Labcast: Turning Around Dysfunctional Sales Teams

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In this week’s Labcast, sales training expert Colleen Francis sits down with OpenView to share the secret to turning around dysfunctional sales teams.


Labcast 73_ Colleen Francis on Turning Around Dysfunctional Sales Teams

Kevin: Hello, and welcome to the OpenView’s podcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by Colleen Francis. For those of you who don’t know Colleen, she is a sales professional with more than 20 years of experience, and the founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions, a company that provides internationally acclaimed sales training.

Colleen and I have a really interesting topic to discuss today, and that’s dysfunctional sales teams and how to convert them into ones with high impact. So with that, let’s get going.

Hey, Colleen. Thanks for joining us today.

Colleen: It’s always a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me, Kevin.

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. This topic of dysfunctional sales team is an interesting one, and I think it’s because it’s something that everyone can identify with.

Colleen: Yes.

Kevin: We see dysfunction in our own families. We see dysfunction play out on TV all the time with reality TV programs. I’m guessing there’s a lot of commonality between those types of dysfunction we’re familiar with and to what you would see in a sales team. What are your thoughts on that?

Colleen: Well, I think it’s true. Yeah, I think dysfunctional people put together on a team make a dysfunctional sales team.

Kevin: Right.

Colleen: Everyone has their own measure of dysfunction, and one thing that you have to make sure that you’re measuring is the results. Are you getting the results that you want? Are people acting legally, morally, and ethically?

Sometimes the dysfunction is things that you might have to live with. We could just be quirky, or we could have strange work habits. But if people are behaving legally, morally, and ethically and getting results, maybe the dysfunction is something we have to tolerate.

On the other hand, if we have people not producing target, we have in-fighting, we have backstabbing, we have gossip, politics, illegal, immoral, or unethical behavior, then we have to look at that dysfunction because it will not only hurt you and your results, it will hurt the company.

Kevin: So is it really then a matter of sort of metrics and performance, and sort of office behavior that are sort of how you would spot dysfunction in a team, or are there other barometers you look for?

Colleen: Yes. I think there’s a couple of things. First of all, you have to look at your sales results. Highly functional sales teamsreally focus on the pipeline. They build team camaraderie and strength around the end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of the year, and they’re really focused on results. They focus their activities and their office work on getting the results that they need for themselves and their team.

That’s where I would really start, is to make sure that we’ve got the sales pipeline or the sales culture in place. Outside of that, then you want to look at how people are behaving in front of their clients.

Let’s take a client of mine for example. They have a sales rep who I would consider marginally dysfunctional. We’re watching him because he does things like this. We go out traveling, and he’s hitting a new city with a bunch of new clients, and he’s got meetings on a Tuesday. On Monday, he flies and he doesn’t take his passport with him because he says to us he’s looking to see if he can make this trip without any government picture ID because that’s a fun game for him.

Kevin: Oh my.

Colleen: Well, he’s putting those client meetings at risk.

Kevin: Right.

Colleen: He’s having fun at my client, his boss’, expense. That behavior would lead me to believe that he could be dysfunctional.

Kevin: Yeah. I would agree with that one, I think.

Colleen: I was shocked. My first reaction was fire him. They put him on a performance improvement plan, and he managed to pull back and he seems to be okay. But I have no tolerance for that kind of behavior.

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like some types of dysfunction are pretty natural in that people come to the office with it already sort of as part of their DNA.

Colleen: Unfortunately, yes.

Kevin: I wonder if it’s something, though, when you’re actually in a team environment, that develops naturally as well, or if it’s completely avoidable?

Colleen: Well, no. It can happen if you have an environment that’s really competitive and people take that competition to the extreme. You also create dysfunction if all you, as a sales leader, or your leadership does is lead by the stick. If all people do is get punished or penalized, that creates dysfunction. If you change the compensation plan partway through the year or change the rules on selling territories partway through the year, that will create dysfunction.

Of course, if you hire the wrong people for the job that you have, you create dysfunction. So, if you hire someone who seems to have a good track record in sales, but they’re really good at long-term multi-million dollar deals and you need them to close every 30 days $1,000 at a time, you create dysfunction because that person doesn’t know how to behave in that environment.

Of course, lastly, you create dysfunction with the wrong compensation plan. If you compensate the team in a way that encourages them to fight, hoard deals, hide deals, or game the system, then you will create a dysfunctional team, because salespeople will behave exactly the way they’re paid or incented to behave.

Kevin: It sounds like there’s a lot that people can do to sort of foster dysfunction if they make the wrong choices?

Colleen: Yes.

Kevin: What would you recommend to somebody who’s coming into a new situation, where they’re inheriting a dysfunction of a team and they need to resolve it? How can they mitigate dysfunction? What strategies do you recommend?

Colleen: Ah. Well, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’ve got the right people in place. Is the dysfunction being caused because you really have the wrong personalities for the type of environment you’re trying to create? If that’s the case, you may have to fire some people and replace them.

Second thing, look at the compensation plan and make sure the compensation plan isn’t incenting the dysfunction. Let me say that again.

Kevin: What do you mean by that?

Colleen: Make sure your compensation plan isn’t incenting the dysfunction. For example, I might hear from a sales VP, “My sales team is dysfunctional. They close a deal and they leave, and they never talk to a customer and they never return calls.” I realize it’s because that salesperson isn’t being paid on repeat orders or client retention, so they’re in fact being paid to ignore the customers. That’s an easy fix.

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s take this a step further. Assuming that you’re able to get the dysfunction out of your sales team, that still doesn’t mean you really have a high-impact team. Can you give us some strategies for how someone can go from sort of a baseline normal team to high-impact?

Colleen: Sure. First of all, get the whole team centered around the pipeline. You need to create excitement around the sales pipeline, both developing the top-end leads and then all the leads throughout every stage of whatever your pipeline looks like.

You need to create a culture where the entire company knows that nobody bothers your team, creates non-revenue generating meetings or activities during the last week of the month and the last week of the quarter, because those are killer sales times. In fact, you might even say the last two weeks of the quarter. So that everyone rallies around the fact that you’re generating revenue for the company.

You also need to move from a coaching for discipline to a coaching for opportunity mindset, meaning that you have to reward your team verbally or through an email of recognition when deals are won, when deals are saved, when people hit quota. You need to recognize them, and you need to let the team know what they’re doing well, as well as what they’re doing wrong and need correction.

The very best sales teams that I know follow a two-phase coaching program, where the sales VPs are meeting their reps one- on-one for 30 minutes a week to run through a deal analysis and talk in confidence around their pipeline. They also have a team meeting once a week, where they share ideas as a team.

Then lastly, one of the biggest sources of dysfunction on a team is when you have a selling manager. When you have your own territory as a sales leader and you’re competing against your reps for individual deals, that will create dysfunction. So to go from dysfunctional or even marginally functional to high performance, you as the leader have to give up every single one of your individual accounts, pass them off to your team, and coach the team for improved performance.

Kevin: That’s great. Colleen, thanks so much for joining us. We always love having you at OpenView Labs. Before I let you go, can you just let our listeners know how they can get in contact with you?

Colleen: Sure. If you want to get in touch with us, you can reach us at We’d love to hear your feedback and get your comments on our blog.

Kevin: Great. Thanks again, Colleen.

Colleen: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.