Building a high-performance team

Matthew King talks about some of the aspects of recruiting and retaining a strong sales-focused team in the construction industry.

One of the biggest challenges companies face, not least in the construction industry and construction products industry, is around both recruiting and retaining a high-performance sales team. In itself, this is nothing new, but what is changing, in part accelerated by Covid, is a different mindset amongst many salespeople. Few would argue that a strong financial package based around an attractive OTE is an important factor in attracting and retaining sales team members.  However, increasingly, other factors are having a significant influence on individuals’ decision making around joining or staying with an organisation.

Much has been written on the topic of building successful sales teams and I simply want to provide a brief perspective around two areas: recruitment and then how best to retain and motivate a talented sales team. It is a view based almost entirely on personal experience and observation from someone who has enjoyed a 20+ year-long career in the building and construction products market, so it is natural for me to focus my thoughts on that industry in particularly.

Sales isn’t usually something school-children tell their careers officers at school that they want to do; everyone finds their own different ways into selling. Some people have the fundamental characteristics required for the role, yet might not have specific qualifications or experience, therefore developing and managing a successful, motivated sales team is unlike managing any other team within an organisation.

When recruiting for a sales team I always strive to unearth a candidate’s true personality and attitude – ahead of ‘experience on paper’. I aim to keep an open mind, I look for a hunger, fight, someone with something to prove, and of course, how they would fit with the others in the sales team. I am not looking for identical clones of the people already there. Different backgrounds and experiences are of benefit, but there needs to be a common passion and sense of ‘commitment to team’, as well as being an individual.

A business can ‘train’ product knowledge and even ‘train’ sales skills and techniques, but attempting to remold a base personality rarely works and usually ends in tears. Some of the best salespeople I have recruited have had little previous training or any background within the construction industry, some have come from the military, teachers, professional sport, call centres, but all come with an open mind and a desire to succeed. Several of these are now senior leaders within our industry, and watching their progress has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.

Too many businesses underestimate the cost of not prioritising retention sufficiently. Factoring in the actual financial and time costs of recruitment, induction and ‘onboarding’, specific training needs, lost productivity, it can typically cost the equivalent of six to nine months’ salary to replace someone. For a high performing Area Sales Manager, it could be as high as two years of that person’s salary.

‘Employee churn’ can lower productivity, as other team members often have to temporarily cover additional sales areas, with the ‘knock on’ disruption of established customer relationships and contracts, as well as loss of knowledge of local markets.

How then as a manager do you give yourself the very best chances of achieving high levels ofstaff retention and motivation? In my experience, while financial remuneration, including salary, bonuses and pension contributions are important, it is about so much more. Offering good levels and standards of in-work flexibility, healthcare and wellness features, holidays, development programmes and training opportunities are increasingly becoming important elements in retaining, as well as attracting, great talent. However, every bit as significant is for managers to ensure they consistently engender a feeling of worth, respect, appreciation and autonomy among their salespeople, who need to feel both valued – in a much broader sense than just financially. They must believe that you trust them.

Fear of failure is a powerful emotion, so, as well as celebrating their successes, we also need to make team members, particularly less experienced ones, feel that it is alright to make mistakes, these usually happen when individuals push their knowledge limits and step outside their comfort zones. Making mistakes is fundamental to effective learning, development and improvement of their skills – all to the longer-term benefit of the business.

As managers, we should also ensure all sales team members have a voice, in order that they feel valued. In time, they will almost certainly bring greater value – in a range of ways. Get them involved early and regularly – individually, in group discussions and in working groups. Encourage them to suggest new ideas and approaches. For example, who better to help set realistic yet aspirational sales targets than the sales team themselves? Who could be more equipped to design the CRM interface than the team using it every day? Trust in them.

Facilitating change from the ‘bottom up’ rather than just push it ‘top down,’ is a far more powerful method to encourage buy-in, enthusiasm and a feeling of worth within the business. Ultimately, that is likely to help create a well-motivated, high-performance sales team.

About Matthew King

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