How to Build a High-Performance Sales Team [The RIGHT Way]

How to Build a High-Performance B2B Sales Team


1. Don’t worry about motivating people. Work with those who are already motivated.
2. Always be interviewing.
3. Lead from the front.
4. Build relationships in AND out of the office.
5. Teach proper goal-setting.
6. Be an idiosyncratic manager.
7. Remove the cancer.

How do you build a high-performance B2B sales team?

It will take some time and there will certainly be a learning curve.  But the end result will be worth the time and effort you put into the process.

To get on the fast track to better results, this blog will teach you some uncommon tips for how to get the most out of your people, while avoiding some common (and costly) mistakes along the way.

So let’s dive in…

1. Don’t worry about motivating people

It’s a question every sales manager will ask themselves at some point.

“How do I motivate my sales people?”

Does the following sound familiar?

“I just can’t motivate Bill to pick up the phone, or get to work on time.”

“He’s a nice guy, and he interviewed well, but he’s not making it happen…”

I say don’t worry about motivating people.

Worry about the people who are already motivated.

Trying to motivate someone to do what they do not want to do could be the biggest time suck a sales manager will ever encounter.

Motivating Bill to make his calls, or to follow up properly, or to simply show up on time should NOT be part of your job.

I used to struggle with this myself. 

I felt I could train anyone to be a monster at sales.

Surely, if I simply demonstrated all of my tips and tricks for sales success this person would become a rock star like the last 3 reps I trained, right?


Not everyone is motivated to do the work.

While many may think they are cut out to be in sales, it does take a special breed to be truly successful at it. 

And often that stems from an inner motivation.

Motivation is something that simply cannot be taught.

Now, I’m not advising that you disregard the salesperson who needs help. 

We should all be bending over backwards to make our people better.

But, if that person needs help doing the basics, like getting to work on time every day, there is little to be taught.

Instead, focus on the team members who show they are willing to meet you halfway and put in the effort.

You’ll have fewer gray hairs and more revenue towards goal at the end of the month.

2. Always be interviewing

Most of us can recall a sales manager who lost his cool in a meeting.  And most of those frustrations probably stemmed from a lack of performance from guys like Bill above. 

The surefire cure for frustrations like these is to always be interviewing.

Just like a salesperson has more swagger when they have a lot of opportunities in their sales pipeline, a high-performance sales manager also needs to have a steady influx of fresh talent coming through the doors.

Now, this isn’t designed to be a scare tactic, though it may fluster some of your underperformers a bit.

It’s more to keep you on the task at hand: meeting goal.

Just as a pro sports team trying to win a championship always scouts new talent, you need to always be looking for your next star player.

Because sometimes your MVPs find new opportunities.

And sometimes ramp up time for your latest hire takes longer than expected.

Whatever the case may be, when you have good candidates in your pipeline at all times, you’ll lose your cool less, because you have options. 

And as any major league coach will tell you, sometimes you just need the addition of one or two new superstars to take the entire team’s performance to the next level.

3. Lead from the front

What do I mean by “lead from the front”?

I mean don’t ask your team to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself.

If there is ever a reliable way for a sales manager to lose the respect of her team, it’s by adopting an ivory tower mentality. 

A great sales manager can get much more out of their team by leading from the front. 

Need the team to make a hundred calls a day?  Do it yourself. Show them how it’s done.

Need the team to get into the office early? Do it yourself. Show them how it’s done.

Need the team to look sharp & keep their vehicles clean?  Yep. Do it yourself. Show them how it’s done.

You will find that sometimes there will be legitimate reasons why your team isn’t hitting its numbers.

Maybe there IS something wrong with the new product, or the new territory, or the pitch.

The only way to REALLY understand what your team is going through is to be in the trenches as well.

You’ll be a better coach that way.

4. Build relationships in AND out of the office

We spend more time with our coworkers than our own families. 

If you want to build a strong team that wins consistently, relationship building will need to become one of your most important skills.

But it won’t always be easy.

Sure, it’s easy to talk with Frank. He’s just like you.

He likes to talk sports, so the bond forms easily.

But can you build relationships with teammates that are into music, scrapbooking, carpentry, literature or film?

Here are some quick tips for building relationships with people that aren’t just like you:

Ask open-ended questions.

Asking open-ended questions helps you find common bonds and areas of mutual understanding. 

Maybe you uncover that you had the same professor in college, or that your kids play on the same little league team.

Once you have built a bond over a commonality, future conversations take on new meaning and can be more impactful.

Examples of open-ended questions might be:

What was your favorite part of going to a Big 10 school?

What is it you like so much about your favorite author?

How do you find good music these days?

Actively listen to the answers. 

Remember, you’re an awesome sales manager that got where you are by practicing active listening.

Let’s make sure you use those same skills to listen thoughtfully to the answers to these questions instead of just thinking about what you’ll be saying next.

Plan team building outings and invite the spouses and kids.

You’re literally all in this together. 

Make it about the team and not just about the work and you’ll have a bigger impact on the long-term success of your team. 

Plan a BBQ or grab tickets to a baseball game.

Or make it all about the kids and spring for a trip to a local theme park.

The point is that sometimes the wives and husbands need to buy in to your team dynamic as well, especially if your staff travels a lot or has to work weekends on occasion.

The more you show you care about the whole person and not just the numbers they put up, the more success you’ll have building a cohesive unit with great chemistry.

As they say, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Corny? Maybe. True? Definitely.

Pro Tip: Learn your team members’ birthdays, kids’ and spouses’ names, anniversaries and other milestones and put them on your calendar. It takes just a second, but staff looks at you with a little more respect when you can remember their youngest child’s name in a conversation.

5. Teach proper goal-setting

This topic could be a blog all on its own, but for now let’s focus on the importance of teaching proper goal-setting.

Many sales professionals look at their quota for the month and call that their “goal”.  

Instead, teach them how that much larger goal can be accomplished more easily (and more consistently) by focusing on smaller daily goals.

Not only will it make that big number at the end of the month seem more attainable, you’ll have your team focused on the things that they can control.

First, have them visualize and write their goals down.

Writing a goal down dramatically increases its likelihood of being met.

But, make sure they are SMART Goals. 

SMART is an acronym that stands for:

Specific – What specifically do I want to accomplish?

Measurable – How much? How many? For how long?

Achievable – How realistic is this goal?

Relevant – Does this REALLY matter?

Time-bound – When will this be accomplished?

For example:

Bad goal-setting: Make some calls today.

OK goal-setting: Make 100 calls today.

SMART goal-setting:
Make 100 calls within the hotel vertical by 6 PM in order to set 3 appointments where I can introduce our new hotel product.

But what is key for your team to understand is that without setting SMART goals they are unlikely to see much long-term success.  

It’s also important to remember that each team member will have their own SMART goals to tackle.

In my experience, these SMART goals work best when trying to improve upon a weakness.

If Cindy is having a problem getting past the gatekeeper and getting decision makers on the phone, then Cindy should focus specifically on getting past the gate keeper at least 5 times today before 6PM—not just making 100 calls a day.

If Joe can get appointments like crazy, but a large amount of them no-show, then Joe needs to focus on providing more value on at least 5 appointment-setting calls by 6 PM, so that any appointments are met with anticipation and actually kept.

Once your team gets in the habit of writing down and setting SMART goals, especially those relevant to their specific weaknesses, you’ll have a more confident and engaged team, focused on what they can control.

Sales and smiles should increase as a result.

Pro Tip: Instead of having your team jot down goals on a master spreadsheet or similar, have them write it down the old fashioned way—on a piece of paper.  Being able to reference that slip of paper in their breast pocket at lunch, or at the water cooler or at the coffee shop is a great way to remind your team of all they need to accomplish and will help them power through distractions.

6. Be an idiosyncratic manager

Lots of sales managers make the mistake of speaking to their entire staff the same way.

But if you’re trying to train and retain a team, you have to reckon with the reality that not everyone responds to one style of coaching.

Try to be more idiosyncratic, or unique to the individual.

I once managed a sales rep that was pretty cocky.

To be honest, he did have a reason to be.

He was always at or above his number and won many sales awards.

But when he screwed up, the only way I could REALLY reach him was by busting his chops. 

I knew from our conversations that providing a boost to his ego wasn’t what he needed. (See point 4 above.)

Sometimes he needed to be cut down to size a bit to be reminded he didn’t actually know it all.

Eventually he got better.

Conversely, I once had a trainee that was so meek, I had to heap praise on him for even the smallest of wins.

He took every “no” personally and every setback as if it were a life and death situation.

In fact, his first training day I sent him across the street and made him yell his pitch to me because he needed so much practice speaking up on the phone.

We both got plenty of stares that day, but it worked!

Both ended up being sales superstars, but they responded to very different methods of coaching.

As a sales leader, you have to manage each of your team members’ personalities a little differently, being careful to understand what your team member will respond to best.

This will ultimately build trust, respect and killer sales months.

Pro Tip: Use this simple formula to coach your people without hurting their egos: Build, Break, Build.

What you do here is sandwich the negative, between two positives…
Build: “Great job keeping that prospect on the line for so long.”
Break: “All we need to focus on now is speaking more slowly, so they understand you better.”
Build: “Let’s keep up the good work, this is already way better than you were an hour ago.”

Criticism doesn’t need to be hurtful. Be kind when giving constructive criticism and your team will love you for it.

7. Remove the cancer

What I’m about to teach you was the toughest lesson I had to learn as a sales manager and it cost me my first business. (True story).

If you are dedicated to long-term growth and a killer company culture, you have to have zero qualms about letting your rock star salesperson go if they cannot play nicely with others.

No sales numbers are worth a demoralized team.

Back to our sports analogy: If you have a ball hog on the team that talks a lot of trash, has a bad attitude and treats others poorly, it doesn’t matter how many points they score in a game. The team dynamic is off. 

So what do you do?

Bench him.

You will never win the championship.

Because at this point, you do not have a teammate.

You have identified a cancer.

And just like a cancer, if it’s not nipped in the bud instantly, it will spread until you no longer have a team.

If you have someone like this on your team, (and please make sure it isn’t you) grab that person right now and put them on a 30-day plan. 

That’s right.  Tell them they have 30 days to clean up their act or they’ll have to be let go.

Go into a room with a door and point out calmly, with specifics, how detrimental their behavior is to the group’s success.

Show them how their behavior is affecting team morale, the greater goal and how you’ve been left with nothing but this choice to make. 

Being rational and unemotional in these cases will help you state your case effectively and may even convert this individual into who you always knew they could be—a solid sales pro who gets it done AND plays nicely with others.

Pro Tip: Never reprimand a team member in front of their peers. If you need to give someone a talking to, do it behind closed doors.


It can be tough trying to build a sales team that meets its goals every month. 

They aren’t created overnight and there will be some growing pains along the way. 

But if you follow the advice above and put it into action, you’ll avoid the common pitfalls and reach your goals faster than you may have thought possible.

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