Managing a Sales Team

What’s the difference between managing a sales team, and closing a prospect? No, it’s not a trick question. I believe they are similar.

When we assume that we perceive a buyer’s problem (from our unique – biased – vantage point, of course), and believe we have the solution, we move forward attempting to influence them around choosing to buy our solution. But what are we really doing? We’re acting as if the ‘problem’ or ‘need’ is an isolated event, and end up pushing our solution into their ‘closed system.’

Note my definition of a ‘closed system.’ Everyone, every group, every couple or family – every unit that exists – is a system that includes interdependent parts (beliefs and values, history, stories, relationships, group politics and expectations, etc.) that actually define the system. Every system is unique: each client is absolutely different even though on paper they may seem the same. The same with families, or couples. And the systems people live in are very defensive: they keep out anything that will disrupt it, because once the system is changed, everything else in it changes. So systems fight to maintain homeostasis/balance. And the system is sacrosanct, regardless of how important it is to rectify the ‘problem’ – remember: the problem has resided in, and been a part of the system, for some time, and the system maintains it daily. So trying to rectify a problem means you’re challenging.

Unfortunately, in sales we treat the ‘problem’ as if it were an isolated event and don’t realize that all of the issues around it must buy-in to change….hence the length of the sales cycle, as the sales process handles needs assessment and solution placement and does not recognize this need. When buyers can’t get internal agreement for change, and instead maintain their system (which does not recognize a ‘problem’ per se), we lose a sale or have a very protracted sales cycle.

The same thing happens with a sales team. The teams are systems, made up of individuals with their own personal set of values and beliefs, behaviors and preferences that form a unique entity with agreed-upon values and beliefs, behaviors and preferences. Individually, and together, they are a closed system that is unique and idiosyncratic. When we try to change them – or any one of them – from outside, we get the same responses as we do from prospects: the overriding preference is to maintain the status quo as it is comfortable, in balance, and all of the ‘rules’ are designed to maintain consistency…. otherwise it would be a different system (I write about this in my newest book Dirty Little Secrets).


Any behavior change involves a new set of decisions from within the system. And, if a system is comfortable, and is getting the results it believes it should get, why would it change? This is the challenge of any proposed change, whether it’s about making a purchase, changing behaviors, or agreeing to a new implementation as part of a change project. {Note: I’ve been having this challenge for over 20 years, as the sales professional has built in a far-delayed sales cycle and well-below-par results, and maintains it’s problems with a full set of work-arounds (i.e. managing objections, dealing with gatekeepers, getting to the top, etc. etc.) to offset them, even though the entire selling activity could be far more successful and easy.]

Once we begin to focus first on the elements necessary in a change decision, rather than the ideas to be learned, we can help people buy-in. When we manage a sales team, we are doing nothing more than change management.

Here are things to remember:

  • Each team has a unique way of operating. In order to get it operating differently, it’s necessary to get them to be willing to recognize the internal issues/values they must address to maintain balance and be willing to buy-in to shifting the status quo. By promoting change, you are threatening this balance, yet balance must be the first goal.
  • The validity of the proposed change is not enough to get folks to accept it: people make decisions based on their own values, not on data you think is valid or rational, or requests you are making as a leader.

Change must happen from the inside out, not outside in. What do you need to know to help your team make the decisions necessary to BE the change you want them to DO? Because without them both, you will be less than successful.


Currently I am holding a contest, The 10 Steps of a Sales Cycle, for a free signed copy of Dirty Little Secrets. Join now for your chance to win.

For those of you wishing to learn Buying Facilitation™ with me, I’ve just scheduled a public training [pdf] for May 19-21. I occasionally put these up on the site for those folks wanting to learn the whole model, with me teaching it. Unfortunately, I don’t actively solicit attendees, as there are only spots for a maximum of 18. If you have interest, and want to know more, either look on my other site under ‘events’ or call me at 512 457 0246

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