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Pull Together -- Or Fall Apart

The Lone Ranger would make a lousy salesperson. Today, no salesperson working alone could do everything that's required to produce a terrific buying experience. If you want to achieve great selling results, no matter how fantastic your product or service is, you need great teamwork.

When all the employees of an outfit are connected and work like a team, profits increase for two reasons. First, customers want to buy from vendors whose employees have a teamwork-oriented culture. Second, good employees want to work at companies where there is a spirit of teamwork. Simple math proves that the resulting increased sales and decreased turnover expenses lead directly to increased profits.

If you're not convinced that customers care if employees are well-connected, imagine you're hungry for a fast-food meal. You're driving down Main Street and can pick from half a dozen such establishments. As you drive past Freddie's Fast Food, you recall your last visit there. The gal at the cash register looked like she enjoyed working there. She asked the fries guy nicely for some. She asked the chili-dog gal pleasantly for one with extra onions, just like you ordered. She had a small laugh with her manager as she bagged your food. You felt like you were visiting your friend's home.

DISMAL DINING. Contrast that with your last buying experience at Horrible Harold's Hamburgers. When you walked in, the guy at the cash register was complaining how the machine was difficult to use and it took a long time to get a repairman out to fix it. He was rude to the French-fry gal, who probably gave you old, cold fries. He was surly to the hamburger guy, complaining how he was always late and talked funny. When his manager walked by, they glared at each other in silence. You could cut the tension with a knife. You felt as if you had walked into a family feud.

I'm betting you buy your next meal at Freddie's. This lesson applies to all sales outfits, whether the product is shoes, cars, computers, or accounting services.

Buying from customers whose employees display teamwork has other benefits. For instance, if buyers need special financing terms or custom colors or staggered shipping, they're more likely to get exactly what they want from salespeople who are on good terms with their boss and all the other departments in their company, too. In a word, they have "pull."

FLEX ADVANTAGE. The financial savings from teamwork due to decreased turnover is considerable. When experienced, customer-oriented employees leave to go to a more cohesive organization, it's expensive in terms of lost training time, lost business momentum, and lost customer connections. That affects employee expenses, marketing, and sales -- a triple whammy. So keeping good employees is worth the effort and expense of building a culture of teamwork.

When salespeople face tough competition, they need all the advantages they can muster. If their rivals have great teamwork and they feel like they're selling all alone, they're operating from a weak position right from the start. Imagine facing a professional boxer in the ring -- would you rather go in there alone or with a solid team behind you? Selling is no different.

One leading trend in abating turnover is offering schedule flexibility. When co-workers approach their work as a team, they can provide some of this valued commodity to each other without management having to step in. Fred can cover for Irma when she needs to take her son to the dentist, and Cheryl can stay late while Omar comes early to offer extended hours for special customers.

TEAMWORK TIPS. I realize that salespeople, who are usually independent contributors by nature, can find it a tough request to work together as a team. I remember the charged atmosphere in our weekly sales meetings when I sold technical-consulting services long ago. We salespeople were all competing to sell from the same pool of talent. On the other hand, we also worked together as a team to try to place all the consultants available so the fewest number possible were left "on the bench," that is, not working.

If you're a sales manager, here are three suggestions to increase teamwork:

Time Out. If your salespeople fight among each other, make it stop. Encourage them to focus 100% of their competitive drive on their competition. They must not use even 1% to compete with each other.

Building Respect. If your team members don't particularly like each other, have each member find one thing they respect about every member on their team. Maybe it's their timeliness, their good sense of design, or their natural sense of humor. Everyone has one quality you can respect and admire. Then focus on that one good quality. If everyone in a group can admire one thing about everyone else in that group, you've got the foundation for a good team.

Sharing Experience. If there is a significant disparity in the number of years of experience on your team, consider starting a mentoring program. This transfer of knowledge helps to shorten the training curve. Trial-and-error is the slowest path to success. These programs also help retain your more experienced employees. Shorter training time and lower employee turnover both add to profits.

Teamwork doesn't happen by accident. However, if the members of the sales staff work together as a sales team, which in turn is well connected to accounting, production, shipping, and administration, everyone wins. Customers get a more pleasant, harmonious buying experience, and employees are less likely to be lured away by competitors.

"Many hands make light work" applies perfectly to selling. Take the idea of teamwork beyond "Group hug!" The bottom line is that building connections between your employees doesn't cost, it pays.

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