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Business Journal
Winning Sales: A Team Sport
Business Journal

Winning Sales: A Team Sport

How a well-designed team brings more talent to customer relationships

by Tony Rutigliano and Brian J. Brim

Traditionally, sales has been thought of as a single-player game, and it may continue to be in your company. But a team sales model is becoming more common. Some customers expect a great deal of attention and know-how from their suppliers -- more than a single rep can handle. In response, many companies have found success by creating teams of experts to support their clients. Different decision makers also have different needs and styles, and individual salespeople cannot possibly be a fit with all the buyers they encounter.

We complement one another. We have different ideas, look at things differently, and connect to different people.


This is the situation that Pfizer Oncology encountered, and they found a solution in team selling. Pfizer Oncology believed that deep product expertise on Pfizer's significantly expanded product portfolio was too much for any one rep. So they divided the portfolio between two reps working in the same territory. Both salespeople, each offering specialized knowledge, called on the same doctors. The approach worked so well that four years later, Pfizer Oncology completely adopted a "dyad" model, in which a pair of seasoned sales reps share the exact same goals and variable-comp plans. Most of the reps were promoted into this role in one of the most elite sales organizations at Pfizer. We conducted a focus group with Mike Scouvart's Mid-Atlantic sales region to find out why the team selling approach worked so well.

The first thing we noticed was the emphasis that the account executives put on talents and strengths. They're well aware that each member of the dyad has a different set of talents and how those talents work together. "Oftentimes we complement one another," said one of the representatives. "We have different ideas, look at things differently, and connect to different people. When we come together, we strengthen our ideas and our focus."

It took a while to get to that point, however. When team member talents aren't identified, cultivated, understood, or applied properly, teams aren't as effective. What's more, it can take some time to calibrate talents, as Pfizer Oncology's team members discovered. "We had some very rough days at first, and I think it was because my partner and I are very different people," said one of the reps. "We think differently. We process things differently. We do have the same work ethic, which is what holds us together. But we did not respect each other the way that we needed to make our relationship work. And we had conversations on the phone after work that were just knock-down, drag-out fights."

Pfizer Oncology is a strengths-based organization, however, so the pairs didn't pit their talents against each other for long. With some insights and help from a strengths performance coach, the salespeople learned how to apply the best of themselves in tandem. "We've come to know one another's strengths very well," one of the account executives said. "This [awareness] has helped us build an incredible trust, and because of that and playing to our individual strengths, we know we can work out whatever is put in front of us."Strengths Based Selling

Soon, the reps benefited from a strengths-savvy team approach, and so did their customers. Sales styles differ, but so do buying styles. In the complex field of oncology, the needs of physicians and their patients can be extraordinarily different. A well-designed team can offer more talents, which makes meshing with clients and meeting their needs smoother and more efficient.

Precision design

Team-based selling can be exceptionally effective -- but it can also drive people crazy. Whether it does or not depends on how the teams are formed. In their book Power of 2, Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller examined what makes good partnerships work. They discovered that the most successful and effective partnerships are characterized by complementary strengths, a common mission, fairness (so consider pay carefully), trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communicating, and unselfishness. Managers can help ensure team sales success by partnering people with these key attributes in mind, then supporting them.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is a good resource for pairing team members based on complementary strengths. Two people with strong Competition might butt heads, for example, but if they also lead with talents like Communication and Harmony, they can work around conflicts. Having two people who lead with Analytical on a team is great for finding solutions, but Analytical plus Discipline plus Empathy plays to different parts of the sales process and helps a team stay focused on information, attentive to details, and understanding of differing points of view. "We're really relying on each other here," said Dana Fiser, vice president of corporate operations at Jenny Craig. "We have to trust each other in a team because we're very vested in working with each other."

A mix of talents and strengths can help meet the customer's needs too. A high-octane client may initially respond well to a sales team with strong Command, Competition, or Self-Assurance talents. But sooner or later, a contract will need to be negotiated. A team that also brings Harmony, Relator, or Connectedness talents can use finesse when it's needed.

And we can't overemphasize the value of communication, as Wagner and Muller noted in their book. Team members need to talk -- constantly. They must openly own their talents and their limitations and discuss where each can contribute the most and where each might need help. One of the things they need to communicate -- and perhaps one of the hardest to discuss -- is what each team member likes and dislikes about working with the other. Disagreements between people are often due to differences in their talents, but differences can be a source of high performance. That's why constant communication is vital.

The Pfizer dyads communicate about their clients, their strengths, their demands, and their victories as many as four times every day, one rep told us. They talk in person, on the phone, via text messaging and e-mail -- whatever's handy. "Success depends on mutual respect of each other," said one of the Pfizer reps. "A lot of people have differences, and if they don't respect their differences, they don't ever get a chance to use and take advantage of them. What we've been able to do as a team is leverage the strengths of two extremely different people. We recognize that, we'll be the first to tell you. But we're a team that has been able to take the best of both of us and respect that and make the most of it."


Tony Rutigliano is coauthor of Strengths Based Selling and Discover Your Sales Strengths.
Brian J. Brim, Ed.D., is a Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup. He is coauthor of Strengths Based Selling.

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