A Guide to Building a High-Performing Sales Team

In today’s difficult selling environment, a company’s marketplace success depends more than ever on having an effective sales force. Customers have become more sophisticated and demanding in their approach to purchasing. For example, with modern technology providing access to many channels for gaining information about the products and services they need, buyers often start comparing quality, pricing, and other features even before they engage with sellers.

Yet, according to a McKinsey report on sales-force performance, the sales experience remains one of the most important factors in customers’ purchasing decisions—as much as half of a business’s growth in revenue, profitability, and market share can be directly attributed to the effectiveness of its sales force and sales experience. 

That’s why, as one marketing professional puts it, “To increase sales and grow your company, you need to build a high-performing sales team and know how to structure it to support growth.” In this article we want to provide a guide for doing just that: building a high-performing sales team and structuring it to support growth.

Characteristics of High-Performing Sales Teams

High-performing sales teams don’t just happen. Rather, they achieve excellence by doing things that other teams don’t or by working harder at doing the right things.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of the highest-performing sales teams.

  • Goal-oriented: they’re motivated by reaching goals, whether individual, team, or corporate. They set specific, clear, and measurable objectives for themselves that both individual sellers and the entire team work together to meet.
  • Self-motivated: they don’t need to be driven toward meeting their goals—they take pride in achieving meaningful results for both themselves and the organization.
  • Customer-focused: they invest time in building strong customer relationships, acting as trusted advisers to buyers rather than as transactional sellers interested only in making the sale.
  • Well trained: they recognize that because buyers today are better informed than ever, successful sellers must not only have comprehensive, up-to-date product and industry knowledge but must also have high-level selling and interpersonal skills that enable them to relate empathetically with customers.
  • Collaborative: they actively support one another in the sales process, consciously working to leverage the unique knowledge, skills, and strengths of each team member.
  • Adaptable: they understand that because today’s selling environment can change quickly and in unexpected ways, they must be highly flexible and adaptable to meet new customer requirements as they appear.
  • Resilient: they’re not crushed by setbacks but seek creative ways to overcome obstacles. As Jim Steele, president of Yext says, “Top sales achievers have a unique ability to cope with difficulty, to negotiate obstacles, to optimize performance in the face of adversity.”
  • Trustworthy: they keep the promises they make to customers and never promise anything they’re not sure they can deliver.
  • Data-driven: they recognize that in today’s data-saturated world, buyers want targeted, quantified analytics that demonstrate how an offering’s value proposition addresses their specific circumstances and needs.
  • Strongly led: they have leaders who proactively set clear goals and expectations and provide continuing guidance, support, feedback, and accountability, all within the context of seeking to develop a personal, caring relationship with each team member. As Nancy Maluso, VP, Principal Analyst at Forrester declares, the relationship sellers have with their manager is the single most important factor in their success.

Related: 7 Foundational Tips for Improving Sales Performance in 2023

7 Steps to Building a High-Performing Sales Team

Now that we know what a high-performing sales team looks like, the next question is how do you create one? Here are some important steps for doing so:

1. Define the Sales Process

According to Hubspot, a sales process is “a series of repeatable steps a sales team takes to move a prospect from an early-stage lead to a closed customer.” It provides sellers with a standardized framework for their sales efforts by laying out the key steps in the sales cycle, from initial contact to closing the sale, and defining the metrics by which success will be measured. It is, in effect, the playbook sellers will follow in their sales activities.

An important element in defining the sales process is identifying compelling value propositions for the products the team will be selling.

2. Set Clear Goals/Objectives

To perform at a high level, workers must clearly understand what’s expected of them. That’s especially true in sales. Sellers are motivated to excel when they have specific, measurable, and realistic goals that are challenging but achievable. Such goals typically focus on metrics like win rate, number of deals closed, sales revenue, new customer acquisitions, and customer retention.

Clear goals set sellers up for success by clarifying the targets they should aim at, which, in turn, helps them to properly focus their efforts and prioritize their time. Such goals also serve as key measuring rods for providing the feedback and accountability that are critical for improvement.

3. Foster a Positive Sales Culture

According to Salesforce,

“Sales success begins with building positive and people-first sales cultures that enable visibility, trust, and agility.”

Your organization’s sales culture is that set of beliefs, values, attitudes, and practices that define the way sellers relate to the company, customers, the sales process, sales leaders, and one another. Research indicates that a positive sales culture leads not only to greater selling success, but also to higher motivation, commitment to the organization, and job satisfaction, along with less stress.

Components of a positive sales culture include a common vision, friendly competition, teamwork and collaboration, trust, good communication, accountability, support, recognition and rewards, and continuous learning.

4. Hire the Right People With Proven Track Records

Sales leaders who bring new hires on board hoping to make top sellers out of people who lack the requisite skills, aptitudes, attitudes, and personality traits are almost certainly doomed to disappointment. As we’ll see, good training can lead to impressive improvements in sales success. But you have to start with the right raw material.

That’s why first establishing your sales process, sales culture, and clearly defined sales objectives are critical steps in the hiring process. Having those elements in place allows you to identify the skills and personal characteristics that matter most in your organizational context and selling environment. You can then hire candidates whose track record demonstrates that they possess, or can develop, those attributes.

5. Develop an Effective Sales Training/Coaching Program

According to the McKinsey sales-force performance report, top-performing sales organizations “identify the skills that matter and tailor their training accordingly.”

Such targeted training is crucial for building a high-performing sales team. Gartner reports that organizations that institute an effective sales training and coaching program reap a 19% improvement in sales performance.

A good training program will aim at imparting knowledge about the industry, products, steps of the sales process, best practice sales techniques, time management, and more. Even more importantly, the training process must also enable sellers to develop and hone the skills that will allow them to interact fruitfully with customers.

An important characteristic of effective sales training programs is that they’re not based on discrete events that happen three or four times a year. Rather, for maximum effectiveness, training must be continuous.

6. Use Role Play in Training

The McKinsey sales-force performance report declares that role-playing is a critical component of effective sales training and coaching:

“All high-performing sales organizations that we encountered also make extensive use of role-playing as a coaching technique. The practice has proven especially effective in helping sales teams improve soft skills, such as navigating difficult conversations.”

Role play allows sales reps to develop and practice critical skills in realistic selling scenarios. Sessions can focus on specific areas of concern such as initiating the sales process, identifying customer needs, handling objections, and closing the sale. One industry observer adds that role-playing is especially powerful for practicing cold calls, elevator pitches, key sales messages, corporate presentations, and price negotiations.

7. Leverage Technology and AI

According to a Salesforce report, today’s sales reps spend just 28% of their time actually selling. The reason, says the report, is that,

“Reps are bogged down with too much manual work… distracted by record keeping, broken processes, tool management, and tasks like data entry and lead management.”

But that’s changing fast. Modern AI-based sales enablement tools are helping sales teams automate routine tasks such as entering and analyzing data or generating emails. And sales leaders are using the advanced simulation capabilities of these platforms to create vividly realistic role-playing scenarios that allow reps to practice the skills that will help them become more successful sellers.

Related: Can You Measure the Quality of a Sales Pitch Using AI?

In the past, both sales reps and their managers often resisted using role play: reps because it was intimidating and embarrassing to practice in front of others, particularly the sales manager; and sales managers simply because it ate up too much of their very limited time.

But today’s advanced simulation platforms allow reps to practice in private—just them and the AI—repeating the process over and over until the desired skills and behaviors are mastered. 

The AI reviews video of sellers interacting with a realistic customer avatar in a real-world selling scenario and produces specific metrics to show reps how they are doing in using the specific skills and behaviors needed for that situation. The sales manager need not be directly involved in practice sessions but can examine the metrics delivered by the platform to provide specific feedback and encouragement to each rep.

Tech to Help Build a High-Performing Sales Team

The Quantified Simulator is a good example of an advanced, AI-based sales enablement platform that creates highly realistic role-play simulations. It quantitatively assesses behaviors and communications to measure whether reps are on message, confident, and clear, especially as they practice countering possible customer objections. To explore how today’s advanced AI technology can help you build a high-performing sales team, contact us for a demo.