non-sales personnel together refine the lessons learned from each interaction with the customer, from the viewpoint of their own function. All interaction between the selling team members, between the sales organization and other functions as well as between the selling team and customer should be utilized as a learning opportunity. The key learning areas include customer feedback on the product or service itself, the used marketing material, benefits that customers value most, the company’s business model. Team learning has significance for enhancing the market-orientation of the selling firm. Teams are also capable of handling more information than individuals by virtue of the combined intelligence of all the members of the team. The ability of the team to generate knowledge, however, is not self-granted. Capabilities and motivation for team learning processes should be built consistently by training, demonstrating the benefits and reward schemes. (Jones, E. et al. 2005).

 

Timo Huttunen, Marko Juhannusvuori and Veera Kallioniemi

References

Jones, E., Dixon A. L., Chonko, L. B.& Cannon, J. P. (2005) Key Accounts and Team Selling: A Review, Framework, and Research Agenda, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 25:2, 181–198

Garretta, J. & Gopalakrishnab, S. (2017) Sales team formation: The right team member helps performance. Industrial Marketing Management, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2017.06.007

Johnson, J. S., Industrial Marketing Management (2017) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0019850116303376?via%3Dihub

Mullins, R & Panagopoulos, N. (2018). Understanding the theory and practice of team selling: An introduction to the special section and recommendations on advancing sales team research. Industrial Marketing Management, article in press.

Van der Borgh, M., Industrial Marketing Management (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2017.09.007

 

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