3 Elements of a Winning Sales Team


Originally published on LinkedIn October 1, 2015

Most of us are faced with the same reality: we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our friends and family.  This increasingly becomes the case the more “successful” your career trajectory is. The demands associated with greater opportunity and responsibility drain the available “down-time” for which we all are supposedly working harder and longer.  An ironic reality for sure.

So when evaluating the opportunity to join DataXu six months ago, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what was most important to me with regards to my life and my career.  But don’t worry.  This is not an article on work/life balance.

Every great job I’ve had has been great in the exact same way.  Success and winning—regardless of industry, activity or competition—feels about 98% identical no matter where you are.  Conversely, every bad job I’ve had has been miserable in highly unique and differentiated ways.

As I considered DataXu, I gave some thought to attributes of the great jobs and most successful sales teams I’ve been a part of—and what they had in common.  We all want to move the needle.  We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Most people think of momentum as something that builds over time. Over time I’ve learned that if you focus on the following three tenets of leadership and practice them maniacally… momentum creates itself.

In making this career move, I sought to find an environment and opportunity, where I’d be able to cultivate a team environment which encouraged empowerment, accountability, and culture— if successful, I believe it becomes an antidote for the typical corrosion that erodes the morale of many organizations. More importantly, it creates a type of gravitational pull that would attract top talent to join us.


Any way you look at it, empowering employees to do their best yields outstanding results.  From the well-documented work of management psychologist Frederick Herzberg, to the principles of self-determination theory—giving people the freedom to do their best typically works.  An empowered team is an engaged team.  And an engaged group of employees has a direct correlation to increased revenue growth.  It is a truism of business.

What I’ve found, however, is that as much as a culture of empowerment attracts high-performers, the opposite can be true as well.

In a workplace where a seller is empowered and enabled to take control of their ultimate success, an under-performer simply can’t hide.  A key enabler for an under-performer to fly under-the-radar and not be held accountable is the ability to make excuses.  Ensuring a sales team has every resource they need at their disposal and the empowerment to make responsible decisions within their territory removes the ability to deflect blame.  High performers fly high.  Under-performers will need to go elsewhere to hide, or risk being exposed.

Spending one’s own time doing the back-end work required to fully enable a sales staff returns dividends tenfold.  Think about it: if sales leadership focused all of their time on making sales calls (a critical component of the job, no doubt), at best you are having only 10% of the effective meetings an empowered and enabled team could make.  Effective sales leaders understand this rudimentary math.

I view the work of empowering sellers to achieve their best as a strategy that not only produces big wins for the company but also enables me to get out into the field.  As a career salesperson, my best days are the ones spent delivering solutions to partners in their office—not sitting in my own.  But I haven’t earned the right to get into the field unless my team has everything they need to be effective.

At DataXu, our team is working towards making ten times the number of effective sales calls a sales leader alone could ever make.  If the team plumbing, infrastructure and communication systems are working correctly and making it easy for a salesperson to sell, a magical transformation occurs.  Sellers start spending their time trying to solve their customer’s business problems—and not their own.


Accountability is one of those rare concepts that is universally viewed as a good thing.  It is also regularly misunderstood and inconsistently enforced.  The concept of accountability needs to be rooted in the principle that it’s a two-way street.

As a sales leader, I am accountable for empowering the team.  If I fail in this critical component of my job, I’ve created the opportunity for excuses.  I tell my staff repeatedly that if they ever need something to help them sell, they have to tell their manager.  Not asking for help is not an acceptable excuse for missing the mark.

I may not always agree with their perspective. I am not always able to guarantee a solution. But if I do, they can hold me accountable for delivering on my commitments—just as the team is held accountable for hitting their quotas.

By allowing yourself to be held accountable, only then can you hold others truly accountable.  Real authority is not something you are granted through an org chart—it is something a person freely gives you.

Accountability, not surprisingly, is incredibly attractive to high-performers who thrive knowing that the work they do will be recognized and rewarded.  Holding firm to the commitment that a lack of work/output/accomplishment from under-performers is not acceptable creates an alchemy which is irresistible to the A+ player: a true meritocracy.


Culture is another funny word.  Like the concept of “strategy,” everyone typically agrees that an organization needs one.  The problem is that – much like strategies – there are good cultures and bad cultures.

If the first two pillars of a high performing sales team are empowerment and accountability, culture becomes the third leg of the stool.  To me, a good culture is a you-know-it-when-you-see-it phenomenon and is something I instinctively want to be a part of.

A good culture is something which is thoughtfully created over time.  A bad culture is something that creates itself.  Without a consistent and deliberate commitment from leadership, culture can become a drag on performance.  A good culture is an accelerant.  It creates a magnetism that is palpable to employees and customers.  Your clients want to deal with happy, engaged and accountable people. They transmit energy which can be felt in every presentation, in every meeting room and on the other end of every phone call.

DataXu recently won a large, multi-million-dollar enterprise deal. When we solicited feedback from our new client partner on why they chose us, the response was surprisingly simple: “Well clearly your technology is good, but more than anything you gave us the ‘warm fuzzies’… and frankly we liked your mojo.”

That’s culture at work.  It wins business.

When working towards a great organizational culture, I adhere to the following principles:

  • People First. Clients Second.

I know, I know.  This may seem counterintuitive, but show me a company where employees are treated as the organization’s greatest asset, and I will show you a roster of happy clients.  Conversely, show me a company that consistently puts their clients’ needs before those of their own employees, I will show you a list of frustrated clients every time.  The energy, engagement and enthusiasm exuding from the account managers and executives your customers talk to daily rolls right down the line.  Marginalizing the importance of your people quite simply puts revenue at risk.

  • Operate With Integrity

Integrity means never trying to “slip just one past the goalie”.  It means never avoiding a straightforward conversation when that is what’s required. Integrity means that my team and I can look everyone in the eye and feel great about our conduct and company because we always do things the right way.  We represent the interests of our clients and we respect all of our internal partners.  We don’t make exceptions—ever. Be courageous enough to have the hard conversations and the healthy debates.  If we do things right we always land on high ground.

  • Treat People Unfairly

Wait . . . what?  On the surface this one is hard to digest.  But it works.

The only time a seller gets a level playing field is their first day on the job.  They are assigned a territory, an attainable quota, a heavily incentivized comp plan and all the tools they need to succeed.  After Day 1, however, sellers are either leading the charge or falling behind

The truth is, high-performers are likely capable of even more than what they are currently contributing. Don’t get distracted by the ‘squeaky wheels’ – spend as much time as you can seeking out the company, consideration and input of the over-achievers. Always look for an opportunity to expand their sphere of influence and responsibility.

With that being said – don’t treat the high-performer fairly.  Treat them unfairly;treat them better than others.

Give them disproportionate opportunity.  Give them asymmetrical considerations.  High-performers will repay you with results, loyalty and will rapidly become the standard others try to match.  They are the magnetic core of top teams and they attract other like-minded individuals who seek out organizations where they can truly excel.

Looking back on the last months since joining DataXu, I’ve found my colleagues to be receptive to these ideals. We are building a sales team that is hungry for ownership of their own success.  It’s been incredibly fun, and while there is work left to do, this is how we’re moving forward together.

Because of all this, doing my job every day feels like much more than just work. We get to win individually.  We get to win as a team.  Being surrounded by coworkers who are engaged, accountable and aspirational makes work feel a lot less like work. And subsequently the hours and days we spend away from our loved ones each week pursuing our careers feels much, much more like time very well spent.