“You’re only as good as your last sale”.
That expression definitely rings true when you’re in sales.
Sales drive the organization. No sales means no business.
So what’s it like to work in a job where you’re always being measured, where your job success is posted on a board for everyone to see, and you live with the thought that if you don’t make your number, your job or business is on the line?
In my early days building my company, I spent the bulk of my time in sales. My sales cycle went from boom to bust and back again, and my emotions rode the same cycle.
When sales were great, I was at the top of my game.
When I hit a dry spell, I panicked.
I always had this nagging feeling that my prior month’s sales would mark the end of my sales career or business.
What if I couldn’t repeat the last month, quarter, or year’s numbers?
Would my business survive?
I lived in an almost constant state of panic, always worried that I wouldn’t have a repeat performance. I suspect living in that mental state is what drove me even harder.
The early days of building my business were challenging. For the first few years I brought the bulk of our business into the company, and as the business grew, and as I hired more salespeople, the sales cycles flattened out.
It makes sense, of course.
If you have only one salesperson, your business is going to fluctuate with the performance of that one person. The more people you have on your team, the more even the performance.
So if you want to build your business, you need to build your sales team.
The Challenge of Building a Strong Sales Team
I remember entering a computer-simulated business competition when I was in university in the late 1980s. (Yes, they had computers back then.)
The idea behind the competition was that you had to scale your business, build revenues, and improve profits. The team with the highest sales and profits at the end of the competition won.
The natural inclination was to pump as much of your budget into marketing and sales, but if your sales team grew too quickly and your operations (and inventory) didn’t keep up, then you upset your customers. Upset customers aren’t good for business, of course. Upset customers mean fewer repeat orders, which in turn impacts the sales team’s ability to deliver on their numbers.
The team that ultimately won the competition took a slow and steady approach to grow their computer-simulated business.
Yes, it was a computer simulation, but two messages resonated with me for many years.
1. The slow and steady approach to building a business is probably the safer way to grow. Watch your debt levels, contain growth to a manageable level, and maximize profitability.
2. Growing a sales team is a heck of a lot harder in the real world than it is in a computer-simulated game. Duh, of course it is.
For many years after I finished university, and well into when I was growing my business, I had always wished that building a business was as simple as plugging a few extra dollars into a computer game.
Sprinkle a few dollars into the sales department, and boom, you now have sales.
Sprinkle a few dollars into marketing, and boom, you now have inbound leads.
4 Essential Steps To Build a Successful Sales Team
1. Hire Slow, Fire Fast
I’m sure you’ve heard this saying.
According to this Harvard Business Review article, “the best sales organizations have strong leaders who exercise control, monitor team performance, and establish internal processes that all team members must abide by. They hire talent of such high-quality that it challenges the more tenured sales team members to continually perform at the highest level. In addition, weaker sales team members who cannot contribute their revenue share are quickly removed.
While the company’s goal may be to go public or reach certain revenue milestones, the greatest sales organizations are on a never-ending mission to prove to the world that they are the best.”
Of course, the hire-slow-fire-fast mantra applies not only to the sales department but should be applied across the entire company. Any underperforming or, worse, a toxic individual can really damage morale and hinder productivity.
2. Did You Make Your number?
Higher performing sales organizations are measured, benchmarked, and held accountable to their quotas. I’m often surprised by the number of entrepreneurs I speak with who have a sales team with:
– no quotas,
– quotas that are way too low, or
– accept their salespeople constantly missing quotas.
None of the above are acceptable
3. Measure, measure, and measure some more
In order to build a successful company, you need to have a clear set of defined KPIs (key performance indicators). Although that is the case across the entire organization, it is especially true in marketing and sales.
It makes sense that you measure total sales volume for each rep by month/quarter, but there are many leading indicators that also need to be measured. If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.
How many sales calls did your BDR rep make last week?
How many appointments did the BDR make last week/month/quarter?
How many sales calls did your account exec make last week/month?
4. Turn on the Taps and Let the Water Flow
In order to build a high-performing sales team, you need a high-performing marketing and support team.
The sales team isn’t an island. It needs a high-performing marketing team that can provide a steady stream of inbound leads and a high-performing support team that can support the sales team’s efforts.
The marketing team needs to be held accountable for the marketing results, and you need to measure marketing’s total contribution to the sales team’s overall numbers. The more marketing qualified inbound leads you can pass your team, the easier it is for the sales team to make their numbers.
The support team, including finance and administration, needs to understand that they work for, and support the sales effort. No sales, no business. No salespeople, no business. It’s the role of the salesperson to go out and sell, not to support the administrative minutiae of keeping the business going.
Keep in mind, and no matter what you do, you need to make sure that your salespeople know how to sell. That’s a given of course. I discuss the nuances of evaluating your salespeople in this article: Sell Me This Pen. I Tackle the Wolf of Wall Street Sales Riddle
And next, if you’re just building your sales team from the ground up, here’s another post I wrote that could help you in the earlier stages of the sales team development. 9 Steps to Build a Sales Team From The Ground Up
One of the main keys to growing a successful business is to grow a successful sales team. And one of the keys to growing a strong sales team is to hire amazing sales contributors, motivate and treat them well, set appropriate quotas and measure against them, and ensure that you have a strong marketing and admin effort to support the sales function.
The above is easier said than done. Figure it out, and you’ve now got the keys to build a successful sales team.
My goal is to help entrepreneurs scale their business, improve profits, and, ultimately, create wealth. I post two blog posts a week. You can subscribe here.
Want to know more about me and read some of the other interesting small business growth, profit and wealth stories I’ve written.
Here’s an interesting post I wrote: The Top 2 Mistakes I Made When I Started My Business. That Was a Long Time Ago, and Entrepreneurs Are Still Making the Same Mistakes Today
Here’s one of the first articles I wrote: My Journey Post Business Sale as I Sail Into a New Harbour.
Are you a younger entrepreneur? Here’s another interesting article I wrote:
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