Doug Milne January 18, 2019

The Future of Sales: Together is Better

Back when Canada ICI first formed in the 1990s, the popular image of a commercial mortgage broker was that of the “lone-wolf” salesperson, driving his own performance through sheer hard work and self-motivated determination. While there’s still some of that in the role of a broker today, the job has evolved significantly to a point where that image is no longer truly accurate. As Doug Milne ― managing partner at ICI’s Calgary office ― explains, “in terms of high-performing sales teams, the idea has evolved over the last 20 years into a collaborative approach to sales.”

Teamwork in sales has long been a popular approach in general, but the commercial mortgage industry was still frequently based on individual achievements. In recent years, Canada ICI has increasingly embraced the growing trend of collaboration, which Doug says is already paying dividends. “We can achieve a better result by working together, and that’s by virtue of different personalities and different skill sets,” he explains. “The key ingredient to our recipe is believing that you can achieve better success by working together than you can individually.”

So, what happened to the old-school ideal of the lone-wolf salesperson? “The idea of Glengarry Glen Ross, ‘coffee’s for closers,’ is a 20-year-old idea,” Doug says. “The idea that you get up every morning, go to work, close your office door, and compete with the guy next to you is very unappealing. It doesn’t generate a lot of satisfaction for the individual. By nature, that attitude will attract highly competitive people. We certainly want competitive individuals, and highly trained individuals, but we’ve learned that type of daily grind wears on you personally.”

One of the big keys to Canada ICI’s evolution in this area was reframing what success meant to the company on an employee-by-employee basis. “When I started in the sales business in commercial real estate, the measurement of performance was based on how early you went into the office and how late you stayed,” Doug recalls. “In a lot of respects, moving up was based on how committed you were ― whether you were willing to work six days a week for very little money. The idea was that you earn your stripes like an investment banker or articling law student.”

Today, that philosophy is based more on an iron-sharpens-iron mentality. It’s all about acknowledging the crucial role of teamwork, while also using incentives to drive employees rather than the “reasonably hellish training environment” Doug says used to be the norm in the industry. “Those tenets of hard work still apply of course, but the idea is that we’re building a team of people that may evolve in their roles and capacities,” Doug explains. “They’re all participating in the success. It’s a lot easier to entice somebody with a carrot than it is with a stick.”

While there have been several major shifts in the team-based dynamic over the years, Doug thinks the most important has been the collaboration in Canada ICI’s weekly production meeting. “What that does is it allows a venue for the entire office to weigh in, or to brainstorm in terms of particular issues and deals,” he says. “If you’re stuck on a deal, that meeting is your opportunity to bounce ideas off others, to get advice. All anyone’s asking for is your participation and collaboration, and you can draw on the experiences of the entire office.”

Of course, these collaborative methods never would have stuck if they weren’t effective, and Doug thinks the proof is in the pudding. “It boils down to having all these different people, various parts of a machine that are all contributing vital pieces to the puzzle. We can’t do that individually, in a vacuum,” he explains. “I think we’ve learned that high performance doesn’t necessarily exist in a self-directed environment. High performance is always achieved in a team environment.”

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