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Sales, Culture

Our guide to build a successful sales team

Chloe Lloyd · August 17, 2020
Our guide to build a successful sales team

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You’re responsible for closing all the deals your business generates. But you’re becoming so busy that you need a dedicated sales team to help close more deals.

The only problem? You don’t know where to start.

Hiring a new member of staff is tough, especially if they’re working in sales. Your new hire will be representing your company in front of new customers. And if they don’t make any sales, you’d be losing money by hiring them.

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about building a successful sales team, from deciding when to hire your first rep, right the way through to keeping your new team engaged.

The value of a dedicated sales team

There are two main routes for businesses to sell products or service to their customers:

  1. Through a dedicated sales team
  2. Through a customer's own self-discovery (such as browsing your website)

Chances are, you’ve seen some success with the second self-discovery route. Advertising and marketing campaigns direct people to your website. Those leads browse your product or service pages, read a few blog posts, check pricing, and then choose whether to purchase or contact you for more information.

But that can only get you so far. Potential customers might have stumbling blocks before their decision to purchase. Pain points such as the price, delivery, or simply knowing whether it’s the right product for them can hold them back.

The self-discovery route can’t always answer those questions which results in a lost sale.

However, having a dedicated sales team on-hand is the perfect way to solve your potential customers’ issues before purchasing. There’s someone to ask their questions to and reaffirm that they’re doing the right thing by purchasing your product.

When should I start building a sales team?

You can think about starting to build a sales team if:

  • You’ve started to sell products or services both online and in-person to your own network.

  • You’re the only one actively finding new prospects and closing deals—and you want a sales team, who’ll dedicate their entire working day to helping customers make a purchase decision.

But one of the hardest things about growing a business is deciding when to start hiring your first salesperson.

After all, hiring too early might put you out of business. You need to pay another salary, yet if they don’t have enough deals to close, you’ll be losing money by hiring them.

The bad news? There is no secret formula to help you determine when to hire salespeople.

However, building a dedicated sales team brings tons of benefits. That includes:

  • Understand your customers' buying journey better: Your salespeople will spend a significant amount of time trying to understand why people would want to buy your product or service, and what objections they have which may stop them from proceeding with their purchase. Learning what customers need can be incredibly valuable to your business.

  • Increase your revenue and accelerate your growth: Hiring intelligent salespeople with integrity and passion can help to target the right customers, win them over and close more sales. It’s their sole job to find, nurture, and convert new customers.

  • Simplify complex sales processes: If you’re selling a B2B product or a high-ticket item, prospects need more convincing before they purchase. They can’t always do this through self-discovery. A sales team can make you appear more credible and therefore, easier for prospects to buy higher-priced products or services.

How to build a winning sales team

Are you ready to start building your sales team?

Here’s how to pick your first hire, and continue growing your sales team as your business grows.

1. Set initial expectations for your first few hires

Before diving in with the hiring process for your first salesperson, take some time to set expectations for your new team.

Building an entire department is tough; you don’t want to rush things.

The first salesperson you’re hiring will initially focus on learning about the business, including:

  • The product or service they’ll be selling
  • The market and industry
  • The customers

They’ll also be building a more specialized skill set based on the tasks they’ll be handling during their first few months.

In these early days, your first salesperson won’t know what works best. This is where historic company data comes into play. Ask your new hire to start with repeating what has worked well in the past, with some guidance from the owners of the business.

For example: the founder of the company attended three big trade shows in different cities. They found that customers in London were prepared to spend more money at the event itself, so salespeople should prioritize that location when making their first few deals.

However, you’re hiring your first sales rep to grow your sales—not do the same thing you’ve already done.

So, encourage your new sales team to try new things from their own experience. They might have an idea to create a sales email script that saves time. Or, they might want to test whether responses for cold calling differ at different times in the day.

The key is to learn from each success and failure, and continue to refine the process as they go.

Ongoing analysis such as performance reviews with their manager help to welcome your first salesperson, giving them the tools to succeed (whilst also allowing them to try new things.)

2. Define what you’re looking for in your sales team

Next, you need to start thinking about the types of people you’ll have to fill your next open role.

So, what does a good sales person look like in 2020?

Soft vs. hard skills

Sales representatives need a specific set of skills to thrive.

We can break these down into:

  • Hard skills: Tangible skills relating to an activity or technique such as objection handling, goal setting, and the ability to use a CRM.
  • Soft skills: Qualities relating to their personality are a lot harder to teach such as confidence, the ability to listen, and emotional intelligence.

Each sales representative you bring onboard needs to have soft skills. Those can be taught gradually but are much harder to teach and to learn.

Hard skills, on the other hand, can be built as your salesperson progresses in their role. You can show them how to use a CRM, and how to handle difficult conversations; most of those skills come with practice.

Make a list of the hard and soft skills you would ideally like a salesperson to have by listing the tasks they’ll do. Bear in mind that this might be different for each job level; a junior representative won’t necessarily have the same skills as a sales manager.

Whichever skills you deem necessary, include them in your job description. Scan the resumes of candidates that apply, making note of those who mention the skills you need.

Aligning with company values

You can pick the most qualified person to fill your new sales job opening. But if they don’t align with the company values and make a positive contribution to the company goals then they might not be the right person to hire for your organization.

One way to attract salespeople is by referencing the company values and work environment—both of which can help candidates determine if they'll be the right fit before applying.

Obviously in order to do this you’ll need to define some core values that all your team can get behind. This can be as simple as writing 3 to 5 statements about what the company stands for, what the company exists to do and how you’re trying to do that. Taking a more value-driven approach ensures that you can ask all candidates a standard set of questions to gauge how well they might align with these values and goals - it also helps new hires figure out themselves if they’ll fit into your company.

3. Assign a compensation structure

Once you’ve got a list of skills your sales representatives need to have, you can start to think about the compensation you’re offering them.

Salespeople usually have one of these three compensation structures:

  • Salary focused: They’ll receive a set salary each month, regardless of how many deals they close.

  • Bonuses and commissions only: They’ll receive a percentage of each deal they close. Their pay can differ every month, but if they don’t close any deals one particular month, they don’t get any compensation. The average commission is 20–30% of the gross margin on each deal. (For example: If you make $100 profit per customer, your sales rep will earn commission between $20—$30.) However of course this varies across verticals.

  • Base salary plus commission: They’ll receive a lower salary than usual, but it’s guaranteed. A percentage of the deals they close will be added on top. They’ll always receive the same salary, but their commission value can change month-to-month. A common structure for this is 60% salary with 40% commission.

Regardless of which compensation structure you’ll offer, it’s hard to determine how much to give your sales team.

Offering too much can leave you with little-to-no profit margins, but offering too little means there’s a risk of your salespeople quitting to find a higher-paying position elsewhere.

A good place to start is by searching for the average salary for salespeople in your area. Websites like Glassdoor can show this information:

You can be slightly above or below the average but not by too much.

The compensation you’re giving to sales representatives is one of the biggest incentives for them to work for you. Make it too low and candidates won’t apply.

4. How to keep sales staff onboard

You’ve already done the hard part of building your sales team. But now you’ve got a small team of sales reps to work for you, it’s crucial to make sure they want to stick around.

After all, when you add up recruiting costs, training costs, and lost sales, the average cost of replacing a salesperson is $97,690. That’s money (and time) you can’t afford to miss.

Here’s how to keep your new sales team onboard and engaged:

Invest in training and coaching

A key part of building a successful sales team is ongoing training.

Why? Because companies that invest more on training generate 24% higher profit margins on average than their competitors who don't.

Not only that, but there are always new technologies, tools, and best practices for your sales team to test. Offering ongoing training makes sure they’re always updated with industry standards, whilst also giving them new opportunities to learn - something 82% of employees believe is important.

Failing to provide ongoing training means your staff can get disengaged. Plus, you’ll fall behind with best practices - potentially opening the floor for competitors to sweep up potential customers.

And if that wasn’t convincing enough, the best sales training will improve the performance of an individual sales representative by as much as 20%.

Similarly, carve out time to coach your new sales team. This is different from training because it’s development focused; working to build your sales team’s skill and make them the best they can be.

Coaching can take many forms, including:

  • Facilitating discussions around what has been working well (and what hasn't) so the entire team can learn from each others’ successes

  • Helping the salesperson to remove roadblocks they’re facing, such as identifying which leads to prioritize

  • Listening to sales call recordings and identifying areas for improvement as a team

In theory: you’ll get a better sales conversion rate by training and coaching your team regularly.

Empower your sales team

Ongoing sales training and coaching isn’t always enough to motivate your team.

It’s proven that motivated salespeople can increase revenue by about 9%. Empowering your sales team, and encouraging them to work hard, is what will see you through.

You can empower your team by encouraging them to try new things and be creative. One report suggests that autonomy — the freedom to work how they see bestn — is essential to any organisation. But for sales reps, it’s even more important.

Not every sales rep will love working from a script, and some people might feel more confident cold emailing their leads than cold calling. Allowing them the flexibility to work how they prefer will make them more motivated to do it.

Recognition is important when empowering sales teams too. People are more motivated to do things when they’ve been praised for it before. So, make an effort to celebrate any achievements — such as closing a record number of deals in a month, or finding a new (and more efficient) way to store leads in your CRM.

Schedule regular check-ins

The vast majority of employees think that regular check-ins with their manager is important.

That’s because the meetings, also known as performance reviews, gives salespeople and their managers a chance to:

  • Find out what they’re struggling with
  • See whether they have any new ideas they’d like to test
  • Discuss any tools that would make their workday more productive
  • Set goals and sales targets for the next review

The overall goal of a check-in is to confirm that your sales representatives are happy in their job. The happier they are, the more effort they’ll put into their work, which is a win-win for everyone involved.

Celebrate small wins

You’ll create sales targets for your new hires to meet.

However, it’s easy to get stuck in the cycle of only celebrating when they’ve met these targets such as closing a huge account, or meeting their deal value.

Creating a culture of celebrating small wins helps with employee engagement. Your sales representatives will feel motivated to close the most deals if they know they’ll be rewarded for it. They don’t have to work themselves to the bone to earn recognition.

So, make a conscious effort to celebrate small wins even if that’s the first customer your new salesperson converts. Each small win adds up to a bigger win for the entire sales team.

Master new staff onboarding

Onboarding is the process of bringing your new hire up to speed with the company.

It’s when they’ll get access to the software they need, learn what tasks they’ll need to complete, and integrate with team members in other departments.

Yet, if your first salesperson is the first team member you’re bringing onboard, you probably won’t have much experience with onboarding staff.

So, start to think about how you can onboard new salespeople and convince them to stick around. This might look like:

  • Setting clear expectations and targets for your new hires, such as “close $100 in deals per week” (whilst also reinforcing that coaching and training is there for them).
  • Sharing your brand guidelines so new hires know what your company stands for, who you help, and the tone of voice sales reps should use when talking to prospects.
  • Creating a list of tools they need access to, along with tutorials or product demonstrations, for them to do their job immediately. Scheduling check-ins every week during their first month to check progress.

The bottom line? Make sure you’re available for your new sales hire anytime during their first few months.

It’ll take some time for them to settle in and start meeting adventurous targets. But by coaching them through, and helping them build strong relationships with their co-workers, you’ll help to keep them onboard in the long-run.

Start building your new sales team

The guide we’ve shared here is designed to take you from one-man-band to growing sales team.

But remember to take your time as you go through the hiring process. Define exactly what you want your future sales team to look like and work from there; hiring people who have the sales skills you need.

Compensation and salary isn’t everything; salespeople can quit if they don’t have ongoing training and feel like they’re not valued at work.

Commit to keeping your new hires engaged and there’s no reason why you can’t build the sales team you envision.

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