You Don’t Just Hire a Sales Team–You Build It
Developing a great sales organization involves more than just bringing the right people on board. It requires providing the right opportunities and creating the right culture.
By Ken Thoreson
(This is an excerpt from my latest book: Your Sales Management Guru’s Guide to: “Leading High Performance Sales Teams”)
Recently, in speaking to two prospective clients, I heard the same complaint that I hear over and over from sales executives: “My turnover rate is huge.”
They’re not alone in their concerns. Consider these facts:
- In one Manpower Inc. survey of nearly 33,000 employers worldwide, U.S. and Canadian respondents both ranked “sales representative” as the job they were having most trouble filling.
- Nearly 25 percent of the nearly 2,200 sales executives surveyed in another major study reported that turnover had increased during the previous year.
Hiring the right talent is critical in building successful sales teams. Studies show that, if you bring in the wrong salesperson, you lose up to four times the cost of that person’s annual salary and benefits in missed opportunities, management time, fee’s and other factors. (If you’re experiencing turnover, you may find Acumen’s book Hiring a High-Performance Sales Team a valuable resource.)
Building Your Team: Beyond Hiring
However, hiring is just one part of the equation. It’s also important to develop and retain your salespeople. Here are a few suggestions for achieving those goals:
- Buff up the “B” team. Obviously, you have a limited number of “A-level” salespeople. So it makes sense to invest some effort in grooming the B-level team members who seem most likely to be able to move up to the top tier.
If you’re recruiting regularly, you’ll have a constant pipeline of top talent available to keep enhancing the quality of your team. Conducting interviews regularly will improve your ability to identify both the winners and the runners-up—that is, the B-team players with strong potential.
Don’t waste time on salespeople who are C-level or below. Many sales managers spend too much valuable time attempting to save poor performers or trying to make their money back on their hiring mistakes. Instead, focus on providing B-level players with the management, coaching and training they need to advance.
Emphasize education. Design a comprehensive orientation and training program to ensure that new hires hit the ground running–and that they keep moving forward.
We typically advise our clients to establish a three-week on-boarding plan for new hires. That effort typically includes having new employees do everything from reading past proposals to learning to use the customer relationship management (CRM) system and other technologies to making presentations to multiple people, including the president. Managers or assisting salespeople should sign off on each item on each employee’s new hire plan.
The plan should also include a 90-day list of planned objectives. While those objectives will be unique for each organization, they might include pipeline values, revenue goals, sales calls goals and proposals delivered. Having predefined objectives allows all involved to know whether each new hire is on track or requires some additional education.
- Create a sales-oriented culture. From conducting numerous exit interviews, we’ve found that many top salespeople leave their jobs not because they’re dissatisfied with compensation, but because they’re frustrated by sales management. Typically, that frustration stems from a culture that blocks sales success via lack of support, poorly designed sales processes and inefficient internal policies that make it difficult to add new clients, generate proposals, process orders or even calculate commissions. Some organizations call this as “sales prevention.”
Recognizing success goes a long way in building a strong sales culture. Offering contests, awards and yearly incentive trips–and maintaining a fun environment—are all important ways to provide that acknowledge.
Sales leaders serious about improving performance should work hard to implement all three suggestions, helping B-level players move up while developing training programs and a culture that encourages and reward success.
Building Your Team: Working with Company Leadership
Another critical step in building that culture is making sure that your company’s leadership views sales development as a top priority.
That’s not necessarily a given. Many companies’ management teams view their sales divisions as cost centers. In reality, those divisions are profit centers. For that reason, executives should be doing everything possible to help their salespeople execute brilliantly. Again, companies serious about gaining competitive advantage should emphasize developing, mentoring and coaching their sales teams in the same way that they focus on building certification levels for their delivery teams.
Executives from smaller companies often tell us that, unlike their counterparts at larger enterprises, they don’t have the resources to undertake professional-level development projects. (My typical response is: “That’s why you’re still a small company.”) In reality, though, effective sales, training and retention efforts are especially critical for small businesses. Cash flow and decreased sales can have a much bigger impact on monthly profitability for small businesses than for large companies, which can usually better weather a few bumps.
The takeaway: Building a strong sales organization requires developing programs dedicated to each salesperson’s short-term success and long-term growth—and it requires doing so in a positive culture that rewards achievement. Such efforts will help all team members reach their potential and go a long way toward keeping them on board.
BONUS: a free web cast on “Hiring a High Performance Sales Team https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/347130472
Hiring top performers is the #1 job of sales management and it is hardest part of the job. This one hour investment will absolutely help you recruit and hire a better sales team. This program is based on my first book.
Acumen Management Group Ltd. “operationalizes” sales management systems and processes that pull revenue out of the doldrums into the fresh zone. During the past 12 years, our consulting, advisory, and platform services have illuminated, motivated, and rejuvenated the sales efforts for partners throughout North America.