There comes a time in the life of every small business when sales need to become front and center and executed by a professional sales team. Prior to that, your sales may come organically, or through networking and advertising. That is all well and good, if a bit haphazard.
Small businesses that scale create sales teams. Period.
Those teams fuel growth, build buzz, and cement relationships via sales calls, meetings, networking, follow-ups, and other similar sales activities. Given that fact, the question then must be: If your company is on the cusp of a growth spurt and needs better sales performance to help accelerate that, what is the best way to do so? How do you hire, motivate, and manage a team of exceptional sales professionals to create the growth you desire?
Here’s how, in six steps.
1. Create a Winning Culture
Before you ever hire that crackerjack sales team (and, actually, even after you do), you set the foundation for the team members' success by having a strong company culture—one that is positive, celebrates and rewards success, is inclusive, and so on. A business culture helps your employees understand how things should be done, and why, even when the bosses and managers are not around.
And so, in that sense, culture is like business oxygen. Everyone breathes it and it permeates all that you do. If it is healthy, everyone feels great about where they work. But conversely, if that air is polluted by bad values, mean teams, bad bosses, inattention, boredom and so on, that too permeates.
So if a successful sales team starts with having a great culture, how do you create a great culture? The number one thing is to know your mission and values—and incorporate them into all that you do. For example, if employee well-being is key to your culture, you might offer your employees things like gym memberships, meditation classes or workshops on wellness or dealing with work stress.
If you need help figuring out your culture, just ask your team what they’re looking for. Send out a survey to see what your employees want and value and what they’d like to see improve. And, most importantly, don’t forget to take steps to implement some (or all of) their suggestions.
2. Hire the Right People
According to SalesHacker, the best salespeople have traits in common. Those salespeople are upbeat, passionate, creative, empathetic, accountable, prepared, tech-savvy, goal-oriented, relationship driven, hungry, competitive, and are good listeners. The reason these traits are key is that they are what a good salesperson needs in order to persist and keep connecting and persuading people, even after hearing a ton of “no’s.”
These qualities are intuitive and make sense, sure, but they are also important to keep in mind in your hiring process as you go about selecting your sales manager and sales team.
That last trait should be underscored, even if it seems obvious: The ability to listen well. Master salesman Tom Hopkins says that people have “two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Salespeople especially, he says, should listen more than they speak. They need to be open to asking questions and hearing exactly what your customers need—so they can offer the right solution.
Where do you find these great, passionate, driven new hires and soon-to-be account executives? Round up the usual suspects of course! LinkedIn is a hiring manager's dream, as are sites like Monster, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and even Craigslist.
3. Train Them Right
Once you hire the right team, it is incumbent upon you to train them in the ways of The Force if you want to create a professional sales organization. That is, they need to be taught, not only about your great company culture and the product they’ll be selling, but also how much you expect them to sell and to whom.
What does customer success look like for your startup or your business? How often should they be closing deals, and in what amounts? What is your compensation plan?
All of this therefore requires training, and lots of it. That means that your training should not just be a one-time deal upon hiring, but an ongoing process that helps employees attain their best results. That is how someone goes from being a sales rep to a sales leader to a sales superstar. That is how effective sales teams are created.
There are no shortage of strategies for what that training and messaging should look like, but here are some tried and true approaches:
Understand that people learn in different ways. More and more, companies are moving away from sending entire teams en-masse to sales trainings and seminars. Instead, they are adopting microlearning approaches that appreciate different styles of learning. That can include role playing, listening to speeches, webinars, and seminars, watching videos, reading manuals, and so on.
Utilize different modules. Training can be done in so many ways these days. Add a variety to your program, which can help new hires stay interested in what you’re teaching them.
- Online: Utilizing an on-demand online training system allows your sales team to schedule the training when it is good for them. It is also interactive and how people are used to working these days—in front of a screen.
- Mobile: More and more, business and deals are done using mobile devices. Using cell phones to deliver sales training makes sense then, especially for your younger, millennial and Gen-Z staff members.
- In person: Needless to say, having new salespeople shadow successful salespeople is a standard process for a reason. It works. Taking it one step further, giving your salespeople a mentor to work with can prove invaluable.
Provide—and teach—tools. Technology runs our lives of course these days, and that is similarly true for sales teams. Whether it is your SaaS or the CRM you use or your expense management app, your team must be taught your sales tools. And this definitely needs to go beyond the basics; software developers spend oodles of time and money adding bells and whistles to their apps. You will be leaving money on the table if your team is not taught the upper division of your software.
4. Be a Good Manager
You are a leader, so lead. That means that you need to know your team individually and help them collectively. That is what sales development is all about.
Indeed, great management starts with knowing each individual member of your sales team, their strengths and weaknesses, and then working with them to achieve the goals you both set. What motivates them–is it money, achievement, recognition? What is their selling style? What do they avoid?
Because creating successful salespeople in no small measure depends upon the abilities of their leader, one-on-one coaching is critical. Salespeople generally are gregarious, opinionated, and determined. But to succeed, they need direction, feedback, and assistance. That is where great team management comes in.
- Creating workable sales plans and sales cycles
- Sharing sales strategies
- Giving them realistic sales goals and quotas
- Helping them generate leads, and close sales
- Listening to their issues and responding
- Helping them overcome obstacles
- Celebrating their success
- Giving constructive criticism and feedback
One tactic that works to motivate a lot of salespeople, and which can certainly increase revenues, is to create short-term, long-term, and so-called “stretch” goals as well. Stretch goals are sales goals that are a bit out of reach, but doable with effort and talent. With the right financial reward, such goals help your salespeople succeed, grow, and stay motivated.
Last, and as they say, certainly not least, being a great manager of a sales team is also a matter of giving the troops inspiration, yes, but also valuable feedback. Don’t skimp on the praise, but don’t avoid the tough stuff. Giving honest feedback, both positive and negative, can help your team learn, grow, and succeed.
5. Reward Your Team
Why do people work? What are their incentives? The answer is not always obvious. Of course, a main motivator–maybe the main motivator—is money. That is especially true for salespeople. Fair and generous sales compensation is vital. But it’s also not just about money. Salespeople are also driven by competition, the desire to make a difference, the love of camaraderie, the need for recognition, and more.
Given that, it is important that you reward them in the ways that will best motivate them.
- Money. Money is money. It motivates us all and should be central to your reward system. Fair wages and bonuses are de-rigueur if you want to create a team that will soar.
- Recognition. Again, we are talking about professionals who drive the growth of your business and so they need to be recognized accordingly. They will want, expect, and appreciate that. Company-wide dimensions, blurbs in the newsletter, and one-on-one talks can all play a part.
- Thanks. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and in fact, after money, appreciation is usually ranked as the second most powerful motivator for salespeople.
6. Enjoy the Wins
Just as in sports, a great sales team is a team that works together, shares the ball, and strives for greatness. And, similarly too, a bad sales team is a group of individuals masquerading as a unit. The former wins championships, the latter wins nothing.
One way then to foster the former is by celebrating individual and group successes with team activities (like team lunches, a ball game, a show, etc.). This is especially true as sales is a very stressful occupation. If you, as the team leader, do not take time to acknowledge the wins your team creates, that stress can become unmanageable because people will begin to feel taken for granted.
Conversely, if their accomplishments are rightfully praised and rewarded, both individually and collectively, the opposite will be true. They will feel appreciated and respected. And when that happens, that positive company culture that you worked so hard to create, teach, and reinforce, will only be strengthened.
It’s the circle of, well, maybe not life, but business. You do right by them, they will do right by you, they will be happy, you will be happy, they will make you money, you will pay them money, and the company will grow.
Hakuna Matata indeed.