Oh boy, the perfect blog post to write at 10pm on a Sunday evening. Regardless, ready to depart some serious knowledge on how to build the right sales teams and the lessons I learned building them for the past 12 years.
You know one of the most common reasons why companies fail? Sales. They just don’t have enough sales or they suck at selling their product, either way, your probability of success/failure lies squarely at the feet of how well your product sells.
Most SaaS companies, doesn’t matter whether they are doing $1M in ARR or $20M, at some point in time will need to build out a sales team. Not everything can be self served, you will eventually get prospects that will require a sales team to tackle and help cross the finish line.
So what do you do when the time comes? Well, I want to list them out in detail to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I have seen many companies make. Setting themselves up for failure before they even go down that path.
Btw, if you’re looking to build your sales team and are in need of talent, be sure to check out oaze.ai. Full disclosure it’s my project and looking to gain some traction, hence the shout out.
Why is it important to build sales teams the right way?
Truth be told, because you cannot make mistakes when it comes to revenue and you don’t get any do-overs. Sure, building the wrong team regardless of the department can be harmful but nothing causes more damage than putting the wrong people in the room together to go after revenue.
The other thing to keep in mind, and I see this mistake being made by founders over and over again. If your business is flopping, it’s your product. It means it’s just not good enough and that is the reason you are not getting any traction.
You need to sell it first, hiring a sales rep is not going to do you any good since they aren’t going to create a product/market fit and demand for you. That is where you come in to place. Once you have a product/market fit, that’s the point where you hire a sales rep.
Ideally, and I have mentioned this before here. First you should be selling your own product, as much as you possibly can. It is a great way to know what the prospects and customers are looking for and get their feedback at the same time. When you are too busy to handle bringing in all the new business yourself, that is when you should consider bringing on new sales reps and start a sales team.
Do not start a sales team hoping them to snatch sales out of thin air, it is a tried and tested recipe for disaster that has stood the test of time.
Hire the right people
Yes, duh. I’m being captain obvious here but you’d be surprised how many founders and CEOs like to hire people and not pay them well.
You get what you pay for. You need to get the right sales people through the door that means you need to pay them well. Shitty sales people really suck. Unless you have a product that sells itself (I doubt that), it’s completely worth waiting to bring in sales people until you have the resources to incentivize them and enable them so succeed.
Do not jump the gun. A mediocre salesperson will bring mediocre results. It might look like that your idea for building out a sales team is not successful but that’s because of a bad hiring decision not because building the sales team was a bad idea.
Focus on getting the capital needed to get the right sales people, not on the sales people you can get for the limited budget you have. Otherwise, I assure you will end up wasting what you have and time.
Focus on what kind of sales leader you need
This one is absolutely critical. For this, you have to understand which stage of growth you are in. Are you $0-$1M, $1M-$10M, $10M+ ARR, depending on that you will know who you need to hire to lead and build out your sales team.
A head of sales from 0-1M will be a very different guy than 1-10M or 10+, because 0-1 is selling themselves, learning and validating. $1-$10M ARR is building and expanding. $10M+ is process driven and methodical.
Make no mistake, it doesn’t matter whether or not the sales leader is a hard worker, if they don’t possess the knowledge on how to grow or build at the stage of the company where it’s at. You are not going to go far.
It is pretty hard to train for this, because it requires having to go through a stage like this in order to be able to really understand how it’s done.
Please make sure that you do you research before you go looking for a head of sales. Make sure you know exactly what you need to get out of them and what will they need to do in order to succeed. Setting them up for failure is not going to help the company nor the sales leader.
Head/VP sales average tenure is 18 months. I doubt all of them are shit, more often than not, it’e because the company had wildly different expectations that reality cannot match.
Write everything down
Just hear me out. Look, whenever I join a new company. The first thing I do is buy a subscription for Notion. The reason for that is, well I like the software ha. But most importantly I start a blank canvas and I start from the very basics like why are we building this team, the need for it.
I go into so much detail regarding each and everything when it comes to the team being built out. Reason being, if we ever have any questions regarding what the sales team does or if we hire new sales people, they know exactly where to get started.
It not only works as a good sales wiki for your sales team. But also as a reference guide for what you are doing, what is working vs what needs to be improved. If everyone on your team does not have the all the relevant information they need to succeed, you are not doing a good enough job. Period.
In order to be process driven, you need to have a process to begin. Only then can you optimize things and understand what is driving results. If everybody on your team is just winging things, chances for success will dramatically lower.
My notion, where you can find anything and everything that a sales team would need to make sure they operate successfully.
CRM, CRM and CRM
Before you put your foot down on which CRM you need to go ahead with. Do a little internal inventory and make sure that all the departments that will need to be on that CRM will have access to that CRM and they all like that piece of software.
Nothing is tougher than having to change the CRM year or two down the line. Always pick a pick a piece of software that you can build on top of as oppose to erase and start from the very beginning.
And this does not only apply to CRMs, but generally any software. Make sure you do your research before you buy. Sure you might not need an advanced CRM right now considering you are doing <$5M ARR, but as you start to grow and you will want to get all the analytics inside of your CRM and behavioral events, you will need a robust CRM.
Yes, nobody has a crystal ball to predict things but you can come pretty close by looking at what other companies are doing and heeding their advice on bad calls made. Make sure that you choose a CRM that ideally you will not be pivoting away from and will be using for a long long time.
Don’t cap bonuses
Always be fair to your teams. And not just the sales teams, every team. However when it comes to bonuses or commissions, I have seen a lot of companies try and sandbag the sales teams by putting a cap on bonuses.
Please don’t do that.
If the sales rep is doing a good job and earning money for the company, why would you want to limit their ability to sell more by cutting them off at the knees?!
Treat your employees well. Bonuses are an incentive to motivate the sales people in your team. Use that and don’t mess around with it. Nothing beats the morale of sales teams more than messing around with their compensation. That too when they have fairly and squarely earned it.
Let the team earn as much as possible. Because when they perform well, the company performs well. There is no downside to this.
Look, it’s improbable that your first copy of the demo or call script will be a good one. It’s unlikely that the email sequences you write will all be golden.
Yes, it’s all normal that it will take time to find your rythm and you will make mistakes in the process. Mistakes aren’t an issue, the critical thing to remember is to not get too hung up on things and move fast.
Something doesn’t work, change it. Contact property in the CRM doesn’t cut it? delete it. Emails are not doing well, re-write them. Just don’t get stuck in the analysis paralysis. The single biggest differentiator amongst sales teams that determines their success is their ability to move faster than the other teams out there. The faster you iterate and move on, the faster the results will show up.
That means emails, calls, demos, sequences, proposals sent, competitors that you win or lose deals to, and everything in between. You need to be tracking everything in order to understand what is it that you are doing wrong or what is it that can be improved.
If you don’t have a baseline to begin with, chances of you figuring out the mistakes are slim to none. It also helps a lot for hygiene purposes if everything is being tracked and that too well.
This helps diagnose where the deal was stalled, or if something could be done well or better by a sales rep. This can only happen if every step of the way interactions are being recorded. Which is why having a robust CRM is so important to begin with.
It doesn’t just stop there. All this information is critical for the customer success teams as well. Because it helps them understand what the sales rep spoke to the customer about in case they want to read up on the customer and go through the interaction with the sales rep to figure out if there was some piece of information missing.
Set clear expectations
There is no gray area when it comes to sales. It’s fairly binary. You need to set clear expectations for your sales teams from the very beginning. That means that everyone in the sales team needs to know what they need to do in order to succeed in their role.
Knowing what is expected is a key motivator for sales reps and a great employee engagement tactic. Help them understand what kind of work is expected from them and what they need to do in order to deliver it. It all boils down to building out successful habits.
The best option is to build it out from the very beginning. That way there won’t be any issues down the line as the whole sales team will know exactly what they need to focus on and what they need to do in order to hit their targets.
Don’t expect miracles
Look sales people are human. They cannot just conjure up sales. There are a lot of external factors that come in to play when it comes to sales and not to mention luck. Yes, whether you like to believe it or not, luck does play a huge role when it comes to sales.
Miracles very seldom happen in sales. You need to make sure when you build out a sales team, you give them ample time. Time, the right resources coupled with a good product will succeed regardless of the market you are in.
Patience is critical, especially when it comes to building out the sales teams. Please don’t expect miracles, because you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. It takes time to get a team up and running and start producing results. You need to make sure you stay the course and continue improving with each iteration. Success will come.
Know who you need to hire and why
Before you can truly understand what kind of sales hire you need, you need to understand a) the position your business is in and b) who do you need in the sales team. AEs, BDRs or SDRs, depending on the route you end up taking, that is where you will know whether to hire a junior or senior rep.
The goal should always be to build a successful team, not just fill seats with any warm body.
Need someone experienced to hit the ground running? Better hire someone will a lot more experience, a veteran perhaps. Need someone who does not have any preconceived notions of what sales is suppose to be but is motivated and enthusiastic to try all sorts of tactics? Try someone junior or someone who has not yet started their career in sales.
Make the decision based on who you need, for what position, and what role they can play on your team. I have seen so many sales teams implode because they hired great sales reps, they just weren’t a good fit for the position they were hired for. The onus is on you as the company.
Listen to your team
I think this rings true for just about any and every team out there. Managers should always listen to their team members, as they are more dialed in to the facts on the ground and the managers not so much.
In sales however, you need to make an extra effort to make sure that the salespeople are giving you feedback and you are listening to them. Why? Because sales reps have the habit of keeping their head down and go through stuff without complaining. It’s not complaining per se, but for them it sure does look like it because they don’t like making noises and like to get their work done.
Just as your team can benefit from feedback, so can you. One of the key tips for building a successful sales team is to listen to your team and make sure that they know their thoughts, opinions, and ideas matter to you.
Your team is on the front lines everyday, talking to prospects, they are the ones that are living and breathing the processes that you have setup. If they come to you about making improvements, hear them out.
A good manager listens to their team and works with them to help create a work environment that’s constantly improving.
Establish a healthy culture
No one – OK, almost no one wants to work in a cubicle without any windows and under shitty yellow lighting. It’s even worse if you have to share a desk with six other people, for a miserable boss, and for less money that you could earn elsewhere. So what can you do to create a culture that encourages team members to show up and do their best?
- If someone wants to work remote, let em
- Regular salary increases, that match what the market is offering
- Professional development classes
- Opportunities to move up the ladder
- Open feedback at all levels
- Encouragement and appreciation
- Recognition – cannot stress this enough
- Fun stuff, idk pizzas, meals, whatever you choose here cannot be bad
A good team culture starts from the top and that’s the manager right there. You want to create a sales team that is successful, you need to make sure that people that are working with your are successful, there just isn’t any other way.
A poor team culture does so much damage and the thing about teams is that once the trust is lost, it is extremely hard to regain it back. Do better from the get go.
Creating and scaling sales teams is hard work. It will take some time, but in the end the time and effort you invest will pay off. You will be able to hire a kick ass team, knock quotas out of the park and have a happy and healthy sales team if you implement some of these suggestions for your sales team.
Trust me, I know. I live and breathe sale every day, and if you need some assistance, feel free to reach out to me, I’d be happy to help you.
Wish you all the best!