Required Reading: Making Sales a Team Sport

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It's not unusual to get bogged down during a deal, and locating the colleagues who can help rescue it is not always easy. In his new book Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges, former Yahoo! chief solutions officer Tim Sanders describes a collaborative process for overcoming those sales obstacles. ­Sanders shared some insights with Associate Editor Oren Smilansky.

CRM: You're a proponent of collaborative sales methods. What is causing the need for increased teamwork?

Tim Sanders: Complexity is rising in enterprise and B2B sales—more decision makers, more technology, more competition because of cloud computing, customers are educated and require re-education. Rapid problem solving [has become] the only sustainable competitive advantage.

Sales is one of the last bastions of corporatedom [to embrace] innovation and creativity. For decades we've focused on process: Get the methodology in place, follow your X's and O's, don't go off script. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the enterprise, they've been brought together to do hackathons and think outside the box.

CRM: What is "dealstorming"?

Sanders: It's a repeatable process that [enables] sales innovation by bringing together everyone who has a stake in the outcome of—or has expertise about—the sales challenge. It takes the best parts of brainstorming and collaboration and fuses them together to allow salespeople to solve problems faster than the competition. The process can complement any major sales methodology. The idea is that when you get stuck, there is a seven-­step process you can employ to get out of it.

CRM: What are those seven steps?

Sanders: First is qualify. The sales leader qualifies that it is a significant [enough] opportunity and a real sales challenge. It has to have a revenue that justifies the cost of collaboration; it can be expensive to take a lot of people away from their regular jobs. You also want to make sure in the qualify process that you really are stuck.

Second, organize. As you organize the team, ask yourself who has a stake in the outcome. Involve the delivery team and anyone who has to do arbitrage; that could be finance and it could be operations. Bring them in early so it's a sales challenge, and not a delivery crisis.

Third, prepare—the most important step. Before we pull people into a room, [the team needs] several days to absorb what I call the deal brief, which should include information about the prospect, [such as] strengths, weaknesses, recent articles in the news, and any quotes that are relevant to the deal at hand.

Fourth, convene. A good meeting operates under the assumption that ideas can come from anywhere. Here, we verify we have the right problem, open the discussion to solutions, narrow the discussion, and close in on one idea that can be pursued after the meeting.

Fifth, execute. The account executive, in consultation with the sales leader, executes based on what was decided. In many of these sales, several challenges need to be solved to win the deal.

Sixth, analyze. Account executives, along with partners, take a look at where progress was made. Based on this analysis, they then determine whether to have another meeting.

Seventh, report. Inform everyone involved how everything turned out, and what the next steps are. It's very important to give recognition to people who provided outstanding contributions. But be very careful never to attribute an idea to a single person, because teams come up with ideas, not people.

CRM: Is one step typically a bigger challenge than the others?

Sanders: The hardest step is the fourth, the convene step. Sometimes [departments] have side issues we don't even know about. So being able to manage the group to work together, to reveal what they know and be courageous enough to share what they think, is a big challenge.

But as hard as the convene step is, we can't make it bureaucratic. The secret to the great meeting is that everyone feels it's a safe place and that they can share what they know and can disagree. Dealstorming is very different from brainstorming; there is such a thing as a bad idea.

It's going to be an ongoing challenge, but in my experience, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

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