Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

How to build a world-class sales team

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Guest post by Adrian Terry

A world-class sales team is a lot like a world-class football team. Think about it – they’re both competitive, talented, driven to be the best and big fans of the social side of the job (well, most of them anyway). Football is one of the only areas in which the term “world-class” is used to describe players and teams, but there’s no reason why you can’t put together a sales team that could also be described as world-class. What lessons could you take from world-class footballers and teams that will help you to build and coach a sales team of similar stature?

Value competitiveness

A competitive nature is essential in every member of the team in order for them to drive each other on. They’re probably already competitive – that’s why they’re in sales. Look for people who are natural winners (perhaps make this part of the interviewing process) and won’t stop until they’re at the head of the pile. A salesperson who approaches their job in the same way as a player like Luis Suarez (though perhaps without the biting) – with his intense workrate, high level of desire and passion for winning – will contribute a great deal to a world-class sales team in the same manner that he currently spurs Barcelona on.

Reward good performances

The way to keep the best performers – the Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the sales world – is to reward them accordingly with incentives and salary increases where appropriate and affordable as far as the company is concerned. Money is a major factor for the majority of us as far as our careers are concerned – if we can earn more than we currently do elsewhere then we will consider moving.

For instance, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona future had been speculated about for months, with his form taking a nosedive and rumours abounding that he was unhappy at the Camp Nou and looking to move despite his strong ties to the club. He then, however, signed a new contract which included a reported salary boost from €13 million to €20 million, which may have been a factor in him deciding to stay. His form since then has been electric. Was it simply a question of money or feeling wanted? Either way, the same principles exist (at a lower level) in a sales team. Ensure that your highest performers are rewarded in whichever way will strengthen their ties to the organisation and keep them motivated and engaged with what they’re doing and the organisation’s overall goals.


A world-class football team will always have a good balance of strengths and attributes – they can’t overload with attacking stars and have a shoddy defence, for example. Bayern Munich boast the likes of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller in forward positions, but also have outstanding defensive options in Phillip Lahm, Javi Martinez and David Alaba.

A sales team is exactly the same. You might be conducting everything from cold calls to referrals, face-to-face interaction to phone and email conversations. Not everyone is going to be good at everything, so it might be an idea to hire people who might be excellent at one or two things, rather than people who are passable at everything. Strike an effective balance within your sales team and you will be able to achieve your goals much more quickly.

Create a skills assessment exercise

Footballers are sometimes taken on trial for a week or two to see if they have what it takes to join a particular team, but most are now signed on the basis of scouting reports. This is where scouts from a club will watch the player in matches throughout the season to assess his skills and see if he is good enough and would offer something different and valuable to their team. If they’re of the opinion that he is good enough, they’ll probably try and sign him.

You can do the same thing to narrow down sales team candidates by creating a skills assessment exercise. Obviously you can’t really observe them in their current position because that might give the game away, but you can devise a test that gives you a more informed idea of how they might go about selling, either over the phone or in the field. Rather than them telling you what they can do, have them demonstrate it. Then you can decide whether they fit the bill or not.

Adrian Terry is Head of Sales Capability at Thales Learning & Development. He has 25 years’ worth of experience in leadership, business and change management across a range of industries. Today he is tasked with helping Thales clients to deliver lasting sales performance improvement, business growth and change, as well as inspiring the business professionals of tomorrow as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol.

Adrian is a regular contributor to Enhance – The Magazine for Learning and Development.

The Product Management Perspective: Why does building a world-class sales team matter to a product manager? The answer is obvious: to sell your world-class products! The question you should be asking is “how do I/we build a world-class product management team?” This is a complex question that should at least get its own article; however, the principles taught herein, regarding building a great sales team, apply to PM and you should look for ways to apply them to improving your teams and your work as a product manager.

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