3 Ways to Create Elite Sales Cultures

What is the similarity between a fighter pilot, neurosurgeon, navy SEAL, trial lawyer and a marine? The professions are regarded by many people as elite professions that have high barriers for entry and retention. Despite the barriers, these professions continue to attract candidates year after year that want to break through those barriers. Wouldn't it be interesting to apply the same tactics and strategies used in creating elite professions to creating elite sales teams? No need to reinvent the wheel, just use some of the wheels already in existence with these professions.

Strategy #1: Raise the barrier for entrance and retention.

A neurosurgeon and attorney attend between six and sixteen years of school. A Navy SEAL must live through 'hell week' and a marine must pass boot camp. Is it difficult to get a job on your sales team or is it just a matter of passing a couple of interviews and building rapport? Is it difficult to stay on your sales team? Competitive and sharp people don't want to be part of a team that qualifies just anyone to join and stay. They want to be part of an elite team where everyone knows that the membership dues are high and difficult.

Mediocrity never attracts excellence. That's why top producers join and stay with teams where the barrier to entry is high, not low. James Murphy, CEO of AfterBurner, owns a training firm comprised of fighter pilots. His organization teaches companies how to apply the same processes used in developing fighter pilots to improving processes in their corporation. In a recent conversation, James shared that the biggest challenge in working with corporations is getting them to raise the standards of excellence. Companies worry that by raising the bar, they will lose people; and they are right. They WILL lose people....average people. This opens the door to creating a 'top gun' culture which attracts...you guessed it, 'top guns.'

Strategy #2: Train your team to be the best.

Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh are the authors of "Semper Fi" - a business book based on principles learned while both men were enlisted in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps are highly trained fighting units and are usually the first sent into battle. The marines want you thinking like a marine and cannot afford someone in battle that does not know how to respond under fire. They drill their mission, values and tactics into recruits 24 hours a day. As part of boot camp, a drill sergeant will stop a private and ask them to recite, on the spot, one of a hundred phrases that are expected to be memorized from the marine guide book. Sales organizations can learn from the marines. How many sales managers can walk up to a member of their sales team and ask them to state the core values of the company or the company's value proposition?

Try this 'sales marine' pop quiz at your company:

  • Private, give me your 30 second commercial.
  • Private, throw out the number one objection heard in our business and the appropriate response.
  • Private, what are the core values of this company?
  • Private, who are your top ten targets for the year?
  • Private, who are your top ten clients and how are you servicing them?
'Sales soldiers' are sent out everyday without the proper equipment or training, and as a result, turnover increases, sales are lost, and motivation decreases.

Strategy #3: Raise and recognize.

Once a person is qualified to join an elite organization, the organization continues to raise the bar for excellence and recognize individuals that continue to excel. Elite sales organizations create this environment by:

  • Creating special clubs that reward more than hitting a sales goal. Entry into the club might be a combination of achieving the sales goal, cross selling for another division, customer satisfaction scores, and customer retention ratios. The 'top gun' salesperson is interested in club memberships that exclude the average and reward the elite.
  • Public recognition is important in building elite sales teams. Many men do not like jewelry; however, it is a good bet that most men are willing to wear a Super Bowl ring. Award jackets, pendants and rings are just a few symbols of recognition. The item is not as important as the recognition of what the symbol represents - that symbol should represent that this individual is a member of an elite club.
On a final note, don't confuse elitism with snobbery or pretense. Members of elite groups are often grounded and confident. Individuals gain these attributes by succeeding where it is difficult to succeed.


Colleen Stanley is founder and president of SalesLeadership Inc., a sales development firm specializing in sales and sales management training. The company provides programs in prospecting, consultative sales training, emotional intelligence training, and leadership training for sales managers. She is the author of Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success and Growing Great Sales Teams. Salesforce recently named Colleen as one of the most influential people in sales in the 21st century. Reach Col...

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