My first days in sales were rocky. In the words of my boss at the time, I was “unconciously incompetent” at my job. Which is to say, I wasn’t aware of everything in sales that I wasn’t aware of. Luckily for me, my first boss recognized that I had a positive attitude, willingness to be coached, and desire to improve. Through active coaching, lots of work, and time, I shifted from being an unconsciously incompetent salesman to a sales leader building sales teams.
I’m passionate about building consciously competent sales teams. I’ve built enough sales teams to know that, depending upon the business and existing sales staff, each team I build is going to look slightly different. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about building consciously competent sales teams:
1 - Understand the Goals of the Organization & Build A Hiring Plan - Before you begin building out your sales team, you need to understand your organization’s growth goals. To do this, I map out growth goals across a span of years.
Once I understand a company’s growth goals, I utilize the company’s sales process to analyze and evaluate the company’s sales talents. In my experience, the best way to do this is by getting onto sales phone calls with existing staff to assess what they do well and what they can improve on. Additionally, I look at the existing training offered by the company to assess where I may need to make investments in training in the future.
2 - What to look for when building a team - Once I’ve assessed the current state of sales in conjunction with the company’s sales goals, I’ll look to hire new salespeople to round out the sales team talent pool. Some of the traits I look for are:
Ability to self-educate
In addition to these traits, I’ll vet salespeople across various selling temperaments. For example, if I was building a sales staff for a startup, I’d want to search for a salesperson who is comfortable operating in an unstructured sales environment. Alternatively, if I’m hiring for a large, sophisticated sales operation, I aim to hire a salesperson who has a high tolerance for bureaucratic systems.
Some other traits I look for in salespeople are: do they prefer high-volume sales or high quality sales, are they closers or pleasers, do they have a rapport with executives or do they prefer interacting with mid-managers. Before you build your sales team, make sure that you understand what type of sales environment your company has and select for salespeople who will fit well in your given environment.
3 - Define the Carrots and Sticks - This is an area that’s easy to get wrong when you’re building a sales team. Often, I’ve found that company’s build their incentives around the top couple of performers in their organization and end up losing lots of competent salespeople because of unrealistic expectations. You can’t build all of your carrots and sticks around your highest performing salesperson – you have to create incentives for your competent middle to perform well.
When building a sales team, I think of base salary as a hiring tool, and commissions as motivation to reward positive performance. My goal is to build out a commissions system that operates like a bell curve, benefitting the middle performers enough to encourage 40 hours of solid work, pushing out my low performers, and providing enough rewards to my top performers that they’re well-compensated for their rockstar status.
4 - Conduct Sales Training With New Staff - Sales training is the time to set clear expectations with your sales staff. Provide a framework for your salespeople and help them understand what they need to be successful.
During the training process, I’m focused on a salesperson activity, attitude, and results:
If a sales person doesn’t have much activity, and has a good attitude, they probably won’t get the desired results
If a sales person does a lot of activity, but has a bad attitude, they probably won’t get the desired results.
If a sales person does a lot of activity, has a good attitude, but doesn’t get good results, then I know that I need to provide that person with more coaching and resources to be successful.
In truth, good sales teams never stop learning and improving. I like to sit in on phone calls from time to time to actively coach my experienced salespeople, and I set the expectation that I’ll be taking an active role in their progress.
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