I was in the cafeteria of my office in Bengaluru, India; on a not so hot afternoon in April 2006 having a heated discussion with my boss/sales manager. We were discussing the “Territory” and “Accounts” that I had to manage in the new fiscal.
This was a routine annual exercise in the Consulting division of the IT major that I worked in. But on that day, I was upset with an observation made by a Practice Head regarding handling of a premier government account located in Hyderabad. His observation to my boss was that “Prasad is not suitable to handle this account and XYZ from Delhi will manage it.” This hurt my ego and pride. I had proved myself in the enterprise space and was investing time and effort to crack the government market. I therefore found this unpalatable.
Much water flowed under the bridge, and over the years I had the privilege of not only managing the premier account but also many such institutions in India and the Middle East.
Fast forward a decade and a half and I was reflecting on this incident and others during my year end vacation. Taking the position of an observer, clarity emerged on some of the nagging questions in my head. What made the Practice Head propose an alternate person? Why did my boss succumb to pressure?
The best insights come from reflection and intuition. I discovered that the secret sauce for forming a high-performance sales team was a diverse group of sales personas.
Sales professionals have their own unique style, skillsets, and mindset. Similarly, clients have different operating rhythms, processes, etc. While the fundamentals of selling and relationship management remain the same, mapping of the salesperson to geographies, industries/verticals, accounts, and the like is an art and a science. A high-flying seller in a particular environment/situation sometimes struggles when he or she starts managing a new market or account. So how do sales leaders discover the “compatibility” and form a cohesive team leveraging the strengths of every individual?
I have observed some common patterns in the profiles of successful sales professionals in large corporates. I also noticed that team compositions with diverse personas delivered superior results. So, who are these sales personas?
“The Solo Hero” is usually the “Hunter” addressing the Small and Middle enterprise segments. They exhibit a high degree of perseverance, high tenacity and do not fear the unknown. Sellers who cover a large geography have high energy levels to explore the market. The challenge this group faces is that they receive relatively less support and focus from internal functions like Service, Logistics and Finance for smaller accounts. But they overcome this limitation by developing personal relationships to get things done.
“The Uber” seller manages, farms and mines large enterprise accounts. While internal resources are easily available at their disposal, the seller’s ability to orchestrate them in front of the customer is the key to winning deals. This group has the privilege of leveraging senior management to a greater extent and “Networking” is their key to forging relationships. “Uber” sellers are generally impatient and want their client’s needs addressed as of yesterday.
“The Tortoise” are typically allotted Government, Public sector organizations, Nationalized banks, etc. While these sellers are agile, they need to slow down to match the pace of procurement and the decision-making process of the clients. They face “Binary result” syndrome in the RFP/Tendering situation and their entire yearly performance hinges on a few large deals. Diplomatic communication, attention to detail, bureaucratic niceties, bountiful patience, and extreme humility are the hallmark of “Tortoise” sellers.
“The Technical Tarzan” are sellers who exhibit greater technical inclination or domain expertise to sell complex solutions. They are normally practitioners like Consultants, Solution architects, Engineers and Domain experts who have transitioned into selling but still have their heart in their previous role(s). “Tarzans” are commonly assigned high tech industries, telecommunication, banking and so on and they are comfortable using technical parlance and industry lingo.
“The Channel Champions” manage the partner ecosystem to drive the business. These sellers keep their eyes and ears open and learn about the happenings in the market through the partners. Successful champions wield great influencing skills as their direct span of control is usually limited.
“The Feminine” power in Sales has its own advantages. Although women sellers could have any of the above personas, they additionally bring to the table greater persuasion, negotiation, empathy, and conflict resolution skills. They are not content with standardized offerings but seek innovative and out of the box solutions. Their ability to empathize and connect with the clients at a deeper level builds stronger sustainable relationships. While women have proved their mettle in industries like IT, Consulting, and Banking, many other verticals remain as the road less travelled.
While various other personas exist in sales organizations, sales leaders can analyze the traits of the sellers and the styles of selling and form a diverse team, thus harnessing the “Power of the Combined” aka “Synergy.” I now understood why my Practice Head felt that someone else would be better suited for the government account.
I have seen Regional Sales leaders plan their annual and quarterly territory quotas by aligning to the market conditions and letting the sales engine fire synchronously to absorb shocks. For example, the Ubers win around 40-50% of regional business from managed accounts, while the Solo Heroes contribute 20-25 % sales apart from adding new logos to the company. The Tortoise contribute to 20-30% of quota and work on mega deals which can overshoot the yearly quota. The contribution of Tarzans comes not only from the 10-20% top line, but they help to meet the operating margin norms by virtue of selling high value solutions. This sort of team formation helps sales leaders to de-risk and bring greater predictability to business.
The world of sales has undergone a sea change in the last 2 years. The pandemic has opened a plethora of opportunities for sellers and sales leaders. Virtual selling sans travel has made geographies and territories less significant. This provides a fertile ground to undertake sales experiments like adding hunting responsibilities to a farmer and vice versa. An Uber could rope in a Tarzan to position a complex solution comfortably to a technical buying influence. They can leverage the commercial acumen of a Tortoise to stitch an attractive proposal to win over an economic buying influence. Collaboration and cross pollination of ideas among sellers would yield rich dividends. The onus of leveraging diverse sellers to maximize results rests with the Sales Leaders who are also People Managers.
Change is the only constant. Sales is one of the oldest professions in the world and has evolved over time. But the fundamentals remain unchanged. The question to sales leaders is “Are you moving along with the change or ahead of the change by leveraging a diverse internal sales ecosystem?” In other words, are you creating unique sales champions and teams?