sales team formationArticle

Sales team formation: The right team member helps performance. Garretta, J., & Gopalakrishnab, S.


Industrial Marketing Management, (2019), Volume 77, 13-22


Dr. Scott Downey, Associate Director and Associate Professor


Consolidation of suppliers and producers in nearly every sector of food production has meant that the sales process rarely only includes an individual buyer and individual seller. The complexity of larger, more sophisticated parties to the sales transaction has made it more common for needs assessment and value delivery to take place across teams of people. This article is timely in that it looks specifically at how a team approach to these interactions shapes the outcome.

The research begins with a discussion of the value of teams in motivating each member. Where an individual seller’s success only depends on their own motivation to work hard and take care of customers, a team approach means that other people on the team are affected by each member’s performance—kind of a weakest link theory. The researchers also tested the idea that some are better at working on teams while others are better individually. They acknowledge that the roles on the team make a difference as well; if someone on the team doesn’t feel like their role is valued, it might negatively affect their performance. This research took an experimental approach, so they looked at these issues beyond just comparing the opinions of people on the team. They chose the insurance industry for the experiment, where the norm is one-to-one interaction.

Team sellers outsold individual sellers by about 18 percent (2.23 policies to 1.88). Salespeople who weren’t as strong selling on their own sold about 13 percent more when they were on teams, and strong individual salespeople sold almost 22 percent more when working in teams. The make up of these teams mattered. Generally, sellers performed better on teams of people who were about the same ability rather than on teams where weaker sellers were combined with stronger sellers.

Generally, these results did not seem to be related to peer pressure, which the researchers called “impression management”. In other words, there was something about teams working together that led to higher sales beyond just sellers being worried about how they might be viewed if they weren’t successful. This held true until managers got involved. For salespeople who worried about the impressions they made, having a coach provide feedback was helpful. But for salespeople who thought they were fine on their own (called self-efficacy), having a coach provide feedback actually hurt performance.

The study didn’t ask customers how they felt about it (although customers bought more, so… there’s that). There wasn’t any discussion about compensation results, split commissions or other complexities associated with team selling. And selling insurance isn’t the same as selling tangible products where the outcomes of the decision are easier to measure.

What this means for Food and Agricultural Business

Nonetheless, take-aways from this study can be useful for the food and agribusiness industry and suggest that team selling may be worth considering as an approach to how sales resources are allocated. More heads are usually better than one, even though it might not be as efficient. Efficiency isn’t the goal. More sales are the goal, and from that perspective, the results of this experiment would seem to say it’s worth emphasizing a team approach more often.

For those who want to try this, the make-up of the teams matters. Abilities of team members need to align, which may be an indicator that there needs to be good trust between teammates. Everyone needs to be able to anticipate how their peers will work.

The role of the sales manager is also key. The days when sales managers could just go out and coach everyone are gone, just like salespeople can no longer just go out and sell to every customer in a similar way. Most sales managers are promoted from the ranks of strong salespeople, and they tend to try to get salespeople to sell the same way they did. That doesn’t work. Market dynamics demand new ways of selling and no ways of managing. This was a good example of how one new approach can work.