Always Be Connecting: Five Lessons on Building Sales Teams
perspectives / Insights

Always Be Connecting: Five Lessons on Building Sales Teams

Five lessons on building high-performance sales teams from Michael Corr, AVP of Sales at Salesforce.

Salesforce Ventures
June 21, 2021

We recently hosted a Salesforce Ventures Advisor Roundtable on sales leadership and strategy for our portfolio companies, led by Michael Corr, AVP of Sales at Salesforce. Michael has been with Salesforce for ten years and manages a book of business worth more than $200 million.

Michael has built a reputation as the kind of leader who not only consistently delivers results, but also recruits and enables high-performing, diverse teams, and accelerates their progress and career trajectory.

He shared his lessons on sales leadership, including building a sales team culture, best practices for hiring and training future sales all-stars, leading for operational excellence, and achieving accountability through reporting.

Here are his five actionable takeaways:

1) Always be recruiting

Michael is a power user on LinkedIn. While some people simply write a spec for an open position, share it on LinkedIn, and wait for the candidates to roll in, such a reactive, passive approach doesn’t work for Michael.

Instead, he invests time each week in proactively reaching out to people he’s met in the past and maintaining a connection with them. That might mean a casual ping on LinkedIn, congratulating someone on a great quarter, or responding to one of their posts. “It’s that simple touch that says to them, ‘This guy cares about me and wants me to come over when I’m ready.’”

He also recommends putting in the time to create relevant content. Michael wrote a blog on culture that he asks recruiters to share with passive candidates as a way to attract inbounds.

2) To find hidden talent, widen your lens

Many enterprise sales leaders come from other enterprise sales teams. Before joining Salesforce, however, Michael was a customer engagement leader on the PGA Tour. Having joined the company as an industry outsider, he places a high value on team members with varied backgrounds and fresh perspectives.

Diversity is a top priority for Michael, who intentionally maintains a 50/50 gender split on his team. He says hiring hasn’t been a challenge because he’s built a reputation as a leader who is intent on helping his team learn fast and advance in their careers. He’s a frequent poster on Slack and Chatter, where he publicly congratulates his team on their wins to show others what’s possible. “If you promote them, they will come,” he says.

Widening your hiring lens may mean bringing on people with broader experience and less history in enterprise sales, but he and his team put a lot of energy into training new team members so they can bring in new deals quickly. As part of this effort, when new sales reps joined Michael’s team pre-COVID, he gave them a directive: If you see a salesperson walking to a conference room holding a laptop, follow them. Ask to sit in so you can listen to them pitch and learn how they handle objections. Now that people are working from home more, he recommends new sales reps being even more intentional, paying attention to whose calendars are full, and asking to Zoom shadow and participate in meetings.

3) Foster happiness

When Michael starts a new meeting with someone on his team, instead of asking, “How are you?” he says, “Are you happy?” Michael feels this question is essential to a flourishing team. “I’ve never seen one unhappy AE get to their number,” he says.

Rather than thinking of happiness as an arbitrary measure of emotions, Michael defines happiness as “the joy that I feel in pursuit of my full potential.” He recommends everyone read the book, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which helped shape his perspective on life and leadership, and connects happiness to a sense of purpose.

Michael’s personal goal is to know everyone he’s working with for the rest of his life. Getting to this level of trust and intimacy requires putting in the time and effort to create a culture of belonging, safety, and inclusion. He sees the workplace as a constant feedback loop. This includes a monthly “trust tree conversation,” during which he asks everyone to share their experiences at work and let him know if there’s anything the organization can do better to support them and their goals.

4) Don’t just sell something — help someone!

We all know it’s been a difficult and unpredictable year. The same is true of your customers and prospects. Remember the context of what they’ve been through before trying to push them to spend more money with you. What can you do to help them? How can you show them that you’re thinking bigger and helping them solve more than one problem? “There has to be a story attached to every interaction of why this is beneficial for them to move forward,” he says.

Michael is always looking for new ways to add value for customers outside of the sales cycle. One approach? Educating the customer. He and his team created an interactive training session for CFOs on “How to create a recurring revenue model.” If customers feel like you understand their business and are working to help them make or save money, you’re planting seeds of trust. “You need to earn my trust before you sell to me,” he explains.

“We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to experts at Salesforce,” says Michael, referring to the many industry leaders inside the company who have experience solving problems for an array of businesses. “Bring those people to the table and put them to work.”

5) Work the numbers

Michael spends a lot of time looking at data but some numbers matter more to him than others. He doesn’t like surprises and looks for high accuracy on your forecasts. In other words, “You’re doing a good job if you can call your number on the 15th of each month within a standard deviation of +/- 10%.”

Michael pores through the numbers on a daily basis using a custom screen of his team’s deal flow he calls “Candy Crush” because of all the custom colors indicating different signals. If he sees a red flag, such as a sales cycle that’s been dragging, he reaches out to the AE to find out where they’re stuck and does whatever he can to help — without taking over to force the sale. It’s important to him that his team grows the sales muscles they need to succeed: “If they hit their potential, I get closer to mine.”

“The teams I manage are successful because I do not manage the revenue, but manage the people who manage the revenue,” he says.

The lessons Michael shared of how to lead with values when building and managing high-performance sales teams are surely something teams of all sizes can learn from!