The Key to Leading a Great Sales Team? Building It Right.

Here’s what you should look for in your sales reps and the professional styles you may find in the field. How you build your team will determine how you eventually lead it.

Published on May. 17, 2023
The Key to Leading a Great Sales Team? Building It Right.
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Effectively leading a sales team requires striking a balance between exerting pressure and getting out of your team’s way. Retaining a solid sales team takes an extremely refined form of leadership rooted in fairness and discipline. Before you can effectively lead and retain an outstanding sales team, however, you need to build it carefully.

To create a great work environment, you need to understand the personal and professional motivations of your staff. So, when it’s time to build your team, focus on ambition, on hiring and inspiring those with the capacity to be actively engaged in your company and its culture, and on finding those who respond well to adversity, which is inevitable in sales. With these characteristics on your team, relationships are easier to build and motivations are more fully understood. 

Managers may select the wrong candidate for sales roles if they only look at external characteristics — meaning the ones that are most easily noticed. To truly test a person’s drive, determination, passion for sales, and tenacity for working through adversity, you must take a deeper look into the internal motivation or drive of your prospective hires.

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How to Identify Intrinsic Motivation

In 2014, Target Training International (TTI) published groundbreaking research, revalidated in 2020, that identified six intrinsic motivators that are most important to the top salespeople in both the U.S. and Europe. They established that motivation and internal drive to achieve results is the most impactful, discovering that “It is what’s on the inside, not on the outside, that counts, especially in sales performance.” These are the “find a way” people who are extremely resourceful. You can rely on them to meet or exceed their sales targets or die trying. They see personal and corporate opportunities better than most of their peers. These individuals capture the opportunity to overperform when their territories are ripe.

So, how do you really learn about the candidate you are interviewing to identify these qualities? Here are a few questions that we always make sure to use:


What is your passion?

The answer shouldn’t be selling. If they answer that their goal in life is to be an incredible sales rep, they may not be the right hire. Being a successful sales rep is a great means to many ends, but it is not an end in itself. 


Do you remember your first sale? What was your experience? 

Regardless of what the experience was, if you are looking for a passionate, intrinsically motivated sales rep, look for a passionate response to these questions like a story about how the closing of a deal made them feel or how the compensation helped them accomplish an important goal.  


What would you say are the gray areas of selling? 

This broad question will showcase your interviewee’s ethics and creativity. 


Tell me about the last three sales losses you had.

When you ask about losses, you will learn about your interviewee’s process, determination, and character. Look for examples of where they have learned from losses and how they applied it to improve in subsequent deals. 


Tell me about adversity you have had in your personal or professional life and how you overcame it. 

Your interviewee will likely share deep behavioral information as an answer. This question may prompt them to talk about something personal rather than a professional loss, which will showcase how they handle adversity in life and at work, and whether they are willing to share their authentic self, not a highly edited version of it. 


Walk me through the structure of a dream compensation plan. How would you guide me to build the next yearly sales plan?

This question will show you what motivates and drives your interviewee. Are they a risk taker? How important is money? How important is cash flow to their lifestyle? Are they willing to work as hard as necessary for the role they are being considered for? 


What is most important to you in your life?

This question opens the treasure chest. Again, it will let you know how your prospect thinks and what motivates and drives them.


7 Sales Professional Styles 

Assuming your candidates have the necessary internal drive, you can now turn your attention to a person’s sales style. Over the years, we have used the DISC Assessment personality classifications of D - Dominant, I - Influence, S – Steadiness, and C - Compliant to help us determine our team members’ styles. We find that better understanding our teams helps us equip them with the tools they need to improve performance and evolve over time. These are the common styles we’ve encountered.

7 Styles of Sales Professionals

  1. Superstar
  2. Faux superstar
  3. Technician
  4. Natural
  5. Ms./Mr. Reliable
  6. Professor
  7. Expert



The Superstar is highly intelligent, driven, process-oriented, and naturally able to connect with and influence others. They are usually very coachable, efficient, and have a high emotional intelligence. On the DISC assessment, they are typically the most intelligent of the high I people.


Faux Superstar

The Faux Superstar. In our experience, superstars are often just beneficiaries of being in the right place at the right time. As a D, they are fast-moving drivers who are outwardly competitive and want to achieve results quickly. Their major downfall is overconfidence in their processes since they have worked in the past. The takeaway is to never rely solely on revenue performance as the baseline for evaluating a team member. 



The Technician is the sales rep who has read all the books and attended every training session they can. A process-driven champion of details, they have strong workflow and follow-up skills. On the DISC assessment, this person usually scores a high C, high S, and reasonably high D. The Technician usually doesn’t have strong creative skills, but is a reliable rep in the right environment. 



The Natural has an innate ability to connect with and influence others. Their weak point is that they don’t establish processes or push beyond the limits of their natural abilities to become a top performer. The Natural is usually a combination of a high D and I on the DISC assessment and, with mentoring, can become a Superstar. 


Ms./Mr. Reliable

Ms. or Mr. Reliable are the real professionals in our business. We will take a team mostly built from reliables any day of the week. They have the right mix of people skills (I), combined with extremely productive sales processes and systems (S). Externally, they manage stress very well, have a balanced approach to doing business, and just seem happier than most. Flashy Superstars and Faux Superstars may temporarily steal the spotlight, but Reliables are wonderful at seeing and seizing opportunities and winning over the long haul. 



The Professor has many of the same behavioral attributes as the Technician but isn’t usually a strong sales performer. The Professor is more of a theoretical thinker and less prone to action. They are used to finding holes in any proposal and may irritate faster-moving styles. These individuals do have the foundation to become a Reliable, however, with proper mentoring. 



The Experts are the folks who are extremely brilliant, and they know it. They have the natural ability to see things from both a macro and micro view. In doing so, sometimes they can rub people the wrong way. With clients who appreciate their styles, they can be your greatest sales asset. With clients who don’t, they can be your biggest nightmare.

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Putting the Team Together 

There is no one personality combination that automatically equates to a top performing sales representative. Each of the personality types outlined above can work together. Especially in consultative sales, all personal behavior styles and motivations can be conjoined in team selling.

The trick is finding the combination of individual motivators and drivers that are right for your team and to make sure you integrate that information into your management, coaching, and motivation. Ultimately, you want to surround yourself with people who compliment your skill set and make you better. You want to build a team with your recipe of the right level of connectedness and diverseness, with a focus on productivity building, team energy-creation, and blind-spot coverage

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