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How to build a high-performing sales team

Modern sales teams face unique challenges in an age of digital information & self-service. Learn how to build a sales team that performs to a high standard.

Jon Davis · September 20, 2023
How to build a high-performing sales team

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Businesses must build high-performing sales teams. Whether you’re looking to build a team from scratch or enhance an existing one, there are some strategies that you need to consider. Doing so can help you achieve your goals and address unique business challenges.

Modern sales teams face modern challenges, like finding the right balance in business. Customers have access to an abundance of information and may often prefer self-service and independent research. Yet, there are still opportunities for sales teams to offer advice, anticipate needs, help customers, and provide value.

Building a sales team is more than just recruitment. You need to ensure that your best talent is equipped with the right tools and that you have the best management team to help support them. Let’s explore how to build a high-performing sales team, the challenges that businesses face, and how to support and manage successfully.

Finding the right team member

A key part of learning how to build a sales team is hiring the right people with the right skills, abilities, and characteristics. When searching for the right team you need to consider the four sales personalities. These are:

  • Assertive: Customers that are decisive and goal-orientated. They like to get things done and value efficiency. While they still see the benefit of building trusting business relationships, they tend to skip the small talk and get to the heart of an issue
  • Amiable: These are prospects that want to build trustworthy relationships with businesses and sales teams. They listen attentively and take guidance from you and your sales team before making their final decision
  • Expressive: Expressive customers want a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. They make their decisions based on case studies and customer data, while still creating a strong working relationship
  • Analytical: These clients are fact-driven. They don’t like hyperbole or overselling and instead want a product or service to speak for themselves in a direct and practical way.

By having a differing sales professionals in your business, you can accurately target a variety of prospects leading to more success.

What to look for in a sales professional?

Sales can be a tough industry. It isn’t for everyone, which is why it’s important to focus on a few key traits that make a great salesperson. These include:

  • Empathy - able to understand other people's feelings and relate to them
  • Adaptability - can adjust to new situations or unexpected events
  • Determination - capable of sticking with a task and keep going, even when things get tough
  • Natural curiosity - able to ask questions, find answers, and explore new ideas
  • Resilience - adept at bouncing back following a setback or disappointment.

Resilience is also needed along with a level of tenacity and persistence. Salespeople will experience a lot of pushback from prospects in their careers and up to 80% of sales require five follow-ups. However, research has shown that 44% of salespeople tend to give up after one, leading to less revenue and conversions

Identifying the most crucial skills in your sales team

The specific skills needed for a salesperson vary from one organization to the other. This is because different products and services appeal to different types of customers. What works with one target audience may not necessarily work with another, and different teams face different issues.

One of the best ways to identify the skills your team is lacking is to look at your existing sales team. Pick out the top performers, and consider what qualities and traits they have in common. It can be helpful to explore what sets them apart from sales reps who may be struggling.

You should also use customer feedback to refine your recruitment process. Feedback can help identify issues with communication or technical knowledge skills gaps. You can fine tune your recruitment process to fill these needs.

Implement a clear sales team structure

To be successful in sales, your team needs to have the right structure in place. Without a firm and clearly defined chain of command, salespeople can struggle to correctly manage leads. It’s important to understand that there's no single 'best structure,'. There are a range of well-established models and the one you choose will depend on the specifics of your organization. This includes your industry, target market, and what you're trying to achieve with your sales team.

Here, we’ll explore some common sales team structures and when they can be effective.

The Island model

The Island is one of the more simple sales structures. At the top of the command chain, you have the sales manager. Underneath this role, you have individual sales reps. Each of these reps is responsible for generating and qualifying leads, as well as closing deals.

The primary benefit of “The Island Model” is its simplicity. It's easy to implement and works well in established industries with relatively simple sales processes. It can, however, generate a highly competitive work culture as each rep is responsible for the whole customer journey.

You can elaborate on this structure by adding additional elements. For example, as well as having a sales manager at the top you could also have some middle managers each responsible for their own team. These teams could be split based on different geographical regions, product lines, or industries. You may also have a separate team for B2B and B2C sales.

The Assembly Line

This is a slightly more complicated sales structure. It works by breaking down the sales process and assigning responsibility for each stage to different employees. So, for instance, you might have some employees responsible solely for generating leads and others responsible solely for closing deals or managing customer accounts.

As a structure, ‘The Assembly Line’ is still relatively easy to implement and works across many industries. It can also boost efficiency and create clear job expectations. It allows individuals to become proficient and skilled at specific tasks and enables them to work collectively as a team.

Great communication is essential with ‘The Assembly Line’ structure. Without this things can quickly fall apart. It also may not be ideal if you want to create a competitive sales environment where sales reps are trying to outperform one another.

The Pod

‘The Pod’ is an evolution of ‘The Assembly Line’ model concept. Like the Assembly Line, employees focus on specific parts of the sales process. However, instead of one big sales team, employees are organized into multiple pods each focused on different customer types or geographical regions.

For example, if you're organizing pods geographically, you might have one pod focused on selling to American customers, another pod focused on Europe, and another focused on Asia. Within each pod, you would have reps responsible for lead generation while other reps are responsible for closing deals, and so on.

‘The Pod’ model supports the specialization of the Assembly Line model while allowing sales processes to be tailored based on individual regions or product types. However, there are some potential issues, too, such as difficulty in comparing key performance indicators (KPIs) across your whole team.

Create a sense of purpose and set personal targets

It's easy to see sales as a simple game of numbers, with salespeople focused solely on hitting their targets and earning commissions and bonuses. However, to build a high-performing sales team that delivers for your customers, you need to create a sense of purpose for your team.

Reviewing previous customer interactions can help you in this area, which is why a customer relationship management solution like Capsule CRM can be so valuable. When sales teams have access to valuable customer data, they can better understand how your team helps customers on a day-to-day basis. This helps motivate staff to pursue sales beyond simply reaching a target number.

Take some time to highlight success stories and explain how your sales teams have assisted customers. When a sales team has a clear sense that their work truly matters, it's easier to maintain high performance. This improves staff morale and overall job satisfaction.

Minimizing employee turnover

That sense of purpose is especially important in the current business landscape. Many sales teams are feeling the effects of the aptly named ‘Great Reshuffle’. This term refers to increased levels of employee turnover that have had a particular effect on sales teams.

This economic trend follows a phenomenon widely referred to as the Great Resignation, which occurred in 2022. Businesses saw millions of people resigning from their jobs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By helping your sales team develop a real sense of purpose and a better understanding of how their work matters, you can help minimize employee turnover. This in turn creates high levels of employee loyalty which is great for businesses. It can also be beneficial to encourage your employees to set individual targets for themselves so that recognize their own progression and achievements.

Define your sales process or evaluate your existing one

A major part of learning how to build a sales team involves defining your sales process and continually evaluating it. So, what does this mean in practice?

Vincent Burruano of the Forbes Business Development Council defines a sales process as "a written document that outlines your ideal engagement with a prospect from the initial contact, through the uncovering of needs...until finally a decision is reached." In other words, it's a documented breakdown of the steps you'll go through to close a deal.

The process of building and defining your sales process takes time and work. But businesses that put in the effort generate more revenue than those that don't.

The sales process outline

Most sales processes can be broken down into seven easy steps:

  1. Lead identification - How do you identify leads? What do you do with them once you have them?
  2. First contact - How should reps reach out? Which channels should be used? What tone should they adopt?
  3. Pain point discovery - How do you identify pain points that are affecting your leads? What questions should sales reps ask? Should they speak on the phone or send a survey?
  4. Solution - How should reps explain or demonstrate your solution for those pain points? Do you have written or video tutorials on your product or service? Do you use in-person demonstrations?
  5. Proposal - What steps need to be taken to create a proposal? This might include learning about a lead's budget or coming to terms with an arrangement. How does a rep approach this? What are the potential pitfalls?
  6. Objection handling - How should reps deal with common objections or last-minute nerves? Do you have materials that can be sent to uncertain leads? Do you have content that can provide further clarification on areas of objection?
  7. Deal closing - How should your reps close deals? What's the process for collecting payment? How are order confirmations or receipts sent? What's the process for drawing up formal agreements?

Sales processes can differ, but it’s important that you’re specific with your plan and thoroughly explain what each step involves. This includes what reps should be doing, how each step should be handled, and what your priorities are. You'll also need to outline what resources and tools are available for each step and how each step connects with the next.

Evaluating your sales process

Once you have a documented process, you need to continually evaluate it. Which parts of the process are working well? What are the main sticking points in the customer journey? If you find that a high number of leads are dropping during the proposal stage, it's an indicator that you need to look at new ways to approach this.

You should constantly look for new ways to improve your sales process. Your sales reps will have a unique viewpoint of your sales process, so collaboration is key. Have your sales reps notify you of any issues they encounter and keep communication channels open for new suggestions. You should also monitor your sales KPIs to assess performance.

You must keep everyone informed of any changes and amend relevant documentation.

Build around modern omnichannel customer journeys

When building your sales team, you need to think carefully about the modern omnichannel reality. This helps to ensure that you get the most from your team. Today, a sales process can occur across multiple channels and you need to ensure this omnichannel experience is as seamless as possible.

Research has found that the average number of channels B2B customers use during their decision journeys has increased from five (in 2016) to ten or more since the COVID-19 pandemic. These channels may include:

  • In-person
  • Telephone
  • Websites
  • Mobile apps
  • Email
  • Web chat
  • Video conferencing
  • Procurement portals
  • Trade shows
  • Web search

It's essential to structure your team in a way that allows customers to progress through the sales process using the channels that suit them. It's also imperative that your sales reps move customers from one channel to another with seamless transitions, allowing them to pick up precisely where they left off. The same is true for customers transitioning between self-service and more traditional service models.

Provide continuous coaching and invest in improvement

Continuous training is essential when it comes to creating a high-performing sales team. Your reps need to understand more than just the basic sales playbook, they need to know what makes you and your business unique.

Coaching can also help keep your team a step ahead of the rest. Unlike training, coaching is a continuous process, integrated within day-to-day business activities and tailored to the individual. It's designed to both enhance performance and correct unwanted behaviors. Evidence shows that effective coaching leads to a 19% improvement in sales performance. Effective coaching requires sales leaders to analyze the performance of individual sales reps, identify areas of strength and weakness, and offer solutions.

This does require a serious investment in terms of both time and money. Even when areas for improvement are identified — and actions are taken to achieve these — coaching efforts should continue. There will inevitably be other areas of opportunity to focus on and other skills that can be improved.

Final thoughts

Learning how to build a high-performance sales team is an ongoing process. It combines elements of recruitment, organization, performance analysis, and employee development making it complex. Sales is always evolving, so you need to stay ahead of the curve and prepare for the future.

Capsule CRM is a software solution that allows you to manage your sales pipeline, access sales analytics, automate elements of your workflow, and utilize project management and contact management features.

Click here for more information and to access a 14-day free trial.

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