Basketball superstar Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
Of course, he was talking about his sport, but the same applies to sales. Having top-notch people on your team is great, but if they don’t work together, you won’t create a great customer experience, close more deals, or generate more revenue.
Collaboration is critical to the success of any sales organization.
“I always tell my sellers that they’re the quarterback of experiences,’” says Anthony Cessario, vice president of market expansion at Clari. “Their job is to look at all the resources they have at their disposal to run the plays that bring everyone together.
“How do they collaborate cross-functionally with their peers? How do they put resources to work for their deals? That collaboration is everything.”
Indeed, research published by the Harvard Business Review found that teams solve problems faster when they are cognitively diverse—when different types of thinkers work together in the same room.
But before you can tackle the challenge of encouraging collaboration across your revenue-critical teams, you must first define what collaboration looks like for your organization.
How is sales collaboration defined?
In the simplest terms, sales collaboration is the process by which multiple groups or individuals work together to successfully close a deal.
There are three primary kinds of collaboration needed to achieve this shared goal:
- Collaboration among sales team members
- Collaboration between teams and leaders
- Collaboration with the customer
Each type of collaboration requires internal transparency and unity when it comes to data, strategy, and internal and external communication.
Why is sales collaboration important?
Collaboration across your revenue operations team is critical to ensure the successful close of a deal. Without seamless partnership, your entire sales process will falter. The sales cycle will suffer, you’ll waste time and energy during key handoff moments, your customers may become frustrated or confused, and deals won’t close.
Barb Giamanco, CEO of Social Centered Selling, wrote on LinkedIn that the Corporate Executive Board estimates each buying decision involves five to seven people—an estimate Giamanco thinks is low.
“Your ability to rally support with multiple people in multiple departments requires collaboration,” she says.
One way to look at sales collaboration is through the dual lens of vertical versus horizontal collaboration.
Vertical and horizontal collaboration
Horizontal collaboration refers to working together among peers, inside and outside one department. Vertical collaboration refers to working together up and down the chain of command. The best results come from fostering both types of collaboration.
Horizontal collaboration happens when coworkers openly share data and information with one another to improve outcomes and feel comfortable brainstorming together on strategy. Horizontal collaboration is facilitated by things like efficient team meetings, data transparency, and resource pooling.
“I like to describe the horizontal [collaboration as] handoffs between each of the functions,” says Joe Wang, vice president of business operations at Clari. It’s how well the different teams work together to move the deal along through the sales cycle.
This is where creating a culture of openness and trust is paramount. HBR found that the best performance comes from establishing a sense of psychological safety within a team—when team members feel supported and encouraged to contribute, treat mistakes with curiosity rather than failure or blame, and equally take responsibility for outcomes—. After all, sales is a team sport. There should be no lone wolves on your team.
The same goes for collaboration between revenue-critical teams and organizational leadership. When peers, managers, and leaders are all on the same page, armed with the same accurate and real-time data, decisions can be made more effectively, planning for the future becomes more realistic, and the revenue organization as a whole is more effective.
Collaboration isn’t confined to the internal team. The best revenue organizations collaborate closely with their buyers using mutual action plans, which ensure buyers and sellers are in lockstep on the path to delivering value quickly.
How to improve collaboration across teams
There are several ways to improve collaboration among sales team members, managers, and leaders.
Leverage tools and technology
Tools that streamline data collection and visualization help facilitate horizontal and vertical collaboration across the sales organization. A Revenue Platform can track and log all sales activity in one place, bringing together information from email, calendars, and more into a single source of truth.
This allows reps and their managers to focus on strategizing closing deals versus rehashing the news or chasing down numbers. It also makes handoffs easier, more accurate, and more efficient. Take Clari’s Align portal, which shows everyone involved in a deal, no matter how multi-threaded, all the steps and dates necessary to secure a sign off.
This entire process is part of the Revenue Collaboration & Governance framework, where all systems and revenue-critical employees are unified across the end-to-end process to capture and generate revenue.
You can also track account engagement easily and follow up if you haven’t communicated in a while.
“The greatest sellers are collaborating with their buyers,” says Cessario. “Align gives you a space to collaborate with the buying team, so you're one cohesive unit striving towards a specific outcome.”
A Revenue latform can take basic CRM software a step further by using machine learning to produce tailored, actionable insights that the sales team can use to improve performance. For example, Clari leverages your organization’s historical data as well as real-time information to produce a highly accurate predictive forecast, allowing sales teams to pressure-test their calls and see where they will realistically end the quarter.
Once a deal has closed, Clari also makes it easier for the team to hand off the account to customer success. That’s because all deal data, from the first client interaction to the final sign off, is tracked and stored in one, easily accessible place.
Improve transparency and communication
We all know that transparency and clear, consistent communication are key to building trust, which is a fundamental for successful collaboration.
Transparency is fostered by ensuring everyone can see real-time data. This data can then guide all sales team meetings, from one-on-ones to quarterly business reviews.
A platform like Clari can maximize your organizational transparency and streamline communication by aggregating all relevant sales data in one spot and making it clear, accurate, and universally accessible. That way, everyone is looking at the same data when strategizing on deals.
Promote a culture of collaboration
Collaboration only works with the support of the entire organization. A culture of collaboration fosters openness, transparency, communication, and teamwork.
Annamarie Mann, a former workplace analytics practice manager at Gallup, wrote in 2018 that “when employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business.”
Gallup research shows that when people report having a best friend at work, their employer reaps more engaged customers and higher profits.
So how do you create a collaborative culture? According to Slack, “high-performing teams are often the result of employees feeling safe to voice their opinions and share their ideas.”
Slack has established a culture where all ideas are welcome, alongside regular offsite meetings and opportunities for learning and experimentation. Another way to infuse your organization with a collaborative spirit is to keep teams focused on their shared end goal—in terms of sales teams, that means the closed deal. When a deal is closed, everyone wins. And the best way to support that is to put the data first.
That’s because when you lead with data, you remove emotions from the equation—no finger pointing, no hiding behind vague promises, no happy ears, no sandbagging. Reps, managers, and leaders won’t need to waste time chasing down numbers or the truth. They can focus solely on strategy together.
This is where a tool like Clari shines. Not only does it prioritize data, but it also ensures that the data is accurate, up to date, and easily accessible.
Manage friction and resistance
Of course, sales leaders will sometimes face tension and resistance from team members. Maybe sales reps fear this focus on data will undermine their performance. Or sales teams feel a sense of ownership over accounts and don’t want to risk sharing credit.
But leaders can set the tone. They can reinforce the advantages of transparency; for example, by identifying a deal at risk of slipping early, the rep has more opportunity to course-correct. Or if specific deals are predicted to close as expected, on time, reps can spend more time working on the deals that need some extra love and ultimately bring in more revenue.
Ultimately, collaboration throughout the revenue team is essential for top sales performance. By taking a few of these steps, organizations can ensure they not only foster a culture of collaboration but also provide the tools to facilitate cross-departmental teamwork.
Learn more about how Clari can help teams with sales collaboration.