TL;DR: Sales matters. It’s not clear where to start. Here’s what you should focus on:
This guide is intended to provide a systematic and replicable approach to install the foundations of a successful sales organization. This system has been refined by consulting with and studying dozens of early-stage companies launching their sales org, and implemented with success at Uber — building their first national inside sales team and later an outside sales team of over 250 sales associates to acquire new drivers.
Building a sales team brings a laundry list of to-dos: interview candidates, write a script, develop training, implement a CRM, structure commission, and countless other tasks. The goal of this guide is to provide a systematic and replicable approach to lay the foundations of a successful sales team.'
Fact one: People are different.
Fact two: People matter.
A hiring manager’s instinct is often a poor predictor of job performance; it can even be worse than selecting candidates at random. Before you begin recruiting, determine which qualities enable success in your role, and establish a way to consistently identify those attributes. Do not be content to hire someone who seems nice or good with people. You’re building a sales team, not a book club.
Know what you’re looking for.
As you understand your product and sales process, identify which characteristics are most important in a salesperson. Does the sales require technical knowledge? Does the sale require significant relationship building?. Once you’ve found the most important traits, you must then identify how to test for them.
Measure twice; cut once.
Use work sample, cognitive, and personality assessments in the interviewing process with a standard set of interview questions and grading rubric. This approach confers three main benefits: 1) predicts performance more accurately, 2) saves recruiters time by pre-screening candidates, and 3) enables improvement over time. Pro-tip: Don’t forget to measure the ruler —run regressions on each salesperson’s work performance and compare it their interview scorecard to identify which questions and attributes best-predict success.
Successful sales teams attract high quality candidates. Strong recruiting drives growth and reduces both the burden on training and systems (discussed in part two and three). Poor recruiting encumbers growth — an understaffed team leaves opportunities on the table — and worse undermines a strong culture.
Be ultra-selective with your early hires.
A strong culture is imperative for success and is slow and difficult to change. Early hires have a tremendous influence on the culture of your team. Your early hires will be seen as leaders on the sales floor. New hires listen and learn from your existing team — picking up good and bad practices. In addition, starting with a strong team can help with recruiting. Great people know other great people, creating a strong referral channel for future hires.
Align recruiting with sales performance.
Recruiters are often evaluated on filling the role in as little time as possible, but receive little feedback on the quality of their hires. Compounding the issue, recruiters frequently don’t fully understand the profile of your top performers and have a natural tendency to hire people that are similar to themselves. To combat this problem, set up regular meetings between the sales manager and recruiter to provide feedback on the quality of the candidates, the ideal profile, job requirements, and performance ratings for all hires.
The highest ROI activity for a sales manager is to invest in great people — the engine of the sales org. A great salesperson will drive growth for the business. A poor salesperson is a nuisance that will frustrate even the best manager’s attempts to turn them into a high performer. Building a strong team through assiduous assessment and informed recruiting gives sales managers the opportunity to win.
Fact one: You can know the rules.
Fact two: You can’t know the game.
When you have developed a pitch that communicates what problems you can help your customers solve, you must ensure that your salespeople can deliver the message compellingly and consistently. Successful training and development are broken into the following:
John Wooden, renowned UCLA basketball coach who won 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years, started each season by teaching his players how to properly put on their socks, lace, and tie their shoes.
Loose shoes → Blisters → Missed shots → Lost games → Lost seasons
Master the fundamentals. A salesperson who does not have the fundamentals of selling committed to procedural memory will never be able to operate in the “zone” achieved by elite performers. They will be constantly hamstrung trying to recall the pitch points and product details instead of listening and responding to the customer with aplomb.
Professional basketball teams don’t train by scrimmaging all week. Top athletes break down their profession into drills and exercises that allow them to focus and maximize repetitions where they need to improve. The same rules apply to developing a salesperson. Breakdown each step of the sale and create exercises that give your team an opportunity to practice what matters most. Making the assumption that a salesperson will sufficiently “learn on the job” delays growth and leaves them woefully unprepared in front of potential customers.
No one becomes world class without countless repetitions. No one! Mastering a sale is not like learning a new excel formula: watch a YouTube video, memorize it, save the link for future reference, enter the code, and you’re done. Mastering a sale requires deconstructing and practicing each component of the job.
Sidney Crosby’s childhood target (dryer) for hockey shooting practice.
Many sales teams limit intensive practice and drilling to new hires. The most successful sales teams take the opposite approach. Quicken Loans — the largest mortgage originator in the U.S. — starts each day with their sales team practicing the pitch and handling objections. Like learning how to shoot a hockey puck, the more good practice you get, the better you become.
Pro-tip: Your best people are your hardest workers and fastest learners. Reward them with good training or you will cap their growth.
For any pursuit that requires live performance – from dance to jiu-jitsu to sales – it is difficult to simultaneously perform and self-critique. This is where the sales manager must step into their most important role: Coaching.
Constant feedback is key.
Salespeople need visibility into what they’re doing well and where they can improve. The best sales managers serve as coaches for their team. Beyond analyzing metrics to assess team and individual performance, sales managers must spend time observing and instructing their team on where and how they can improve. In addition to manager coaching, the most productive teams instill the value of peer coaching.
The result: an environment that provides constant feedback and an opportunity for continuous improvement.
Pro-tip: Sales managers should use tools (e.g., call recording) to leverage their time.
Your team is selling to human beings, which makes it impossible to predict and script each challenge they will face. The goal of training your team is not to build robots, but develop the skills needed to adapt and succeed with each potential customer. You can learn the rules of Tennis as well as Serena Williams, but that will not prepare you to play against her. The rules are not the game. You get to the top by training.
Fact one: Measuring sales is easy.
Fact two: Growing sales is hard.
Productive sales managers don’t view their team’s output as a number — they see it as an equation. Understand the inputs that lead to high performance — then focus on how to improve them.
(and make you richer too)
Before you make it complicated, focus on these cardinal rules: 1) Salespeople drive sales. 2) If you don’t reward sales, you’re rewarding something else.
Imagine this scenario -
5 sales / week x 20% Coaching Boost = 6 sales / week (+1 additional sales)
10 sales/week x 20% Coaching Boost = 12 sales / week (+2 additional sales)
Result: 2x ROI from coaching top performer vs. bottom performer
It’s tempting to focus on your low performers — they cause the problems — but everyone needs a coach. Rewarding low performers with your attention at the expense of your top contributors leads to your best team members to feel ignored, and, eventually, resentful. Your top performers — intelligent and motivated — often see the largest improvements from coaching. Top sales managers invest in their top performers, and in return, ask them to lead by example and coach their peers.
Pro-tip: The most effective managers and coaches invest the time to understand what motivates each salesperson. What are their personal goals? What are their career goals?
Pay salespeople commission. If you do not reward top performers they will grow resentful of the fact that they are treated the same as the bottom performers. This results in two disastrous effects: 1) top salespeople stop trying and stop producing (think: “I’m twice as productive as John, but we make the same amount of money and get the same opportunities. I don’t need to push as hard”); or, 2) they leave for a company that rewards stellar performance, leaving you with a low-performing, unmotivated team.
“A penny saved is a penny.”
-Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans Founder
A high performing sales team supported by the right systems and technology delivers value beyond new customers — generating insights to inform your marketing and product strategies. But, too often the systems and procedures your sales team uses are created by people who don’t use them, and end up creating superfluous — building resentment and hindering performance.
As you design the infrastructure for your sales team, here are two guidelines to ensure that your resources are invested properly:
Too often, (well-intentioned) sales managers implement new systems and procedures that inundate their team with unnecessary work. Designing strong systems is difficult, and when new systems are implemented they often do more harm than good — impeding performance, lowering compliance, and building resentment. Start with asking your sales team how they would approach the problem you’re attempting to solve, (e.g., increase call volume) before altering or implementing new systems.
The best salespeople are motivated to perform and will go to the companies that provide the best infrastructure for them to do so. Most companies readily buy their engineers multiple monitors, but settle for discount infrastructure for their sales team — refusing to purchase the best headsets and technology. Providing strong infrastructure attracts and retains top talent, allowing your sales team to focus on selling. To increase the bottom line, focus on growing sales, not saving on technology.
Management is tasked with making the business successful. To do so, they need to understand how the business is doing, but also how to make it better. Just knowing the metrics on your team’s performance will not answer how to improve them.The best sales leaders understand a successful business doesn’t always help each employee, but productive employees always help the business. By moving focus from output (how did my team perform this quarter?) to input (how can I help Jamie perform better?) leaders are able to understand how to improve the business.