Building A Team of A Players


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BuildingATeamofPlayersTodd Skiles discovered a curious statistic after taking over in February 2014 as senior vice president of sales and solutions of the supply chain division at Miami-based Ryder Systems Inc.: Eight to 10 of his 32-member team were responsible for 80 percent of each quarter’s sales.

In the supply chain division, the product is logistics management and expertise, and the average size of deals is about $2.5 million, with many sales reaching as high as $50 million. With such big numbers, one might suspect that the imbalance in sales team statistics might be the result of a few big deals, but Skiles said the pattern was no aberration.

This wasn’t “something we saw for a few quarters,” Skiles says today. “It wasn’t a blip on a screen. It was a consistent pattern, with the same eight to 10 people driving sales production for in excess of six or seven years.”

Skiles wanted to know why. He realized the imbalance could be the result of a variety of causes — for instance, the sales structure itself, how accounts were assigned, how long they stayed with the same account executive or the way the company’s commission structure was playing out. While all 32 sales reps faced the same process shortcomings, eight to 10 still managed to thrive.

Skiles decided to start with the people themselves: Which attributes characterized his best performers, allowing them to consistently excel while others simply met their quota? How many were professional salespeople, and how many had come over from other parts of the business to try their hand at selling? With these answers, Skiles wanted to put together a model that would help him predict which candidates would turn out to be “A” players and which skills his sales leadership should focus on in training.

His goal: Come up with a formula of cognitive criteria that would let him replicate his best performers’ strengths throughout the team. To do so, he realized he would have to focus on measurable skill sets, such as the percentage of deals a team member closes or the number of prospects a team member develops in a week. This was the scientific side of being a salesperson that many people tend not to emphasize.

“When you ask someone what makes a good sales person, inevitably they will talk about how someone is a great communicator, or a good relationship builder or maybe a good team player,” Skiles explains.

“People focus on what I consider the art of sales, for instance relationship management and communication skills.”

“I wanted to focus on the hard skills, the stuff I could measure, but also the stuff I could teach,” he notes, “I wanted to focus on the intellectual horsepower behind being a good sales person. I really wanted to study the science of sales and not get caught up in the art of sales.”

To do this, he needed help with what and how to measure. Fortunately, he knew where to go.

Prior to his current position, Todd had participated in a similar analy sis of another sales team when he worked as a vice president of sales covering the southeastern region for Ryder’s fleet division. At that point, Todd decided to bring in the same SBI consultants again for his analysis of the supply chain division sales force

“What particularly impressed me in the past with SBI was the way their team got to know the culture at Ryder,” Skiles said. “We don’t have a ‘bring-them-in-and-burn-them-up’ approach to our sales team. My average tenure for salespeople is 10 to 12 years and that’s something we don’t want to change.”

“SBI let me build a list of cognitive skills necessary to be an ‘A’ player and then gave a very good way of measuring them in my people,” he says.

The analysis of the supply-chain sales team is only about a third completed, with the initial assessments of each team member essentially finished.

Before the assessment began, Skiles called the sales leaders and many of the “A” players to talk to them about the process. While the assessments were greeted with a degree of skepticism —“What does Todd really have up his sleeve?”— the response was generally very positive, he says. Salespeople are looking for respect from the rest of the company, and assessments like this can impart a certain legitimacy to sales team members, especially the “A” players, he says.

Besides creating a team of “A” players, Skiles also wanted to use the review to help his sales leadership make the transition from being “player-coaches,” who had their own accounts to manage and monitored their direct reports, predominantly by keeping track of the numbers, to becoming active sales coaches who accompanied team members on sales calls or helped them work through problematic deals. From the information collected through the assessment of the fleet division sales team, SBI and the senior sales leadership team were able to put together an entire training module on how to coach team members and on which areas and skills the sales leaders needed to focus.

As a result of the first assessment, the team initiated a new requirement that sales leaders spend two to three days out in the field, working with team members and helping them complete sales. “We began to track them to make sure they were using their time effectively,” he says.

“What we found is that the sales team actually wanted the leaders out in the field, helping them, giving them advice and guidance,” Skiles says. “If you can help me become a better salesperson and make more money, why wouldn’t I want that?”

“Closing profitable deals is how our people feed their families, so you have to be able to show them how sales leader coaching will help them do a better job of that,” Skiles says, noting that any organizational change has to provide value for both the company and the employees if it has any hope of success. “If people feel like changes are good for the company and not for them, then you lose buy-in and you can forget about it.”

To incorporate the changes smoothly, it was important to take an “evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach,” Skiles says. “You still have your numbers to meet and you don’t want to upset the apple cart in the pursuit of better performance.”

Almost immediately, the results for the department began to show significant improvement.

“Quite frankly,” Skiles says, “once the sales numbers are going up and we’re paying out more commissions, everybody looks like a hero.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dan Perry
Dan is an industry thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in b-to-b field sales, sales management, and sales operations. Dan has delivered domestic and international results for companies such as Hewlett Packard, Terremark Worldwide, Dow Jones, Activant Solutions, Kronos, CDS Global, Microsemi.


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