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The Business Olympics: Building a Winning Sales Team

Industry and commerce cannot exist in a vacuum. Every business stands or falls on its ability to respond to customer demand, even while it seeks to shape the expectations and practices of its sector. Innovation is rarely valued for its own sake. Its strength is in the way it improves lives. This is why every progressive-minded business needs to look outside its own environment for lessons on how to enhance its systems and practice.

The vocabulary of commerce borrows liberally from other disciplines, including the arts and academia, but some of the most influential business thinkers return regularly to the fertile ground of sport. Teamwork is held up as a gold standard but is often used symbolically without the rigorous application of the principles that underpin the success of great sporting teams.

The biggest sports event in the world is the Olympics, the quadrennial celebration of physical excellence which enables individuals to shine but is at its best when it presents the compelling spectacle of world-class athletes working together in symbiotic collaboration to win gold.

A business cannot thrive without teamwork. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Life Sciences and Biotech industries. It’s the pooling of diverse minds, experience and ideas aligned in a shared vision which produces world-changing solutions. That’s not to say that cooperative working always runs smoothly. Strong convictions about the way forward can cause conflict, but the collision of opposing views can be as productive as consensus, provided that it happens in the context and service of the central vision.

Olympic Lessons for Life Sciences Sales Teams

Time and Patience

In the life sciences and biotech industries, businesses are accustomed to the uniquely extended timescales under which they must work. Early stage European biotech companies generally take a long time to establish an effective operation. They face the same challenges in finding venture capital funding as any other business, but even with an efficient research and development system in place, the clinical trial procedure can add months to a project. Building a winning life sciences sales team is an equally measured process. You can’t rush when you’re assembling your squad. You need to assess the skills of prospective members but also their compatibility with your vision, values and existing employees. If this is frustrating in the short-term, because it feels as if it’s impeding your growth, it will pay off in the long-term when you have a sales team worthy of the scientific advances produced in your laboratory.


The best Olympic teams recognise the value of difference. In your sales team, you need people of widely differing backgrounds and experience, each of whom brings with them complementary capabilities, whether it be a knowledge of emerging industry trends, a facility with analytics or a unique track record in marketing. You should also try to achieve a mix of personality types which together can bring resilience and creativity.

The Mental Aspect

You choose your salespeople for the quality of their work, but it’s essential not to lose sight of their individuality. Managing a life sciences sales team involves understanding how to motivate and inspire. Just as with an Olympic relay, rowing or volleyball team, there is a need for group pep talks but, as individuals, members may need a more personalised approach. What works for one person may not be the way to get the best out of another. You need to get to know your salespeople and work out what will drive them to give their best performance. A sales manager seeking to establish a winning team in a startup or a scaleup must create an environment that is supportive and empathetic as well as motivational.


Olympic athletes remain at the top of their game only if they maintain their fitness and practice regimes. Even the most skilled salespeople benefit from an ongoing programme of training and development, honing their skills, developing new ones and improving their versatility.

The Group Relationship

It’s not sufficient for the employer to recognise the importance of teamwork. The dynamic will only work if its members share that recognition. Athletes may be supremely confident in their own abilities and while they are dedicated to giving their best, they also understand that they are a part of something larger. A life sciences sales team can be hampered by internal competition, while collaboration will yield impressive results.

The Role of Failure

Even the best life sciences sales teams won’t always meet unqualified success. Just as an Olympic team which fails to make it to the podium has to bounce back, regroup and come back stronger, salespeople must set aside disappointments and focus on the next challenge. True failure is measured not by deals which don’t complete but by opportunities not taken. Learn from failure and be inspired by it to succeed.

Guarding Against Complacency

Success has its own hazards because it can engender overconfidence and complacency. Although it’s immensely satisfying, it mustn’t be allowed to overshadow the imperative to remain focused and to acknowledge that every new challenge is different. You don’t stop with one gold medal, you fight just as hard, if not harder, for the next one. In the life sciences and biotech industries, a sales team is an essential part of a very exacting process. Every project is potentially life-changing for millions of people, so aside from the funding and resources required, it demands a huge emotional investment. By all means, expect your salespeople to congratulate themselves on a job well done, but make sure they know their work is never finished. That should be an inspiring notion.

Book a consultation with one of our business consultants today and see whether we can help you devise and implement a predictable life sciences sales strategy.

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ScaleX Consulting offer trusted business consulting and recruitment services to life sciences and biotech companies, ready to take the next step in their journey, particularly with life science recruitment, sales and marketing.