A few months ago, I was crunching numbers for the company and doing research on how competitors grew and it donned on me – we had to create a sales team. But not a boiler room type of deal where people just pounded the phones, I wanted something that felt more consultative and not as disruptive. I’m not saying cold calling is dead, I’m just saying it has changed.
We had a fundamental problem where only one person was closing deals and that, to me, was a major bottleneck. There was only one problem: I’ve never built a sales team before. Sure, I’ve done sales but putting together a sales team is an entirely different story. But that doesn’t matter because because all it really takes to get something right is tenacity, right?
Here are 10 steps I took to create a manage a sales team that is now humming along:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I talked to my ex-coworker and VP of Sales at Treehouse, Chris Zabaleta. Why did I go with him first? Because we had a relationship established already and I trusted him. He gave me a lot of helpful gold nuggets. I then thought about it some more and said, “Who better to ask than Aaron Ross, the guy who helped SalesForce get its revenues to over $100m?”. Before interviewing Aaron, I asked if he’d be willing to do a video interview because I wanted to pass the advice around – he graciously accepted.
Would I have been able to build a team without getting help from these guys? Definitely. But did they help me accelerate the process? Without a doubt. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
2. Hunker down and do the research. No whining.
With zero knowledge on sales team building, where do you start? For me, it was going to Amazon and seeing which sales books really stood out. Aaron Ross’ book Predictable Revenue is a top seller in the ‘Sales’ category and caught my eye because it covered the topics that I needed help with. I highly recommend it.
I also recommend reading Echosign co-founder Jason Lemkin’s blog SaaStr. It’s based on SaaS sales but the concepts still carry over to service based businesses like mine.
3. Have a good hiring process
When it comes to hiring salespeople, tons of applicants come off as aces. That’s why the process I use for hiring salespeople is a bit different then hiring stars for our client services team.
There’s a few questions that really help me gauge the candidate:
- Is this person coachable? – A lot of people with past sales experience tend to think they have it all figured out. These are the ones to avoid because they won’t take to coaching because they’re set in their ways.
- ‘Sell me a bottle of water’ – This question helps me see how the candidate is on their toes. Can they improvise? Do they face challenges head on?
- Tell me about a time where you demonstrated an entrepreneurial flair – Could be starting a club or volunteering for a non-profit. Show me something that demonstrates initiative and you win major plus points.
It’s also important that they have some knowledge of the product/service as well. I’d almost prefer to hire someone with more product/service knowledge and no zero experience versus an experienced salesperson with no product knowledge. Reason being I think the ramp up time for pure sales training is shorter.
4. Don’t just fire fast. Fire lightning fast.
Your sales process doesn’t guarantee that every hire you make will be successful. In the sales world, time is a deal killer. This applies to having a low performer on the team as well. If they are dragging along and just don’t seem like the right fit, you need to be quick to pull the trigger on letting them go.
We had someone that we offered the job to and he seemed great on paper. Then he started acting really weird because we gave him a 2 week grace period to start. He started blaming us for the delay and asking us why he couldn’t start earlier. Then he started talking about getting promoted.
Then it occurred to me. He was broke and desperately needed a job.
Desperate people don’t make good salespeople and he just didn’t seem like a cultural fit. He had to go.
Trust me: if you know, you know. If you know, do it now. Things don’t get better. Your “Blink” instincts are right. You won’t patch things up. Delaying the inevitable is not going to make things smoother with your investors, biz dev partners, customers or employees.
There is only one answer: fire fast.
Firing somebody is no different than the other 10,000 decisions you need to make in your company to survive. You free up much needed budget. You free up the org chart to bring in new blood. Almost universally your staff will come out of the wood-works and say, “thank you, he needed to go.”
When people aren’t pulling their weight other members who are know it. And they’re grateful to work in an organization where they’re valued and slackers aren’t.
Managing a sales team is already hard enough. Managing a BAD sales team is even harder obviously.
5. Use ‘must-have’ tools to help your team succeed.
There are a few tools we use to get through the day. They keep us efficient and humming without breaking the bank:
- Trello – free project management tool
- ToutApp – sales tool that provides team analytics, template sharing, engagement tracking and much more. Paid tool.
- Highrise CRM – lightweight CRM that integrates with Tout. Paid tool.
- Zapier – we use this tool to help connect other tools together. For example, if I add a card to Trello and I want it to show up in a Google spreadsheet at the same time, I can do it. There are a lot of possibilities with this so you’d have to see for yourself. Freemium.
- Dropbox – stores all of our files in the cloud for easy collaboration. Freemium.
- Text Expander – helps us pump out templated text quickly so I don’t have to re-type similar messages all the time.
- LinkedIn Sales Navigator – Helps us target the right prospects and also allows us to connect to people through common connections (connections span across your sales team as well!).
6. Have metrics to hold people accountable to
You have to establish solid KPIs that the entire team understands and follows. Otherwise there’s no accountability. I have my team send me a daily and weekly summary of their sales stats. We also do a monthly stats meeting as well.
We’ll have this automated as we continue to grow but for people that are just starting out, this works just fine. Whether you’re using an outsourced sales team or have it all in-house, this step is non-negotiable.
7. 4 month ramp
It’s tough to have salespeople hit your quota right at the gate so we do a 4 month ramp up period. For example, if our quota is $50,000/mo per rep, it’ll look like this:
- Month 1: $12,500
- Month 2: $25,000
- Month 3: $37,500
- Month 4: $50,000
8. Give people a base salary
Do I go commission only or pay a base with commission? I talked to a lot of founders about this and went back and fourth but Aaron Ross made a really good point: you want to pay your sales reps so they don’t have to worry about their next check. I’d rather have our guys not worrying about their bills and focusing on bringing in more deals. That peace of mind is important.
9. Communicate. No, seriously. Overdo it.
I’m a believer in remote working so we work remotely 2 days out of the week. That requires a ton of communication and discipline though. I have our team communicate, a lot. Being able to see if we’re doing the right things the right way on a daily basis is powerful.
If something is wrong, I can jump on a quick Google Hangout and work out the problem with my team members instead of letting it sit for days or weeks. Our daily standup e-mails are sent to the entire sales team so people have a quick glance at how they’re doing compared to their peers. It helps generate a little urgency and a little competition as well so that’s an added bonus. If someone is falling behind, they can see it and pick up the slack from there.
Here’s what we use to communicate:
- Daily standup e-mails
- Morning and afternoon sales huddles – in the morning: what are the biggest opportunities you’re working on today? in the afternoon: what are the biggest obstacles you faced today?
- Weekly 1-on-1’s
- Weekly/monthly sales summaries – quick report on KPIs from each individual.
- 15five – weekly report that helps me get a pulse not only on the sales team, but the entire company.
10. Go all out with training
The learning never ends. From creating screencasts to making quizzes to buying sales books for the team, it’s your job to keep them up to date and educated. It’s really a no brainer, better education = better output in the long run. Plus, your team will appreciate you for giving a damn. After all, if you’re running the team it’s your job to make everyone better.
Resources we use to train the sales team:
- Roleplaying – Standard in most organizations. The trainee will be put in a situation that emulates a real life scenario. The trainer will then provide feedback after.
- Call shadowing – Standard in most companies. Team members will listen in on real calls.
- ProProfs – We use this to make quizzes and training modules internally.
- Screencasts – I use Screenflow to make videos for our team members to watch. From tips on how I prospect, tools I use all the way to how I qualify websites, the experience I share with them is invaluable.
- Books – We bought copies of Predictable Revenue first and the team members are eating it up. When they’re armed with knowledge, it puts us on the same page and helps them understand their role better. I’ve made a list of other books I’d like to get for the team and I already have the next set sitting on my dining table.
- Weekly learning days – This is a Google Hangout that lasts up to 30 minutes. Each week, one member from the team is required to present on a topic. The idea behind this is that it requires everyone to continue learning and teaches them how to present (not a bad skill to have especially when your job is to present all the time).
Although my sales team is off to a good start, I still understand that there’s always more to learn. Stay curious and maintain a beginner’s mind because the truth is this: there’s always someone better than you out there and there’s always someone out there waiting to kick your ass.
Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.