Imagine a sample of 1,254 public companies in 10 industries worldwide reviewed over four years. Researchers capture revenue and compare that to sales and marketing expenses. The results? Across industries, the average company earned revenue growing at the same rate as their sales and marketing expenses. About 20 percent of companies improved revenue by more than 10 percent of sales and marketing expenses in any given year, but didn't sustain the trend for year-over-year. Just five percent of companies were able to sustain gains exceeding expenses three out of the four years.
In sum, consistently building sales, and a winning sales and marketing strategy, isn't as clear cut as most business disciplines (or occupations). Hiring a cook? An engineer? There are concrete skills and competencies you can assess through hiring. Now, think about hiring and assessing the skills and traits needed for a sales role. While the job requires mastery of your industry and product or service, they also need to influence and resonate your specific customer and prospect base, and work in ways that connect with and strengthen your culture. You may also hire for roles where the ability to prospect as well as sell is needed. Do you prioritize industry knowledge, or a strong record of success in a different industry or segment? It's not surprising that hiring and retaining high-performing salespeople ranks among the greatest challenges for the majority of B2B, hospitality, retail, and tech companies.
Building and growing your sales team.
Rather than focusing on rewards and pressure with quotas, commission, or other techniques, let's go back to the beginning with maximizing sales performance with how we hire and develop our teams.
Look for intrinsic (not extrinsic) motivation to serve — and sell — within candidates.
While there’s no hard-and-fast metric for intrinsic motivation, assess connection with your mission and vision. Intrinsic motivation research on sales finds it strengthens both prospecting and conversion efficacy. When we're working to achieve a greater mission and serve - we're more likely to persist and respond with resilience to the inevitable pitfalls before us. Suggestion: look for candidates with a proven track record in roles with a similar mission and vision. Those with sustained success are more likely than others to be motivated by their own values and vision than external rewards, such as the possibility of big bonuses or commissions. A nurse with a passion for technology could become a highly productive sales or account representative — and outperform (and outstay a career sales professional without much of a background in healthcare). Similarly a veteran restaurant leader might have better odds of supporting a tool that tackles operational challenges they cared about. They’re also more likely to be intrinsically motivated than someone who has bounced from profession to profession before landing on or returning to sales. Intrinsic motivation is most important for tenured sales roles as it buffers the strain and burnout caused by often-frustrating prospecting and sales efforts.
Hire and grow to build a strong sales funnel.
While some evidence supports that new sales reps can outperform their experienced colleagues in prospecting and finding viable leads, those experienced team members still brought in more revenue because of their ability to close and convert.
Often sales leaders will have newer sales reps and employees start with prospecting and the early stages and bring in the experienced seller to close the deal. Over time, however, this silos your team in these two camps — and leaves you ill prepared for workforce changes — like turnover or layoffs.
Instead, consider evaluating new sales reps and team members for their strengths and vulnerabilities early (and on an ongoing basis for the current team). With that knowledge you're ready to provide an exceptional experience at each stage of the sales funnel and support people where they need the most coaching. This also provides you with the workforce analytics you need to make better hiring and promotion decisions. Specifically, you can validate steps and tools within the hiring and vetting process, and know, instead of estimate, what qualities you need on your team through hiring — or development.
Top-performing sales reps, and those with greater tenure benefit from more frequent and useful interactions with their managers than low-performing reps. Leaders are more likely to devote time and resources to top performers and those with the organization longer. Meetings like one-on-one sessions, side-by-side coaching, and pipeline reviews are found to be especially helpful - but often go to the 'proven' members of the sales team. Consider taking a look at how managers spend their time across the team. Mentoring and development programs can allow senior reps to coach and support newer and lower-performing team members — strengthening their engagement and building on that sense of purpose and intrinsic motivation we just talked about.
Consultative selling, in any industry, demands expertise that is never fully developed through hiring and training. Mastery comes from practice with coaching. Consider hiring and moving employees into sales that have the capacity to teach and coach. Not only can the model the process, but provide opportunities to practice and deliver feedback in ways that spark learning and growth. Similarly, consider how well your current systems for moving employees into sales roles — or hiring external candidates — support building a coachable team. Are your newer reps seeking feedback? Are they hungry for information and perspective on how they can improve? These questions merit answering and incorporating into your plan for growing and developing your team.
Hire and develop the qualities that will support your sales strategy.
Any sales strategy rests upon your culture and vision. New hires will not only need to gain competence within sales, but also thrive within your vision of success and how it is achieved. If your company has established structured assessments and interviews for evaluating culture-fit or alignment make sure they are incorporated into your process.
Next, consider your sales strategy and the qualities that are needed to support success. Undoubtedly problem-solving, adaptability and resilience are key for sales — but specific aspects of these competencies may be particularly important. Here are some examples:
Adaptability. A new small business or startup may shift and adapt systems, processes, and tools. Reps may be expected to take on additional responsibilities, or 'wear many hats' — even taking on customer support and account management ownership at times. In this case problem-solving, systems thinking, and resilience may look different than with a larger later-stage organization.
Location. Is your sales team remote, hybrid, onsite — or does the expectation differ depending on the role? From our work with sales related roles, virtual-first roles often benefit from assessing independence and the ability to provide structure early in the vetting process. Similarly, we've seen time out-of-office or travelling as areas ripe to ensure candidate expectations match reality.
Solutions. How fast-changing is your industry? How do tech, market, or other forces affect your business? Depending on your applicant pool, hiring and building a sales team that embraces innovation, constant change, and challenge may look different depending on your unique needs.
Uncertainty. How much does your applicant pool fully understand the role? There could be unique traits like travel time, compensation, or the length of your sales cycle that candidates could benefit from knowing early when considering the role. In these cases realistic job previews have been helpful for our clients seeking to educate through the candidate experience — with the added benefit of demonstrating authenticity and candor sharing the wins and drawbacks honestly early in the process.
We'd love to know what approaches you've taken to build a winning sales team — and if any tactics we shared could be a realistic addition to how you assess, hire, and develop your sales team. Are you seeking more practical strategies for building strong tenured teams — or wanting to connect on ways to build top and bottom line growth through people? Subscribe to our blog to learn more.