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Jo Keeler

Belbin Associates


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Belbin Team Roles in Sales – A Waste of Time and Money?


Robin Humphreys of  mfs partnership Ltd gives us his view on Team Roles and Sales.

It has been suggested that there is very little empirical data to prove a link between Team Roles and the performance of sales people.  Given that ‘empirical’ is defined as ‘…verifiable by observation and experience, rather than theory or pure logic…’, I would argue that such data already exists.
However, let’s start with my headline – the scurrilous suggestion that carrying out a Team Role analysis for sales people is not the best use of resources.  However, this is not for the obvious reasons! 

The first issue to address is that the phrase ‘sales team’ is an oxymoron.  The reality is that ‘teams’, in the recognisable sense of the word, do not exist in most sales forces.  What you have are groups of individuals who report to the same sales managers; all of whom are competing with each other to maximise their own personal rewards.  Not surprisingly this is due to the way in which most sales people are measured and rewarded.  And here is the key issue.

The performance of the vast majority of sales teams is measured by the results they produce; turnover, margin, volume of units, numbers of customers etc., etc.  There are three major problems with this approach. 

Firstly, it is an historical measure; you don’t know what your results are until they have been achieved.  If your results are not what you expected, it is too late to do anything about it in a realistic sense.  Of course managers can and do rant about poor results.  They then try to ‘compensate’ for these failings by increasing future sales targets!  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that this unrealistic approach has a low probability of success; allied to a high probability of demotivating the sales organisation.

The second problem is that very few organisations can link precisely the results on any given salesperson’s territory with that specific sales person.  There are so many external factors, totally outside the sales person’s control that can affect their results; crazy offers from the competition, exchange rate fluctuations, production issues etc., etc.  The phrase used to counter this is “…ah well, it’s all swings and roundabouts…”.  What a scientific approach that is to managing an organisation responsible for the majority of a company’s turnover!

Finally, because sales results are used to measure ‘success’, the most ‘successful’ sales person is often promoted to sales manager.  This is a promotion based on eligibility rather than suitability and as such is often doomed to failure.

Results are used as the primary measure of ‘success’ simply because they are easy to measure.  However, there are better means of measuring sales team performance; which can both be linked 100% to an individual and in which Belbin Team Roles play a crucial part.

It is a well known fact, throughout the world at large, that inputs lead to outcomes.  In sales this means that the results you achieve come from the activities you put into the market.  In turn, these activities result from the competence of the individual concerned.  People do not like carrying out activities where they think they will fail.  Or, if they are forced to carry out this activity, they will not be as successful as they should be.  It’s the difference between ‘doing what you’re best at’ compared with ‘doing your best’.

So the first use of Belbin Team Roles has to be the Job Requirements evaluation.  This will build an accurate picture of the competencies required for the sales job.  Then, with the full 360˚ SPI & Observers evaluations you can find out if the individual is suitable for the job.  Over 15 years of experience in applying Team Roles to sales people tells me to look for the following ‘top four’ if you want a successful sales person; SH, IMP, RI & ME.  The focus on action roles rather than social roles is critical.  And please don’t waste your time carrying out the team analysis; it will only disappoint when you find you have a dysfunctional team!   

Finally, it is also worth remembering that the interview, the classic means of establishing the eligibility of a job applicant, will inevitably give a false positive outcome for a sales person!

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Jo Keeler


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