How to Build a Collaborative Sales Organization

When sales collaboration is done effectively, research shows
that it leads to more sales and more individuals meeting
sales quotas. However, traditional sales collaboration techniques
have limitations.

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Introduction

Sales organizations are, by their very nature, competitive. Encouraging friendly rivalry, publicizing sales rankings, and giving performance-based awards can all be effective sales management techniques. Even in sales teams that pay lip service to collaboration, it has historically been viewed as a “nice to have,” not an essential approach to sales success.

Building an intentionally collaborative sales culture doesn’t have to be at odds with a hungry, aggressive, “always be closing” culture. In fact, when collaboration is done correctly, it actually makes sales teams more effective.

In today’s world, consumers are more informed and solutions are more complex and integrated with other solutions. Sales onboarding and enablement are increasingly costly, time-consuming, and complicated.

Salespeople have questions! They need information on product, pricing, strategy, case studies, market dynamics, training materials, collateral, contracts, and contacts. And there is almost always someone, or often a lot of “someones,” who each holds a piece of the answer. There are considerable benefits to the company when salespeople are given an opportunity to collaborate intentionally.

Download our free checklist full of ideas on creating a collaborative culture in your sales team.

The Case for Intentional Sales Collaboration

one

Individual and team sales performance improves. According to research by CSO Insights, intentional collaboration approaches led to a 21% increase in quota attainment.

two

Team cohesion and performance improves. Salespeople who ask for help boost their creativity and collaboration, and they tend to have a better understanding of the team’s purpose and tasks.

three

Research shows that employee loyalty, efficiency, satisfaction, and productivity are higher and turnover is lower in companies where salespeople are supported in asking for and giving help.

Can There Be Too Much Collaboration?

Sales leaders often complain that their sales people are too collaborative. After asking some additional questions, it turns out that collaboration isn’t the real problem. What they’re really trying to say is:

1. There are too many meetings.

A glut of meetings is often caused by the fact that people don’t know who to ask when they have a problem or question.

All too often, when someone needs something, they call a meeting of a half-dozen people and hope someone in the group can provide the right information.

All of us have been in meetings that could have been avoided with an effective communication to the right parties.

Meetings are deadly for salespeople who need to spend as much time as possible in front of customers and prospects.

2. There are too many expensive, "four-legged" sales calls.

Sometimes an inexperienced sales rep can be greatly helped by having a more experienced team member join them on a sales call.

But too often, it just results in an expensive and inefficient process that could be greatly improved by proper collaboration and training up front.

Leadership, onboarding, and early collaboration can prevent these “four-legged” sales calls.

3. Salespeople are so busy helping each other, they aren’t getting their own
work done.

We all know salespeople who are so generous with their time that they neglect their own calls and clients to help others.

This isn’t a problem of over-collaboration; it’s a problem of prioritization and discipline.

It’s possible to be a useful resource to new colleagues while also maintaining a growing book of business.

Intentional collaboration means leveraging the experience and knowledge within your team to make everyone successful as quickly and efficiently as possible. So, yes, there can be too many meetings, too many four-legged sales calls, and too much “helping,” but there can never be too much intentional collaboration, which is by definition efficient and productive.

Existing Collaboration Tools and Techniques

Most of the existing collaboration tools and techniques in use in sales organizations today are informal or ad hoc.

Here are the techniques I’ve seen the most in recent years:

one

Blast emails: Probably the most common informal, ad hoc approach to collaboration is when salespeople send an email out to a whole group or team or region and hope someone will read it and answer.

Drawback: This is incredibly inefficient (best-case scenario: you have multiple people reading to and responding to an email, worst-case scenario: it gets lost in the shuffle and you never get an answer from anyone). Email also doesn’t contribute to the common good because trainers won’t necessarily see the most-asked questions and there’s no way to access the best answers.

two

The “expert” approach: Most salespeople know the one or two people who are knowledgeable enough and nice enough to help answer questions as they arise.

Drawback: This approach puts a burden on those one or two people – a load that
could be more evenly divided among a broader number of people. It’s also unfair to people who don’t have a strong relationship with the “experts.”

three

Collaboration platforms: Salespeople love to throw questions up on Slack, Yammer, and Salesforce Chatter.

Drawback: Slack, Yammer, and the like are incredibly useful tools for sales teams and have transformed the way many teams communicate (including our team here at Give and Take). But they’re way too “noisy” for asking for and getting help. If you miss even an hour of Slack notifications, you can get hopelessly behind. Slack and Yammer are better for very small teams or for very general purposes.

four

Knowledge-sharing platforms: Many organizations set up wikis or knowledge-sharing platforms like SharePoint to address common questions and share common resources.

Drawback: Knowledge-sharing tools are a great way to “push” information one way, but you have to anticipate what will be needed in order to make them truly useful. It’s also challenging to keep them up to date and reflective of a wide array of expertise without requiring time and participation from people who should be out selling.

five

Meetings or knowledge-sharing sessions: Drawing everyone together to make time to collaborate can be a useful exercise on occasion. Knowledge-sharing sessions are also useful during the training phase.

Drawback: For sales teams, this is a highly inefficient approach, because for every hour your team is sitting around in a room sharing, that’s an hour they aren’t selling. Sessions also don’t work as well once salespeople are beyond training and out in the field.

six

Formal mentoring programs: Mentoring is great and is an important part of professional development.

Drawback: Formal programs run the risk of being forced and inefficient. When you pair an old pro up with a newbie, you may decrease the productivity of the experienced salesperson even as you’re increasing the knowledge of the junior person. Better to give all junior people access to the experience and knowledge of all seasoned pros and see what relationships develop organically over time.

7

FIOM (Figure It Out Myself): Many of us are encouraged by our bosses and the culture at large to be self-reliant and independent, and to find answers to questions without relying on other people.

Drawback: Self-reliance can only get you so far. As a sales leader myself, I never want one of my team members to spend hours or days struggling to figure something out when someone with different experience could answer their question or solve their problem in minutes.

How to Foster Intentional Collaboration

Intentional collaboration increases sales, contributes to individual and team success, and improves staff loyalty, retention, and satisfaction. So how do we do it? How do we make informal collaboration more useful and efficient while also providing more formal opportunities and spaces for collaboration? It starts with creating a culture of generosity in the workplace through both tangible investments and less tangible cultural shifts.

1. Establish an environment where it’s safe to ask for help or assistance. When we tell our teams, “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions,” we‘re discouraging asking for help. There are two main principles behind creating a feeling of safety: first, create a space (either virtual or face to face) where everyone can ask questions without fear of looking stupid and where everyone has equal access to help. The second way is to model the behaviors you want to see in your team and ask for help yourself. Here are some things you can ask for help on as a leader:

  • An introduction or connection to a colleague you’d like to know
  • A recommendation for a vendor or partner
  • A piece of information needed to complete a project
  • A specific skill or ability that’s missing on your team
  • A personal recommendation (local restaurant, babysitter, vacation spot, holiday gift)
  • An idea or brainstorm
  • A second set of eyes on an important presentation or document
  • Volunteers to join a project or initiative you’re working on
  • Answers to organizational process or policy questions

2. Make it easy and efficient to give help to those who need it. In Adam Grant’s groundbreaking book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, he found that the most successful salespeople were what he calls “givers,” meaning they freely contribute to other people without expecting anything in return. In fact, the top-performing salespeople in all industries are givers. The problem is, givers tend to be the lowest performing, as well, because they can be focused on giving (to colleagues, prospects, and clients) more than they are on selling.

The burden of helping is likely to fall heavily on the givers in your sales organization, so it’s important to provide formal or intentional collaboration tools and techniques that spread that burden around. Expanding the size of the pool of helpers increases the value of the knowledge available to seekers of help and reduces the impact on individual helpers. Remember, this is not about creating more four-legged sales calls and doubling up on all sales activities. It’s about giving everyone access to the knowledge and expertise of their peers so everyone can sell more, faster.

3. Create a repository of institutional knowledge with the most-asked questions and the best answers. This can be a challenge because, often, by the time you hit “publish” on a wiki, the information is already outdated. But if you have a way to monitor what kinds of things are being asked most frequently, you can develop proactive content to address those challenges and direct people to the best answers. When most collaboration is happening informally via email or at the water cooler, it’s hard to know what kinds of situations or issues are giving people the most trouble, and the same kinds of questions likely get asked over and over again.

4. Leverage collaboration technology tools. Email and collaboration tools like Slack and Yammer are part of the picture here, although, as shared above, they have limited value when it comes to asking for and providing help. However, they can and should play an important role in the collaboration ecosystem. Let team members crowdsource solutions to problems or issues using technology, and put your money where your mouth is by investing in your sales team. Most sales technology spending goes to CRM systems, tracking, and reporting rather than to collaboration, which has a proven track record of increasing sales.

5. Hire collaborators. When you’re filling new positions, ask candidates questions that encourage them to focus on individual accomplishments as well as collaborative wins. Pay attention to how they talk about the company’s success in their previous role in addition to their individual contributions. Ask whether they prefer to work alone or in a team, and ask for examples. Consider assessing their giving style during
the interview process.

6. Set collaboration expectations. When onboarding new staff, it’s important to set the expectation that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. New employees shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed. They should always put the success of the company, the customer, and closing the deal ahead of their own egos. One of my favorite sayings is, “Know what you know, know what you don’t know, and know when to ask for help,” and it applies to everyone on your sales team. If you set the right expectations and celebrate those who meet or exceed those expectations, it will yield a collaborative and efficient sales organization.

How Givitas Can Help

Many sales organizations are now solving this challenge with Givitas, the only purpose-built platform designed solely for asking for and providing help.

Givitas integrates with Slack and Yammer, but as a single-purpose tool, Givitas:

  • Gives salespeople access to the knowledge and expertise of peers and experts without burdening any one or two people
  • Improves culture, loyalty, and job satisfaction
  • Reduces the stigma of asking for help
  • Makes it easy for everyone to share knowledge in less than five minutes a day, leaving more time for closing deals and increasing sales

Many sales organizations are now solving this challenge with Givitas, the only purpose-built platform designed solely for asking for and providing help.

Givitas integrates with Slack and Yammer, but as a single-purpose tool, Givitas:

  • Gives salespeople access to the knowledge and expertise of peers and experts without burdening any one or two people
  • Improves culture, loyalty, and job satisfaction
  • Reduces the stigma of asking for help
  • Makes it easy for everyone to share knowledge in less than five minutes a day, leaving more time for closing deals and increasing sales

Here’s what a sample request for help looks like in Givitas:

In a sales setting, Givitas is  useful in the following scenarios, among others:

  • Overcoming challenges and objections from prospects by allowing salespeople to crowd-source answers that have worked in the past
  • Understanding the positioning that works best within certain verticals
  • Positioning against the competition in ways that have resonated and resulted in closed deals
  • Shortening the sales cycle by helping salespeople get quick and easy answers to potential hang-ups
  • Increasing knowledge and accelerating the maturation process for newer salespeople without overburdening experts or taking seasoned professionals away from selling
  • Supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives by giving everyone access to the same platform and repository, which reduces reliance on real or perceived “old boys’ clubs”
  • Increasing mentoring opportunities by giving everyone equal access to the opinions and expertise of mentors, allowing relationships to develop naturally and organically
  • Extending the reach of knowledge collaboration platforms beyond a small circle of immediate peers to a larger, more distributed and cross-functional team, crossing silos and areas of expertise
  • Supporting and creating meaningful connections among geographically diverse or distributed teams who don’t have much chance to work together

Learn More About Givitas

larry-freed

About the Author

Larry Freed is President and CEO of Give and Take, Inc. A successful entrepreneur and investor, Larry has a proven track record of building successful companies. He is the author of  Managing Forward and the bestselling Innovating Analytics.

If you’d like, you can download this entire article as a PDF:

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