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How to Build a Great Sales Team

Business leaders tell us constantly that it’s exhausting trying to build an A+ sales team these days. With over 30 million small businesses in America, competition among companies is only growing and it’s becoming harder than ever to find and maintain a sales “dream team.” At the same time, more people are going online to buy both B2B and B2C products and services and they have more choices than ever before. That’s why so much of small businesses’s success now is up to the sales team! Your team truly does make or break your revenue growth.

So we sat down with Chris Perry of Sandler Sales Training, as well as our own Director of Sales – Kevin Lange – to exchange ideas and “best advice” on how to build a great sales team. Here are the key tips and tricks we came up with:

Hiring

Avoid the “myth of the top performer”

This is how Chris Perry explains it: Company Z is looking for A+ talent for their sales team. “Joe Smith” down the street has a cousin that’s known for being a great salesman. He worked at Company X for 10 years and was the top performer in the Sales department every year. By all measures of success, his resume is impressive and he should perform well at Company Z! So they hire him. But once he gets hired and gets settled in, he doesn’t hit goal and is the lowest performer on the team. Company Z is baffled and can’t figure out why this could happen.

Company Z fell into the trap of the “top performer.” They hired based on the candidate’s reputation and resume alone, before assessing other hard and soft skills. This is dangerous – just because a salesperson does well in one professional environment doesn’t mean he or she will do well in another. What makes a  great salesperson has just as much to do with the environment as it has to do with technical skills, past achievements and experience, and attitude. 

“ Beware of the myth of the top performer! Don’t hire based on resume or reputation alone. Just because ‘Joe Smith’ was the top salesman at Company X for 10 years in a row doesn’t mean he can sell in your environment, now.  There are *many* hidden variables that contribute to a sales person’s success or failure. You need to be asking the candidate and yourself, why were they successful at Company X? Was it because they were the lowest priced in the industry, or was it because Joe had a clear, daily, and weekly sales behavior plan that he executed meticulously? Was it that Joe had a manager who micromanaged him to success, or did Joe just have an innate drive that lead him to work harder than everyone else? If a sales rep can’t tell you in explicit detail what they did to be more successful than everyone else on the team, they are unlikely to know how to replicate the magic when they come work for you.”  

Chris Perry, Sandler Sales Training

When interviewing, make sure to ask the candidate questions about performance your new environment. How do they think your sales environment is different than their previous ones? How do they think they will have to adapt to be successful?

Hire passion

To that point, hiring a person with motivation and passion is key. Both Chris and Kevin agreed on this point. A great salesperson has to believe in what he or she is selling, as well as believing in him/herself as a salesperson. A sales job is hard – you have to face rejection often, and with no motivation there’s no backbone! 

Additionally, passion will indicate whether the candidate is trainable and coachable down the line. You want to find team members with a sense of humility, who are open to constructive criticism for the sake of growth, and genuinely want to get better at selling. If this key ingredient is missing, your training process may be a waste of time and resources.

Chris and Kevin agree that you can detect passion in the interview. A person with a winning attitude who cares about the company and product/service will transfer that passion onto the interviewer. Find out how much the person cares for the product or service the company is selling. Do they have a personal connection to it? Do they have a story about it? Can they relate to someone who would want the product/service? Additionally, find out ways in which the person went above and beyond in previous jobs, or personally. Character goes a long way in this field!

Avoid bias in the hiring process

This isn’t as easy as it sounds! Some teams make the mistake of hiring someone they “like,” or relate to, without even knowing it. On the other hand, sometimes personal judgment about a person can get in the way of a potentially great hire.

Some teams also only scout technical (hard) skills and fail to look into conceptual (soft) skills. For instance, pay attention to interpersonal skills. Chris joked with us that even bad salespeople are often good at selling themselves. Don’t let your interview process come down to a charm contest. Make sure that you structure your interviews in a way that will show you how the candidate would actually behave in front of one of your customers when they represent your product, rather than just their winning personality.

If you fall on the other side, and tend to be a good judge of soft skills but not hard skills, there are objective tools many sales teams now use to make sure their hiring process is unbiased. They can help predict whether or not a candidate will likely do well in your environment and has potential to grow. While there are lots of great personality assessment tools out there, many companies prefer the“ Objective Management Tool,” which has been voted the Top Sales Assessment Tool eight years in a row. Rather than assessing a candidate’s personality or communication style, this tool focuses exclusively on their technical and conceptual sales strengths and weaknesses and how they align with your unique sales environment. (Get a free trial here.)  

Training

Make sure not to skip over thorough training! It’s equally important – if not more important – than just finding the right people and hiring them.

Create a great onboarding plan

It’s never enough to hire people with great potential and then “throw them to the wolves.” After all, you saw passion in this hire in the interview. You owe it to him or her to reciprocate that passion by delivering a great onboarding process, that keeps new hires motivated and engaged in the work environment. Create a system that puts all expectations on the table. Be clear about explaining the new hire’s role in the team and the impact they have on the entire company’s ecosystem. Use it for every single new team member.

The onboarding process is also a great time to make sure the hire is going to be a good fit on both sides. Our Sales Director, Kevin, recommends a 3-4 week onboarding plan + a 90-day window to make sure not only the hire is a good fit for the company, but the company is a good fit for the new hire. To have a great sales team, it must be a “win” for all parties involved. To do this, be clear about explaining the new hire’s role in the team and they impact they have on the entire company’s ecosystem. Foster an open and honest, open-door culture that encourages the new employee to be transparent about their experience joining the company. This will pave the way for success for the entire team.

During our time with Chris, he explained that many teams make the mistake of assuming they can “train problems away” through formalized, technical training sessions, without taking the time to nourish their sales mindset and addressing any “head trash” that may be getting in the way of their being able to effectively and consistently apply good sales technique. Make sure you include time for one-on-one check-in’s, shadowing and getting to know current employees, and performing “trial” phone calls before diving in to the deep end.

Execute a selling system

Sales Directors often say they’re looking to see “sales excellence” from their team. But “sales excellence” means a lot of different things to different folks in the sales world. What does it really mean and what does it look like in action?

Both Chris and Kevin say it comes down to developing a sharp selling system. It has to be both specific and documented, and make sense for your unique environment. Base it off what’s worked in the past, your metrics and performance, and goals you want to achieve moving forward.

Salespeople often speak the language of “closing”. It makes sense, since closing sales is the goal at the end of the day. But Chris says too many teams focus too heavily on closing and not enough on the process of getting there. For instance, he says that based off a sample set of nearly 1.9 million salespeople, more than half admit they’re “winging it” during their sales calls. And those are just the ones that are admitting it! If you’re constantly laser-focused on closing alone, you’ll lose sight of the milestones and techniques that get you to the point of closing. 

You need to develop a robust system that produces consistent, predictable results. Then continuously fine-tune that system as a team as you learn more about your process. Additionally, after developing and implementing the system – make sure your team is holding each other accountable to using that system regularly! Whether your system involves blocking off ideal selling times from your calendar, incorporating key business and “return” lingo into sales calls to relate to the prospect, logging everything in the CRM, or using well-crafted email templates – consistency across your company is key.

Coach the entire team continuously

Don’t stop coaching after finishing onboarding. Salespeople have to constantly look at ways to better their craft. Team collaboration is an underestimated way to achieve that.  One-on-one’s between sales leaders and sales executives are crucial, but they shouldn’t serve as the only form of team communication. Here are some techniques to use:

  • If you’re a sales leader, encourage your team to live the “open door” culture. Be available for one another, exchange ideas regularly, and support one another’s efforts. This can be as simple as having personal conversations or checking in on one another each morning.
  • Promote collaboration, not competition. The team should be working together towards a common goal, not towards their individual bonus or to “out-sell” each other.
  • Create a “mentorship” system where team members check in on another team member to prevent feeling “stuck.” Some teams pair up people with opposite “weak spots” so they can help better one another.
  • Find out what measures your team is making to boost their skill set and stay passionate about what they do. Offer them tips and resources. 

Again, a sales job is not for the faint of heart! An upbeat and transparent work culture is going to make or break a team member’s experience with the company. The goal is to work as a team and stay excited.

Already have a strong sales team?  Great. Feed them true intent leads to improve sales.

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