In general business media and LinkedIn, in particular, seem to be awash with pictures of proud bosses handing over chocolates, champagne, flowers, and even the keys to a brand-new car to their beaming salespeople. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this; quite the reverse, as it is good for an employer to both recognise and reward the success of their staff – even if, on occasion, it comes across as a little staged or attention-seeking.

However, seeing such things did, rather, get me thinking about the “art” of building good sales teams and the role that a business owner or manager should play, when their staff do well at what they do. I believe that business owners and managers are largely responsible for creating the culture (whether good, bad or indifferent) in which their sales team thrive or, indeed, fail.

So, what are the elements that contribute towards creating the right “ambience” in a successful sales team? Well, in no particular order, it is my view that the following areas should be considered as key:

A) A fundamental understanding of your market.
Please believe me, the temptation to slip in to well-worn clichés about “horses for courses” and “fish out of water” is great indeed. However, the basis of successful selling is about influencing the thinking of potential buyers which, in turn, means having some degree of empathy with those people that you are seeking to influence. If this is to be achieved with some measure of success, the salesmen and women that you employ will need to be a suitable fit for the market in which they will operate.

To emphasise my point, may I quote The Carnegie Institute of Technology, who, some years prior, stated, “85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.” Now, in no way does this suggest that poor technical knowledge is a good thing when sellinRather, it highlights that people buy people and that strong interpersonal skills, given some degree of direction, are the bedrock of sales success.

B) Recruitment, training & retention.
It would again be easy to claim exemplary success in this area, but the simple truth is recruitment can be a hit and miss affair, as most business owners and managers are all too ready to remember their triumphs and more than happy to forget their mistakes. However, I would venture to suggest that consideration should be given to the following:
i) Experience – It is vital to get the right blend of industry know-how. Too little experience can lead to misdirected effort, over eagerness and poorly channelled energy; too much can lead to higher than required overhead, a lack of energy and complacency..
ii) Diversity – Let’s face it, all potential buyers are different, so diversity amongst your sales team is a pre-requisite for increased sales – need I say more?
iii) Renumeration – For many of us, but not everyone, money is a key motivator. Understanding what motivates staff individually is central to both their personal work ethic and their retention within your business.
iv) Training – Whether your staff are new and “wet behind the ears,” or experienced and suffering from “expert syndrome,” training (done well) is a great way to help your team bond and serves as a reminder of the common purpose they share.

C) Communication.

Okay, I know this point is straight out of the training manual, but none the less, creating an atmosphere where staff can speak freely about their problems and concerns is not always as easy as you might think. Of course, it can never be a “free for all,” but allowing staff to express themselves and take responsibility for their thoughts and actions is an important part of building trust and learning on the job.
D) Leadership

I have witnessed many different leadership styles over my 30-year career in sales – some hugely successful and some, quite frankly, very David Brent-esque. However, the following key facets of good leadership rarely seem to change :
i) Communication – having a sixth sense for the mood in the camp and dealing with problems/discourse both quickly and effectively is a core component to keeping a happy team.
ii) Respect – Understanding that “distance” is an important tool in constructive leadership and that over-familiarity can lead to contempt for your management style amongst your staff is believe me essential. Furthermore, an ability to demonstrate that you are prepared to “get your hands dirty” and lead by example can also help to set you apart as an exemplary leader – particularly in turbulent times.
iii) Loneliness and Fear – It is an inescapable fact that particularly in times of great difficulty, leadership can be a lonely old business. So, remaining in control of both yourself and your team (even when you do not have all the answers yourself) is a quality that will be highly valued amongst those you lead.

So, whether you consider your management style to be swashbuckling or, steady as she goes, it is important to remember that effective leadership is less about personal popularity and more about understanding the human resources you have and how best to deploy them. Not sexy I know, but a great skill to acquire none the less.

The author of this article is Peter Nicholls CEO of Ideology Consulting. For more information, simply go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk .