It’s All About the Team
Updated: Feb 16
If you’ve known me longer than five minutes, you’ll know that I place a heavy emphasis on the value of a collaborative and cohesive team that is high performing, and provides a safe space for each member of the team to be themselves, speak their mind, and grow in their career. And most importantly, have fun while doing it. In today’s world with fully remote, distributed teams and uncertainty about what the future holds, this is more important than ever.
While I don’t pretend to have all of the answers on how to build and nurture a high performance team with these attributes, I do have some thoughts and ideas that I’d like to share around what has worked for me. As I’ve grown in my career as a leader, I’ve viewed my approach as my “special sauce” and part of what makes me unique. I’m fully cognizant that this approach is one of many out there, but it’s worked well for me and fits my style. And the proof is in the pudding -- the teams I’ve managed have had consistently low attrition, high levels of engagement, and colleagues who have joined me across multiple companies. So with that, let’s get started!
Set the Foundation
Having a team charter in place is a critical component to defining what role the PreSales team holds within the organization. Is it 100% focused on PreSales, or does it cross the line into post-sales support in some form or fashion? I’ve seen all kinds of versions of what PreSales teams are responsible for, and it’s easy to take on more than you signed up for, so putting it on paper is key to informing the rest of the organization on what your team is focused on doing. For the team charters that I’ve put together in each of my three leadership roles, I start by breaking the charter into External and Internal statements - i.e. how do I describe the team to a customer versus a colleague.
On the next set of slides, I list out the team’s focus areas into two buckets - primary and secondary. Primary focus areas are the activities we focus on to support deals, and secondary focus areas are the activities we focus on to support collaboration with other teams. I’ll then have a set of slides that describe the team’s engagement model - i.e. how, when, and why Sales should engage with us to support deals. Finally, I’ll have a set of slides that walk through the team’s operating pillars - i.e. what are we doing from an operational standpoint to support our charter and build towards being a world-class team. And to top it all off, I’ll create different versions of this charter deck to use for different audiences.
Lead by Example
This one takes on a variety of meanings for me. At the most simple level, I lead by example in how I choose to operate on a daily basis. I show up to meetings on time. I’m focused and present when I’m in those meetings. I don’t waste time in meetings and try to end them early. I treat every colleague with respect, regardless of how they act or what level they’re at in the organization. I write thoughtful emails that aren’t ridden with misspellings and grammatical errors. It also means I’m willing to get in the trenches with my team and do whatever it takes to get the job done, or in some cases help get the job done on lower value activities (RFPs, Infosec questionnaires) in order to free up a team member’s time for higher value activities (more on this one later).
Additionally, I do my best to lead by example when it comes to living a balanced life. I don’t send emails at 11pm at night. If I work on the weekend, I don’t email or Slack people, or advertise it on Monday morning to make people feel bad. I take vacations and disconnect. I don’t pretend that I have all of the answers, or have a “my way or the highway” approach to the role. And most importantly, I’m not the “Super SE” who zooms in to show off on big deals, and takes the limelight from my team.
Celebrate Core Values
What I mean by this is intentionally celebrate the activities and behaviors that are part of the team’s core values. For the teams I lead, I place a heavy emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. While I’ll be the first person to celebrate a big win where a member of my team played a key role, I’m equally likely to celebrate when someone on the team goes above and beyond on a project that benefits the entire team. Or when someone pitches in to help a teammate on prepping for a demo, or answering questions on a complex technical concept. The quiet little things that happen behind the scenes are what lifts the entire team’s knowledge over time and allow us to scale and operate more efficiently, so you bet I’m going to emphasize and reward this.
Team Projects & Initiatives
I’m a big fan of finding projects that the team can work on as a whole, in smaller pods, or as individuals. I don’t believe in creating work just to stay busy, so I always look at each project or initiative through the lens of “will this make us better as a team?” If the answer to this question is yes, then I’ll work with the project owners to define a scope and timeline for completion. Speaking of timelines, while I’m all about operating with urgency in sales cycles, unless the project is dealing with a critical gap that needs to be filled immediately, I’ll usually set very realistic deadlines. I’d much rather have a well-baked outcome than something that the team rushes through in order to meet an arbitrary completion date.
Deliverables that Scale
Anytime someone on my team creates an awesome deliverable - whether it be a piece of collateral, a deck, a short demo snippet, or anything else for that matter - they’ll inevitably hear from me something along the lines of “Hey, that looks great! You should templatize this so the rest of the team can benefit.” I’m a big fan of creating repeatability in sales cycles in terms of how we support deals, and deliverables that have a positive impact on moving sales cycles forward are always at the top of my list to replicate. By always looking at the great stuff that my team is creating through this lens, and then constantly reinforcing the need to templatize, over time it builds a new habit in the team and thus another operational muscle.
Share Success Stories
In my current team, we now have two weekly meetings, each with a specific agenda. While our Monday morning meeting is focused on team housekeeping items and sales process, our Thursday morning meeting is primarily focused on learning, and a big part of that is sharing success stories out in the field. Sharing these stories accomplishes two goals in my mind. First, it serves as a great learning opportunity for the rest of the team. If someone has developed a strong talk track that resonates, or has an effective way of overcoming a common objection, I want to create an environment where the rest of the team learns and benefits from it as well by putting into action.
Second, it provides an avenue for individual team members to showcase the great work that they’re doing out in the field in a way that provides benefit back to their peers. I was on a team many years ago where everyone held back these golden nuggets to create competitive advantages for themselves. This always felt counterintuitive in my mind, when instead it could have been used to create a competitive advantage for the entire team, and as a byproduct, the sales team and company as a whole.