This month we’re delighted to speak with Greg Barton, Managing Director at Surfachem, a leading distributor of speciality chemicals. Greg shares his views on how to create a high performing sales team, what he looks for when recruiting for sales roles, the importance of ongoing development for his people and some interesting learnings from his career – all in 5 minutes!

What is your background?

I read Marketing at University before following a lifelong passion to work in the automotive industry. If I’m honest, I moved around a bit trying to find my feet. Quite by accident I then ended up in the chemical distribution sector in 2004 working in a sales role. After nearly 11 years with that company I got the offer to join the 2M Group in the capacity as Sales & Marketing Director for Surfachem.

What does your role at Surfachem involve?

Fundamentally I am here to help create the environment for our people to thrive and make the company succeed. It is a balancing act of working ‘on’ the business but being able to work ‘in’ the business where needed. We have a very creative and open culture which needs continual fostering.

Prior to your current Managing Director position, you’ve held senior sales leadership roles. Is there anything you’ve learned as an MD that you wish you’d known as a sales leader?

I think the biggest lessons surround managing complexity and time. As a sales person and leader, its easy to get carried away with great new ideas.  Looking back I wish I’d had a better understanding of the company ecosystem and the resources consumed by projects would definitely have been helpful. Sometimes the benefits of a project are less than the soft-costs of delivering.

How do you create a high performing sales team?

There are enough books written about this subject to make the point that there is no fixed recipe here. In previous organisations I have worked in, there was a definite character / personality type that the organisation wanted and this certainly produced results. For Surfachem the culture is a very different and diverse one; we are a hugely knowledge based and creative organisation.

Creating a high performing team for me, is about giving people room to express themselves without fear of failure. We have a very high level of repeat business, so it is about finding that balance of relationship management and looking for new opportunities as well.

What do you look for when recruiting candidates for sales roles at Surfachem?

We look for people who are hungry and want to grow and develop themselves and are consultative; who listen to customers and suppliers. We are a speciality ingredient and chemical business with a strong focus on particular application areas, so finding people who are credible, speak the customer’s language and are passionate about what they do is also a big plus.

Our best performing sales people over the years have all had completely different approaches – I’m proud that we have an environment that allows those different approaches to thrive.

What advice would you offer sales leaders who are hiring for the first time?

Don’t rush to fill an empty seat – if you are not convinced the right person is sat opposite you then go and look again. That said, when you see someone who has the right character and hunger, be prepared to invest in them as skills can be learned.

How important is ongoing development for your sales team?

Very. The business never stands still, thus the knowledge and skills needed are continually changing. We work hard to share knowledge and skills internally; there is a range of approaches, knowledge and expertise within the business and we look to leverage this as much as we can, as well as bringing in external provision for specific skill development as well.

How do you identify the development needs of your salespeople?

A mixture of internal and external feedback, observation, performance reviews and asking them directly. We’ve invested heavily in HR resource as the business has grown, much of which is there to help identify & provide for knowledge, development and training demand.

When you think back to the best sales person you managed, what made that person stand out?  

Self awareness, hunger and a healthy degree of humility.

Good sales people need to have the hunger and drive to get through the tough times and deliver results, the really good one’s are aware of the impact they have on their peers, colleagues, customers etc and are able to adapt to that audience. They recognised the skills in the rest of the business and embraced the opportunity to learn from them.

In your opinion what one thing can a sales leader do in order to get the best out of their salesforce?

There’s no “magic bullets” for success in any walk of life, but understanding what makes people tick is a must in the quest to get everyone aligned and performing well, with the needs of the business.