The 3 pillars of a successful sales team

Leading an effective sales team is less about managing productivity and more about managing mentality. If the attitude and mindset of your team is healthy, productivity is a byproduct.

Salespeople are emotional creatures. Any salesperson will tell you there is no high like the thrill of a sale and no despair like the depths of a slow month. As sales managers and leaders, we need to be mindful of how quality salespeople are motivated and make sure we are feeding their emotional beast in a way that yields high performance.

The question is: How are we as sales leaders investing into the culture of our department in a way that fosters healthy mindsets? Furthermore, are we creating an environment that leads our people to the peak of their performance?

A healthy, high performance sales team needs to be built on three pillars — compensation, competition, and camaraderie. These are three simple yet measurable foundations that, when built upon, will inspire your sales team to maintain the highest level of productivity and performance regardless of circumstance.

However, the trick is to hire sales people who you can motivate in these tangible ways. In my interview process I always ask candidates what motivates them — What gets you out of bed in the morning? What gets you to pick up the phone and make that next call? I ask these questions because I know that I need to surround myself with people who will thrive under the three pillars that support my teams. I need people who are motivated by money (compensation), driven by performance (competition), and encouraged by teamwork (camaraderie). If these fundamentals are not significant motivators in a person’s life, they probably aren’t a good salesperson and they will either crumble or be crushed by the three pillars of a successful sales team.


If you want to see an interview end quickly, watch a salesperson tell me their No. 1 professional motivation is “helping people.” Call me heartless, but we all know that the best salespeople are coin-operated machines that only want to eat what they kill and kill what they eat. That does not make them greedy monsters; it makes them effective.

Let me break it down for you. A sale is a transactional experience. It is literally the exchange of something of value for something else of value. The buyer’s motivation is to meet a need. The seller’s motivation is to receive compensation for meeting that need. However, if the seller doesn’t own the product that was sold (as most salespeople don’t own the company he or she works for), he or she is not the one to receive value back. Again, since sales is a transactional experience, the seller needs motivation to truly participate in the experience. That motivation is called commission. Sales by its very nature is transactional, so if salespeople are to be true participants in this transaction they also need to trade something of value for something else of value. They trade their ability to successfully sell in return for a commission. Value for value.

If sales is in its essence transactional, the salesperson is 50% of the transaction and salespeople need to be incentivized to truly participate in the transaction, shouldn’t we as sales leaders make sure we are doing everything we can to invest meaningful thought into the compensation style and structure of our salespeople? Of course!

Compensation equals participation. It seems so simple, yet so many organizations get it wrong. Financial incentives go far beyond a basic commission for a sale and receiving a bonus for hitting a goal — although those are crucial. It can and should bleed into every task requested and required of a salesperson. The most effective way to get salespeople to do what you want is to incentivize them for the exact behavior that you desire. Make them view productivity as monetary.

It is unbelievable how many sales leaders get frustrated by how their salespeople aren’t producing in the ways that they want. Yet when you dig, you realize they aren’t compensating them to do so! Managers may want more calls, higher customer service, increased participation in the CRM, etc., but if you want to see your salespeople become experts in those areas, then you need to connect those goals to their compensation structure.

For example, you could require 50 calls per day on average to be eligible for a bonus. Another idea would be to offer a $100 spiff to the salesperson that receives the highest customer satisfaction rating this week. Or try connecting an extra commission kicker to your desired level of productivity within your CRM. The point is, if you want something done, financially incentivize a salesperson to do it and watch it get done. With salespeople, creative compensation equals completion.


If you want to achieve something, you have to measure each step along the way. Simply put, that which is measured is accomplished. Competition is an essential piece of accomplishment because competition, by its very definition, is measuring one thing against another.

The best salespeople are driven by measurable comparison. They measure themselves against their competitors, their colleagues, and most importantly, themselves. Just as it would be unwise to hire a salesperson that isn’t motivated by money, it is equally foolish to hire salespeople who aren’t competitive.

Unfortunately, when we hear the word competition, a lot of us think back to high school where the boisterous jock was screaming at the band girls in gym class to try harder at kickball. (Or maybe that was you screaming.) Perhaps we’re reminded of an abrasive, selfish co-worker who uses the excuse that he’s “competitive.” I’m not talking about obnoxious or arrogant behavior masked in false competition; I’m talking about an obsessive pursuit of better results. The beauty of a competitive sales team, in its purest form, is that the standard of excellence is constantly being elevated.

Competitive people are wired to be better — to do better — and they link success to improvement. What a gift to sales leaders! We should look for every opportunity to play to our sales team’s competitive instincts. Monthly sales contests are a good start. Make sure, though, to link them to the compensation pillar. Not only are personal pride and bragging rights at stake in any good sales contest, but to be fully effective there should be a financial incentive in the mix, as well.

Another strategy is to make sure your sales team has an intimate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors. A good, competitive salesperson becomes hungry when they hear of their competitor’s success and feasts on the opportunity to exploit their weaknesses. Another idea is to find ways to publicly praise your team. Generally speaking, competitive salespeople are motivated by encouragement and public recognition. They need to hear out loud that they are doing a good job and what they are contributing is significant.

Since competitive people measure things naturally, one of the ways they gauge success is how their performance is being noticed and appreciated. It never ceases to amaze me how far a generous amount of sincere praise goes toward investing in the mental fortitude of a salesperson.




In 1920, social psychologist Floyd Allport found that people work better in teams. His studies found that even if those teams weren’t necessarily communicating or collaborating, productivity still went up just by having people working in close proximity. This famously became known as the “social facilitation” effect.

Almost 100 years later, further research continues to prove that teams produce higher results than individuals. In 2015, Google commissioned a research project called Project Aristotle. The goal of the study was to discover “how to build the perfect team.” Later reporting on the project, the New York Times published that within the research of the Google study, they found that “executives said profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more.” Google’s final conclusion was that many types of teams can be successful, so “if a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work, but how people work together.”

There are hundreds of studies that prove that people work and perform better when working with others. As a leader, your most valuable asset is your team. A team has the unique ability to either foster or impede vision, momentum, and growth, and can be a valuable weapon or a destructive force in accomplishing a mission.

Camaraderie is the healthy view of team. Camaraderie sees the value in others that fills the voids of self. Camaraderie is the pleasure and security taken from working with others to achieve a common purpose. The greater the investment that is made into a culture of camaraderie, the healthier, happier, and higher performing your people will be.

I may be biased but I would argue that the sales team is the engine that drives an organization. They not only market and sell the product but they are the public, visible thermometer that reflects the culture of the company. Since the high value of team has been proven and we should all agree that the sales team, more specifically, is the most important team in an organization, we as sales leaders especially need to be looking for ways to invest into the culture of camaraderie within our teams.

We need to fill our teams with diversity — not just in race, gender, and age, although those are important elements, but also diversity in skillset, past experience, and personality. Camaraderie celebrates diversity because diversity means difference. We need to have differences within our teams so that an individual’s strengths can complement a teammate’s weaknesses and vice versa.

There is motivation, safety, and protection found within a healthy team. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the word camaraderie is used as a military expression. There is no way that a soldier would enter a mission without the support, security, and guidance of his team. Not to minimize the importance of a soldier’s work, but the same is true in business or any organization. The beauty of a team is that it takes people with limited ability and makes a unit of limitless potential. Dale Carnegie said, “Team is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Tangible takeaways

1) Leading an effective sales team is less about managing productivity and more about managing mentality.

2) The most effective way to get salespeople to do what you want is to incentivize them for the exact behavior that you desire. “Creative compensation equals completion.”

3) That which is measured is accomplished.

4) Competitive people are wired to be better, to do better, and they link success to improvement.

5) As a leader, your most valuable asset is your team.

6) The sales team is the public, visible thermometer that reflects the culture of the company.

Tim Rockwell is national sales manager for Imperial Blades in Sun Prairie.

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