by Eliot Burdett, co-founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting
Building a sales team from scratch is one of the most difficult and important tasks of a CEO. Generating revenue through sales, especially as start-up capital diminishes, can make or break a company’s success. However, hiring the wrong salespeople costs dearly in time and treasure. Fortunately, there is a well-defined formula for success.
Having spent 25 years building sales teams I have the following 9 steps proven to build a successful sales team from scratch:
1. Don’t build too soon.
Any entrepreneur yearns for revenue streams but if the product is not ready, the offering is shifting, the budget for an industry leader is not there or the appropriate management support is not in place, hiring salespeople can be a waste of limited resources. This is because the salespeople won’t have enough stability to be successful. Furthermore, prospects will want to speak to founders that have high domain knowledge and the authority to reduce the fear of risk associated with a young company. When these conditions stabilize, the time is right to start the recruiting process.
2. Define sales team structure.
Before hiring can commence, clearly defining the structure of the sales team is critical. Will a rep handle everything from prospecting to closing or will there be separate teams for new business versus inbound leads? It is critical to define the process in advance so selling behaviors are aligned with the sales structure and strategy.
3. Assign territories.
Defining sales territories focuses selling efforts and prevents employees from targeting the same accounts and cannibalizing their efforts. Territories can be defined by geography, sector, or business size.
4. Map out individual sales goals.
Identify the goals used to measure success for each sales rep. These should include not only revenue goals but also the sales activity required to achieve the revenue. To derive these, work backwards, start from the desired output divided by the number of sales to arrive at the target number of sales wins, then determine the number of prospects, calls and amount of time required to win each sale. It is important to be realistic.
5. Determine base and commission.
Sales compensation plans vary widely across industries and companies, but as a rule of thumb, new business development positions pay a 50/50 split of base salary and commission. The compensation plan may need to be adjusted to provide fair reward for the effort and risk assumed by the salesperson, but more importantly, make sure it is high enough to attract the right sales people from competing employers.
6. Hire based on sales DNA and not resume.
Ideally, hire a candidate that has a proven track record of selling in startups. However, more important is to measure their sales DNA which we define as key traits of successful sellers such as ambition, perseverance, confidence, optimism, sense of urgency, desire to influence others, flexibility and ability to deal with uncertainty. The right DNA is the biggest predictor of sales success.
7. Focus on the things that attract top sales talent.
With limited funds, attracting top salespeople is difficult for startups, but not impossible. The key is to make eye catching job ads, offer a viable and well defined career as opposed to just a job, get compensation offers right, and focus on attracting gainfully employed sales people, since the best of the best are always progressing well in their career.
8. Implement a structured onboarding program.
The first 90 days of a sales rep’s employment is a critical time. Each day should be mapped out in terms of training on the product/service, the market and customers, and the selling approaches, systems and tools. Territory and account plan development and various other tests should be used to gauge learning progress and knowledge retention. Companies that take the time to invest in onboarding reap the rewards down the road.
9. Measure success.
It is critical that a new sales hire’s performance be monitored and measured closely. This is easy to do in companies with a shorter sales cycle, where it will be reasonable for a sales person to generate sales very quickly. In companies with a longer sales cycle, the focus needs to be on activities such as calls, meetings and pipeline of qualified opportunities. In either case, failure to monitor the activities can lead to poor habits, poor results and a failed hire which has awful consequences.
Building a sales team from the ground up is no easy task, but when done properly, it will lead to a powerful sales force that delivers strong and consistent revenue.
Eliot Burdett is the cofounder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006. Under his direction, the company leads the industry with a success rate 50% higher than the industry average, working with a wide-range of clients including boutique, mid-size and world-class companies including P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, Western Union and others. He co-authored “Sales Recruiting 2.0: How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast“.