Neal Benedict
June 23, 2016

Building a sales team is a lot like building a pyramid with stones instead of blocks.  Not impossible but certainly more difficult.  It’s more challenging to determine how many, what type and size or how to position the stones for a successful project.  I would suggest when hiring functions like engineers, finance or IT you almost always have a better idea of what you need, how to find them and the ongoing tools and support you need to be effective vs. when hiring a sales team.  In my opinion there are 3 broad processes to follow when building a sales organization.

  1. Decide what you need (size and makeup)
  2. Plan and execute sourcing
  3. Onboard, coach & train

There are many aspects to each step in the process above.  I will not attempt to be exhaustive on each but I will provide general principles with a few concrete examples.

Where do I start?  Hire a sales manager first.  This may be controversial but I believe it is critical.  No salesperson can reach their full productive capacity without leadership support.  Salespeople need to understand their responsibilities, the resources at their disposal and be held accountable to established goals and objectives.  Many organizations hire a salesperson and leave them on their own to “figure it out”.  Often this isn’t successful, hence the sales person fails and exits the organization.  Even at first, if it is a player/coach role, the team will need advice, accountability and coaching from day one.  Start here and you will see a much faster ramp and more revenue from each new sales hire.

Decide on What You Need

Making a decision on the size and makeup of your sales team is not as straight forward as it sounds.   You will need to begin asking yourself questions that allow you to better understand the current sales situation.

  1. What is our average sales conversion rate?
  2. What is our average deal size?
  3. What is our average win rate?
  4. What are our closed opportunities per salesperson?
  5. What is the % of quota attained by each salesperson?

If you are measuring these and begin to see a trend line that indicates a rapid rise in any of these metrics, it is an indication that you need to look at staffing levels and potential opportunities being missed.   If you are not tracking these or are early in your journey  – do not worry.  While these are metrics that when measured consistently will lead to trending that will help you determine if you need to increase the size of your organization, there are also other qualitative data to consider.

  1. Are your salespeople rumbling about being over-worked?
  2. Is your sales team effectively prospecting?
  3. Are your clients happy with your responsiveness or service levels?
  4. Is there tension with other parts of the organization?
  5. What is my competition doing?

Again, these questions will help you identify the need to add resources to the sales organization.

This will help you with determining the size but what about the team make-up?The structure of your team will vary by the size but also by your client base and products/services.You will need to determine the following, however.

  • Your target market
  • How your clients buy your products/services
  • The complexity of the sales process
  • The average cost to acquire a client
  • New sales vs. up-sell & cross-sell
  • How the majority of your leads are generated

Truly understanding the above will help you determine the make-up of your team.  Do you need a mix of inside and outside sales resources?  What skills are most important?  Should we hire more business developers or account managers?  Answers to these questions will only come when you have a full understanding of your market and processes.

One thing not to forget is a sales manager.  No salesperson can reach their full productive capacity without leadership support.  Salespeople need to understand their responsibilities, the resources at their disposal and be held accountable to established goals and objectives.  Many organizations hire a salesperson and leave them on their own to “figure it out”.  This isn’t often successful, hence the sales person fails and leaves the organization.

Plan and Execute Sourcing

When you have decided that you need to build or add to an existing sales team, it’s critical to plan.  You will first want to build a profile that reflects the attributes you want in a salesperson.  I suggest you start with a blank slate and think about this as an “unconstrained” exercise.  What I mean is don’t focus (much) on cost, availability in the local market, recruiting process etc.  All those will be considered later.  First simply build the desired profile that reflects what you would want in an unconstrained world.

Next begin building sourcing criteria.  This is the minimum standard as well as key skills that will tell people what you are looking for and at minimum what you expect.  This is where you begin to deal with issues of cost, availability of talent, recruiting process etc.  This is where your unconstrained view is now constrained.  You will use this as the basis for your job profile.  Be sure to keep in mind when you begin building a job profile that it should be a mix of both minimum requirements as well as aspirational.

Salespeople should have a set of skills (that can be learned) and attributes.  In combination, that is often times a challenge to find and retain.  In addition, when you staff a team of individuals with these attributes, in the desired ratios, that team doesn’t always fit well together.  What skills and attributes do strong salespeople exhibit?  Here are a few:

  • Inquisitive – They “have” to know
  • Good listener – They aren’t thinking about the next question
  • Self-motivated – They give themselves the pep talk
  • Humble – They don’t answer questions they don’t know the answer to
  • Prepared – The Boy Scouts stole the motto from a high performing salesperson
  • Optimistic – Realizes that the next client is around the bend and that even a loss is fertile ground for learning

Of course there are other attributes, such as organized, persistent, focused, responsive, etc., but it’s rare to find a salesperson that ticks every box.  However, you need to have most of those reflected in any new hire.  Also, when building a sales team, it is common for organizations to hire based on experience.  If you can find the right people with the above attributes that also has relevant experience, by all means go with experience.  However, if you have to choose between experience and the attributes described above, always go with the attributes.

Finally, build your “selection” criteria.  This is fundamentally different from your “sourcing” criteria but related.  This is how you will ultimately select the candidate from the candidates you have sourced.  Have an agreed upon set of selection criteria along with a process to measure that criteria.  Once this is in place you can begin the selection process.

On-Board, Coach and Train

A well developed on-boarding program is critical.  Salespeople need to understand the client base, the products/services, the culture of the organization and expectations.  Without proper on-boarding they are left to their own devices to figure this out.  This leads to lack of trust and frustration and delays their success at selling.

Coaching is often times the most overlooked aspect of a sales leaders job.  I believe that is due to the fact that proper coaching is hard to do.  Coaching is a completely different process than management.  It is the process of helping salespeople reach their full potential by mentoring them to perform to the best of their abilities.  Coaching them through the many challenges of their role enables consistent results by encouraging sensible decisions about where they spend their time, how they structure their deals and how they self-motivate.  Without a coach, no salesperson can fully exercise their talents.

Training that is robust and consistent is a must for any sales organization.  In my experience, salespeople receive minimal formal training over the course of their careers.  Sales today is more complex than it was just a few years ago.  Buyers have complex challenges and access to information isn’t helping them make better buying decisions.  Salespeople are certainly challenged by the overabundance of information in the hands of today’s buyer.   Salespeople need to help the buyer navigate a mountain of information that is often times more of an obstacle than a tool for making an informed decision.  However, salespeople need training to do so.  Organizations that don’t invest in on-going sales training will not be as successful as those that do.

Whew, a lot to consider.  I am a bit exhausted just thinking about it.  But nothing worthwhile is simple.  Don’t take short cuts.  Build a high performing sales team the right way and watch your company grow!