There are so many sports cliches you can use in sales.
From football: “Don’t drop the ball on that follow-up.”
From baseball: “Blasting out a million generic cold emails is pretty bush league.”
From basketball: “This deal is a slam dunk.”
From rowing: “The new reps will need to pull their own weight.”
There’s a reason this type of phrase is ubiquitous. You can make some legitimate comparisons between sports and sales.
Take competitiveness, for instance. It’s considered an asset for both an athlete and a sales rep. Competitiveness can take a variety of forms.
You have your ultra-competitive people who, whether on the field or the sales floor, have a win-at-all-costs attitude.
Then there’s the “I’m only here to make friends” level of competitiveness, people who are happy to be a team player.
There will always be competition in sales. But is the amount of competitiveness among your salespeople moving them forward or holding them back?
Assessing your sales team’s competitiveness
Somewhere between “assault with a lacrosse stick” and “everyone gets a ‘participant’ ribbon”, there’s a sweet spot for sales competitiveness. While it might not be a universal competitiveness level that works for every sales team, there’s one that’s perfect for your team.
Too much internal competition can create a toxic environment. Billionaire businessman Jim Pattison ran a car dealership sales team early in his career. Infamously, he would fire the lowest-performing salesperson each month.
It’s not hard to imagine how much internal sales team strife and competition this strategy could create and the sales tricks reps might resort to under those conditions. This old-fashioned, stereotypical sleazy salesperson turns prospects off today.
On the other end of the spectrum, if sales reps are too friendly with each other, deals can get lost in a haze of small talk and lack the momentum to close.
Successful sales reps have a good mix of competitive spirit and friendly helpfulness. How would you describe your team’s dynamic? Are they friends? Competitors? Friendly competitors? Competitive friends?
Let’s take a look at some sports and Esports to illustrate what each of these levels of team friendliness and competitiveness might look like.
In hockey, everyone contributes to a true team effort. There are superstars and fourth-liners, but all players are aligned to the game plan.
No one person can carry the team alone. They can’t play goalie and score goals at the same time. (Usually.) Hockey players win as a team and lose as a team.
On a sales team, this would look like a well-functioning team—on the surface. Everyone gets along and they are aligned by strategy. However, this type of super-friendly sales team is at risk of getting complacent and stagnating sales growth due to its lack of internal and individual competitiveness.
Tour de France
One rider gets the glory of winning the Tour de France bicycle race, but that glow should be extended to the rider’s entire team.
Though winning seems like an individual achievement, each riding team is an interconnected machine with intricate training and strategy aimed at getting a member into the winner’s circle.
On a sales team, many people can contribute to every deal won. From marketing bringing in leads to the BDRs qualifying them, there are others supporting the success of sales reps, to the benefit of the entire sales team. What looks like solo success is really an interconnected effort.
Switching over to Esports, Mario Kart is the definition of cutthroat competitive. Relationships have been destroyed over a video game like this.
Players actively and consistently want their competition to fail. Through their virtual racers, they leave banana peels for others to slip on, shoot shells to trip them up, and try to grab good boosts and prizes before their rivals do.
In a winner-takes-all environment, uber-competitive salespeople are pitted against each other. With a mindset of “second place is first loser”, sales reps focus on their own work. Collaboration and team goals take a backseat to individual success.
On a swim team, members train and compete together. At meets, they want everyone on the team to swim their best race for the good of the team.
But if two team members are in the same event, each athlete wants their best effort to beat their teammate’s best.
On this type of sales team, salespeople are gunning for individual goals. They’re happy for their teammates when they succeed, but if it came down to a head-to-head contest, they’d want to come out on top.
Calibrating your sales team’s competitive balance
Where does your team land on the competitiveness spectrum? Too much or not enough?
When salespeople find a balance of helping prospects, hitting individual targets, and succeeding as a team, that’s the sweet spot. It’s also referred to as “friendly strength”.
Here are some ways you can help promote friendly strength on your team, depending on which side of the phrase needs shoring up.
If your team leans too friendly:
Try sales competition that focus on results
Visible reminders of accountability will help keep your sales team from becoming too complacent. This kind of external motivation is perfect for teams that need to increase their aggression.
Create contests that centre around competing internally to increase sales. Display a real-time leaderboard with updated results throughout the contest.
Keep the sense of urgency up with shorter-term contests. Set prizes or rewards each week and, come Monday, clear the leaderboard and start over again. With such a small window of time to make their mark, your sales reps will need to tap into their inner competitor.
Create a culture of transparency and celebration
If you don’t have a culture of transparency that shines a light on how your sales reps are doing sales-wise, how do they know what to compete against?
Like with contests, a system that tracks and shares sales in real-time that sales reps can access is vital. Yeah, maybe you go over it in your team meetings, but if you’re only calling out highlights, it’s easy for a less competitive salesperson to lurk in the shadows.
Share successes with the whole team. Create ways to signal to the rest of the company, too, when a sales rep hits a goal or milestone.
Ring a bell, give a round of applause, and give them that ‘sales hero’ moment. Find what works to motivate and incentivize your sales team.
Hire hungry sales reps
Is your sales team getting complacent and letting their edge slip away?
Adding some ambitious new sales reps can reignite that competitive spirit. There’s nothing like watching over your shoulder for the people coming up behind you to kick competitiveness into overdrive.
Then, have your more experienced sales reps mentor the newbies. It’s a great way to build peer training into your sales process. It can also remind your friendly veterans of that competitive fire when they were starting out.
Build up their confidence
Sometimes sales reps fall back on friendliness because of a lack of confidence in some of their sales skills.
Adding more training and coaching around important selling techniques, like prospecting, demoing, and closing, can improve salespeople’s confidence in their abilities and amp up their competitiveness in all aspects of the sales process.
If your team leans too competitive:
Try sales contests that focus on good habits and collaborative behaviours
Any contests you create to help make your team more friendly should centre around reinforcing good habits and increasing productivity. Instead of contests pitting your sales reps against one another, create sales contests that encourage collaboration.
This could involve breaking your sales team into pairs or smaller groups to compete internally or holding a team-wide vote at the end of every month to declare a “Team MVP”.
The MVP doesn’t mean the salesperson with the biggest sales number. It could be someone who is flexible and able to take on different roles within the team with ease or a team member who has shown their passion for sales and drive to meet targets. It could be someone who simply provided support for a struggling fellow salesperson.
By calling out and highlighting these achievements alongside your more numbers-driven goals, you place an emphasis on the “soft” skills of selling, like teamwork, adaptability, active listening, empathy, relationship-building, and ambition.
Tie a small percentage of commission to the team’s overall results
It’s no secret that salespeople love good monetary incentives like commissions and bonuses.
Sales reps will strive for those individual goals, but it could be to the detriment of your sales team as a whole. If the competition amongst your salespeople is out of control, try tying a small percentage of their commissions to the team’s results.
Having team goals as well as individual ones makes it in the sales reps’ best interests to help their fellow salespeople out, share information, and improve camaraderie. They’ll have to work together and tone the competitiveness down a notch if they want to bring home that extra piece of commission.
Hire for different skill sets
It could be that your team is veering into too-much-of-a-good-thing territory with competition because you’ve got a team of clones on your hands. We all know people who are constantly in a head-to-head battle because they are too similar.
Having a team of all superstar sales reps looks great on paper, but might not actually work in the real world. Stacking your team with high-performing sales reps could lead to them becoming over-competitive and under-productive.
Hiring a mix of skill sets, experience, and personalities can help keep sales competition at an effective level.
Get sales reps refocused on productive competition
Make sure your sales team is using competition for the right reasons.
For example, there’s no point being competitive with the client, like trying to “one up” leads by rudely proving them wrong when they object or bring up a misconception.
It’s also not productive to close deals with poorly-fitting leads just for the glory of hitting quotas or win an internal sales competition.
Misdirected competitiveness damages your company and your sales team. Impolite salespeople who think they’re too smart and a revolving door of churning customers who leave as quickly as they come in hurt your reputation and your bottom line.
Coach this type of sale rep to redirect that drive into competing against themself month-over-month by improving their metrics with properly qualified leads. Have them work on responding to objections without a knee-jerk jerky reaction.
To paraphrase baseball great Yogi Berra: “Sales is 90 percent competition, and the other half is friendliness.”
If you can calibrate your sales team’s ideal internal balance of friendly and competitive, you’ll be off to the sales success races.