Sales Coaching Blog

No “I” in Team, But There is “Team” in Sales

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

January 25, 2012

Collaborative Leadership is more important than ever. When first introduced to the thought "There Is no I in Team, But There Is TEAM in Sales" it seemed foreign. Sales was about the individual, theBill Eckstrom, EcSELL Institute President producer who could eat what they kill. It was about the rep who knew how to work and serve an existing account, one who had an amazing talent to identify and solve problems. The great sales producer simply got more annual spend from customers. Where and how did “team” fit?  This post is written by founder and president of the EcSELL Institute, Bill Eckstrom.

There is no “I” in team
I wasn’t anti-team, for past athletic experiences made clear the benefits of individual talents playing in synchronized fashion to reach a common goal. I just didn’t think team had a place in
sales. This perception was formed by past experiences, primarily my first nine years post
college, selling life insurance. It was fascinating to watch our company’s amazing sales talent
kick, claw, scratch, and fight their way to success in a town the size of Lincoln, Nebraska.
Clients were protected with vicious actions and words by the producers who brought them to
the table and the enemy was in the office next to you—not one from a different company
across town. Our General Agent, an amazing man, was at times more of a bar room bouncer
and did his best to mitigate damage within the walls of his agency. The word or thought of
“team” never entered my vernacular. If I wanted to succeed I needed to find a mentor who
would teach me how to sell and learn how to fight for business. This was sales—survival of the fittest!


“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man
had learned in seven years”~Mark Twain
Though identifying great talent is still a critical starting point in successful sales, what I came to learn is the ability to capture that talent and bring it to its full potential was more critical to long term success. Full potential are the operative words in the previous sentence, with most believing that getting an individual to their full potential is as simple as the old adage “lead them, follow them or get out of their way”. Based on the research we are reviewing, only focusing on individual improvement is too limiting. Sales Managers must learn to capture the collective wisdom and talents of the entire team, not just the talent of some select individual producers. Ultimately, the power of the collective (reaching a team’s full potential) will only be captured through sales management’s ability to lead collaboratively and move members from order to complex environments (more on complexity in future issues).

We see and hear it all the time: Everyday examples
I visited with a friend not long ago who is involved with our work on the performance of teams, so she was familiar with our research. She described a situation with her niece’s junior soccer team (one of those elite traveling squad teams), where following a game she commented to her Aunt on the misuse of her on-field talent. The junior player’s thoughts were discussed and she was then asked if she was willing to bring her recommendations to her coach. The player’s response was visceral and simple, “oh no, we can’t do that on our team, he doesn’t ever listen”.


Sales managers--you may think you are collaborative, but have you ever measured/assessed
whether or not your reps or peers think you are collaborative? Without knowing this answer
your improvement track may be misguided.

The power of one versus the power of many
We don’t need research to tell us how the physical power of many is greater than any single
person, but does this also apply to intelligence?

Some research was published by MIT’s Sloan School of Management that shows there is such a thing as “collective intelligence” or “group IQ” that was measured by intelligence testing tasks the study groups were asked to solve. A study group of average IQ people still had a high enough collective intelligence that when a high IQ person was added to the group the collective intelligence was not affected. It is of little surprise that even intellectually the collective was more powerful than the individual.

(For more resources on Collaborative Leadership, download this reading list of articles and books on the topic of collaborative leadership  CLICK HERE)

While much of what this study discovered was powerful and applicable, below are just a few
items of note:


A group’s motivation, satisfaction, and unity were unimportant. Instead, the
researchers found that when a group had a high level of collective intelligence, the
members tended to score well on a test that measured how good they were at reading
other people’s emotions.

They also found that groups with overbearing leaders who were reluctant to cede the
floor and let the others talk did worse than those in which participation was better
distributed and people took turns speaking.

And they also found that the proportion of women in the group was a predictor of
collective intelligence — a factor they believe was likely influenced by women’s
generally superior social sensitivity.


If these study groups could solve problems in fields where they weren’t experts, can you
imagine what could be solved by groups who have expertise? Does your own strategy or
problem solving group include your reps or is it a “management only” club?


Leadership is not just top down, but needs to be bottom up and side to side. The head coach
who is on the sideline does not always have the best strategy, for they see the game differently than the assistant coach in the box or the players on the field. Those who promote and receive strategy from all those involved in the game are proven to have better results. One of our keynote sessions and breakout groups at our spring Sales Coaching Summit in Austin, TX is focused on developing your collaborative leadership management style.


Have you captured the hearts and minds of your team? How do you do it? Share a best practice.

Topics: collaborative leadership, Motivating Sales Team, collaboration

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