Performance Management Progress and Goals

Sales Team Lessons: It’s About the Journey Not the Destination

Scott Leese

In this blog post – Scott Leese shares a memorable time in his career and some lessons we can take and use no matter the sales landscape. 

It’s about the journey, not the destination. This was never more evident than when looking into the story of a sales team and its leader on a journey that captured the spirit within. This is a time when a true story actually lived up to one of the most famous sayings we know.

The story begins

The year started off not unlike any other before; new comp plans, new products, followed by the announcement of the annual President’s Club Recognition Award. What was different about this year’s Club announcement were the eligible participants that now extended into new roles and positions previously not considered.

President’s Club is typically seen as an exclusive “sales only” club, leaving other team members wishing them well as they set off on their exotic destinations to celebrate their victories poolside. It never did seem right leaving behind people who made it possible. That year was different; everyone had a chance to go, a welcoming change and well received by all.  

The leader was fortunate to lead a team of great people. Of all the teams he’s managed in the past, this one felt the most complete and ready. One of the best parts is they all enjoyed being around each other. When presenting the President’s Club details to the group it played out exactly how the leader envisioned it. Three of the five sales people were talking Hawaiian shirts, google searching the resort site, texting their significant others to get ready for a trip next year. 

The two other sales people were more reserved in an understandable “need to take in more information” way. The sales engineer was listening, calculating, and not saying a word. The two support leaders, in the most facetious and joyful of ways were joking about the lounging activities they were planning by the pool and which spa treatments would come first.

At that point, only three out of eight team members had Maui in a clear line of sight. The others were between mulling things over and thinking what an amazing pipe dream fantasy. No big surprise, and to be expected.

However for the leader, his sights were on something bigger, even though he didn’t say it out loud in the group meeting. When studying the trip qualifications, the leader thought “oh my gosh, holy snickers, this entire branch, this team could make it”. President’s Club trips are normally about sales and individual accomplishments. Not about team performance and certainly not about an entire branch making it. This would take the President’s Club to a whole new level, a level that greatly intrigued the leader. 

So what is a leader to do?

The leader’s natural instinct was to hold off setting what could be perceived as lofty, wild, premature expectations. Don’t go down that rabbit hole. You may never find your way out. Those types of distractions can really jinx things. The leader found it best to take a pragmatic approach by sitting down with each team member to review and map things out, and help the team believe in the possibilities. 

Summer into Fall

As the months transpired, with summer ending and moving into fall, a new ground floor leadership pattern emerged within the group. The three sales people talking about Hawaiian shirts were closing big deals and on track to exceed the President’s Club qualifications. The two support leaders and the SE were also tracking. But now they were paying close attention to the P-Club standings. The two other sales people still had a ways to go, but were positive and excited about finishing the year strong.  

You could hear and feel the conversations change around the office. It was always a positive office environment, but the vibe and energy was stronger. ‘Double the octave’ was the best way to put it. Words of encouragement, support and ideas were being exchanged. And flowing throughout the day you could hear “I got that”, “have you tried this”, “let’s meet in the am to discuss”. Even the normally reserved Sales Engineer finally uttered the word Maui a few times. People were stepping up helping each other.

The leader didn’t need to say anything; the team was manifesting results themselves. This is what he wanted to see.  They started believing. They all started becoming leaders in their own way.

The end of the year is fast approaching 

As the year drew to a close, six of the eight team members were close or over P-Club qualifications. One salesperson was tracking, and a safe bet, if keeping the same pace. The other had work to do. They were all aware of his P-Club shortfall, to the dollar and penny. The sales person was three deals away. You could hear the office excitement with one saying “Do you realize we can do this, like the entire team to P-Club, that would be crazy sick!” 

By the middle of December, seven out of eight team members were in P-Club. The sales rep with the shortfall had closed two of the three remaining deals they needed to qualify. The third and final deal, the one still out there, was the big one that would put them over. 

The entire team went into rally mode; offering technical support, all the sales angles, and checking any and all network connections that may influence and help the case. You name it, they covered it.

But like most big deals there were complexities and check-offs that take time to work through. It seemed like every day presented a new challenge. A hold up here, a wrinkle there, a legal person out sick, the CEO wanting more information, compliance data and cert requirements and pricing issues. The deal was starting to feel like it could very easily slip into next year. 

Over the next week, the issues were addressed one by one in what felt like 40 hours of back and forth. But just like that, everything went dark, completely dark. Three days went by and no word from the customer. No returned calls or email. Not a peep. Nothing.

As the last hours of the year closed in, the positive feelings that permeated the office started to fade. Not through anyone’s words or actions. You could just feel it. You could sense it. Maybe the idea of the entire branch going to Maui was just a lofty, wild idea after all. Worse, the idea of leaving anyone behind was unimaginable.

The last day of the year

December 31st.  Still no word from the would-be customer.

When everyone arrived at the office that morning, they purposely didn’t say a word about the deal. This continued through the morning hours, into the afternoon, and late in the day. Still no word from the customer. Everyone was resigned to the reality that it was unlikely to come in. Everyone did what they could. 

People started to gather their belongings for the long weekend at home. A sadness and quiet comes over the office. As one person made their way out the door, another one not far behind. All of a sudden there was a loud yelp. A scream coming from one of the cubes. They all made a mad dash to see what was going on.  The sales rep inside is beside themself. “I just got it, they just sent in the paperwork, I can’t believe it”!

The entire office goes crazy. No doubt the tenant in the next suite was about to call the police. Adults dancing around like children in total joy, priceless. For the leader, in that moment, time felt like it stopped. The scene was like a photograph. A lasting image that has stayed with him through all the years. It was the hugs of course, but also the smiles. The smiles were so big and wide that they stretched across the Pacific. The smiles they will never forget.

They did it

They all made it to Maui, and were living the dream. Sipping exotic drinks poolside with their coworkers and loved ones. But the funny thing was all anyone wanted to talk about were the stories, the stories that were a part of the amazing journey.

For this team, it wasn’t about being in Maui, although nobody could complain. It was about the journey they all went through together, up to the very last minute of the year. Maui and P-Club was the destination, the initial object of inspiration. But what happened over the months that followed revealed something bigger, something more important and defining.

Weeks later, the leader reflected back on what the year meant. This is exactly what great teams experience. This is what it feels like. This is what makes a great team, great.

The leader collected the lessons and shared with the team, and now I share them with you.

Selflessness:  Teammates helping through the good and bad, no questions asked.

Psychological Safety: The office was a safe place where they trusted each other, helped each other, and accepted vulnerabilities. It was ok for people to be themselves without judgement, concern or consequence. 

Empathy: They felt for each other. They could feel what was happening to their teammates. Empathy changes everything, and we all could use an extra dose.

Fulfillment: The team understood the difference between happiness and fulfillment. Happiness was sipping exotic drinks poolside. Fulfillment was the growth and experiences they shared as a team[and sipping drinks together]. 

This was about growth and the experience changed them all for the better. To this day, everybody remembers this story and those moments.

For the team, the true reward was the journey. The journey that left no one behind.

Scott Leese