Sales Teams – Lessons From the US Open Doubles Partners

Did you watch the US Open doubles tennis matches? Do you begin to wonder what the players were saying to each other between points? We did and others must have too since the NY Times printed a front-page article about just that question.


What is going on in those conversations between points? Are the players deciding where to position the next serve on the court? Are they using the time to motivate each other? Some teams take communication a step farther and use hand gestures behind their back to signal their partner – just like volleyball players or pitchers and catchers.

Regardless of what is being said, as the article points out one thing is certain – “it happens after almost every point in professional doubles tennis matches, as predictably as the ritualistic high-fiving and fist-bumping the players cannot seem to live without. Whether the point is won or lost. The partners convene. And they have a little chat … Professional doubles players treat points as baseball or football players map out plays.”

And that got us thinking about team selling. While sales teams may not “work” in a stadium with thousands watching, they are often playing for some relatively high stakes. So the importance of the sales team members communicating how to work effectively is important. Without the communication, the sales call can deteriorate quickly – no points, no advancing the sale.

And even though sales team members can’t caucus after each question or comment, they must avoid the classic team-selling trap – the team sales call being just two people who happen to be in the same room at the same time.

What are some tips for avoiding this trap?

8 principles we have observed successful sales teams using:

  1. Establish a compelling and clear vision of the sales team’s purpose that is shared by everyone on the team.
  2. Everyone believing there is a benefit to the company, their group and to them personally for working as a team.
  3. Team members investing in the preparation and planning time and effort to get it right.
  4. All of the roles to succeed are represented on the team and each team member is clear about their role on the team and the expectations.
  5. A call manager orchestrates the sales call.
  6. Rules of the road are created so it’s not just the loudest voices that carries the day.
  7. Adjust, adapt, and keep track, making effective strategic adjustments as the sales team’s collective knowledge grows.
  8. Build trust among the team members.

In many markets the team sale is becoming increasingly important. In some the sales rep must function as an Account Executive who must marshal and manage alliance partners in order to sale and service the account- the latter is a big deal and tough to get right.

The mistake is assuming that as long as a sales rep is good at selling that managing and leading a team to sale is no big leap. If we go back to sports for a moment, it is easy for all of us to see the fallacy of taking that position. As Michael Jordan once noted – on most nights stars will look good – superstars will help those around them to look good.