6 Tactics for Creating a Scalable Sales Team

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Once startups get a whiff of product-market fit, it’s balls to the wall funding and scaling. “Let’s get rich, people!”

The problem? 74% of high growth technology companies fail because they scale too quickly.

When you get an influx of cash to scale your business, it’s an exciting time. But that’s the problem! Suddenly your decisions are governed less by reason and more by emotion, and that’s where you make mistakes.  

While you don’t want to rain on the parade, you need to inject a bit more reason into the conversation. “Is our current sales engine honestly scalable?”

If you hired X more salespeople would see the same rate of success you are seeing with your current small team?

Chances are you wouldn’t.

This guide was written to help sales managers think about the right things when it comes time to scale, or better yet create a scalable set of practices from day 1.

Here are 6 tactics for creating a scalable sales team:

  1. Design your process sales process like a product manager
  2. Make process adoption non-negotiable
  3. Own your own talent acquisition
  4. Understand productivity ramp time
  5. Take a realistic approach to training
  6. Create a coaching culture

1) Design your process like a product manager

A sales process that supports 5 people won’t support a team of 100.

Your sales process will change as you add more people, pursue different prospects, and change sales tactics. To stay on top of the changes, you need to think of your sales process as a product and yourself as its product manager.

The sales process is a product built to serve its customers–your salespeople. Your job as product manager is to make sure that the process is fully optimized to serve their needs.

This is also a matter of mindset. Never tell yourself that you’ve “figured it out.” Seek as many inputs as possible to help you make informed management decisions. Here are three thing you must be doing for intelligent sales process design:

    1. Quantitative Analysis: Collect hard data, as much as you can. Constantly be searching for bottlenecks or other inefficiencies. There are too many metrics to list here and stay focused, but do a google search for the following: general sales KPIs, activity metrics, pipeline metrics, lead generation metrics, outreach metrics, conversion metrics, channel metrics, productivity metrics, hiring metrics, onboarding metrics, process/adoption metrics.
    2. Qualitative Analysis: Some of the most important insights, especially in regards to customer experience, cannot be picked up through quantitative analysis. Keep an open dialogue with reps and even customers about how your sales process is working. But be direct. Don’t just ask “how is our sales process working?” Insist on feedback. Ask, “what’s working in our sales process today?” “what’s not working in our sales process today?”
    3. Incremental Improvement: Products develop through incremental refinement, not quantum leaps. The development of your sales process should be no different. Hiring too many people at once creates too much noise to optimize your process for maximum output. Grow your sales team incrementally. Hire 2-3 reps at a time, make sure everything is working as expected, and then move on the the next round of hiring. Avoid hiring one person at a time to avoid false negatives; if an individual hire isn’t performing it could be due to either a hiring mistake or a flaw in the sales process. Hiring at least 2 people at a time will help you point the finger in the right direction.

2) Make process adoption non-negotiable

The best sales teams have a strictly enforced or at least closely monitored sales process. This is because a sales team that doesn’t adhere to a process doesn’t produce reliable data; resulting in poor optimization and inefficient growth.

Here are 4 tips to get your team to stick to your process:

    1. Turn team input into action: An amazing thing happens when you ask for a person’s advice and put it into action. Suddenly they have a sense of ownership over whatever they’re contributing to, and have a personal stake in making it successful. Behavioral economists call this the endowment effect, and you should use it to your advantage. Even if you already know the answers, present your team with data, ask what they would do, then put their insights into action. They will buy into the decisions, help see them through, and even become advocates. They may even have some great ideas you haven’t considered yet.
    2. Create relevant incentives: People are more likely to comply to a process if they can see there is something in it for them. Make sure you carefully articulate how process adherence will improve the lives of your reps in near, intermediate, and distant future. You may also consider making individual-level adherence visible to everyone on your team, creating a public sense of accountability. You could also consider using process adherence to contribute to a rep’s variable income, just make sure you have a method for scoring it objectively.
    3. Provide CRM training: Not all CRMs are the same, and not all sales processes are the same. When you hire a new rep it’s a mistake to believe they will be able to use your CRM correctly. Include CRM training in your onboarding process and clearly document it so that reps can refer back when necessary. Every time you make changes in your process make sure you update your best practices and let reps know why those changes are being made.
    4. Have realistic expectations: Fewer high quality data points are better than more lesser quality data points. The more data fields you require reps to update, the less compliance you will get. Be realistic, and don’t ask for too much. Add more data-gathering requirements over time to see how much reps have a tolerance for. You may also want to explore possibilities for automation.

3) Own your own talent acquisition

Bad hires in sales cost more than bad hires in any other part of the business. This is because a rep who doesn’t perform well loses opportunities that an average rep would close. This means missed revenue, which can potentially be a massive loss depending on your average deal size–even more devastating when your business is valued at a multiple of revenue.

Good hiring decisions in sales are too important to leave up to chance. You also can’t leave hiring standards up to HR because they don’t have the same kind of skin in the game. But how to you make hiring decisions more objective and predictable?

In the early days at HubSpot, CRO Mark Roberge managed to poach the best rep from a team of over 800 people. The issue? They were a total bust. Realizing they had a poor understanding of what made a rep successful in their environment, Mark introduced a structured hiring process that ended up being key in growing from the business from $0 to $100 million.

You can learn more about Hubspot’s growth strategy in Mark’s presentation from “Talks at Google” but the general process is as follows:

    1. Hypothesise: What separates your top performers from the rest? What makes them unique? Create a list of the factors you believe they have in common.
    2. Measuring strategy: How can you screen sales candidates for those qualities? Create a set of behavioral interview questions, or design a role play that will help you tease out those qualities.
    3. Candidate scoring: How will you score candidates for each of those characteristics? Create a grading rubric that allows anyone to objectively score a candidate on a scale of 1-5 for each quality.
    4. Multiple interviews: Interview and score candidates against your criteria. Get multiple people to interview candidates to ensure they are being score accurately.
    5. Aggregate and hire: Add up a candidates total score to predict how well they will perform, and use that to inform your hiring decision.
    6. Analyze data: Over time you will have an abundance of scorecards and performance data. Run a regression analysis and to see if the factors you are measuring are indicating predicting success and by how much.
    7. Adjust and Weight: Some criteria will not be predictive, or they may actually be hurting you. Remove these from your interview process. Some criteria will be more predictive than others, weight these accordingly. Evaluate your scoring methods as you have the data.

When HubSpot performed this analysis, they discovered that assessing traditional sales skills like closing ability and needs evaluation were actually hurting their ability to identify the sales talent they needed. While this is interesting, it will not be the same for every team. Make sure you perform your own analysis and reverse engineer an understanding of what it takes to be successful in your environment.

4) Understand productivity ramp time

How many reps can you afford to hire, and exactly how much new business can you expect them to generate? At what exact point should a rep’s poor performance indicate they should be terminated? These are not easy questions to answer.

No new-hire will walk in a be 100% productive on day one, they ramp to productivity over time. You need to understand at what this costs (including marketing investments), at what rate this happens over time, and at what point they start earning profit for your business. This will provide you the information you need to make informed staffing decisions, provide more accurate sales forecasts, and measure the effect of changes in your onboarding practices.  

There are spreadsheets and tactics you can use. We could explain them, but it would be hard to do a better job than this guide to Saas Economics for scaling your business. Study it, and make it your own.  

5) Take a realistic approach to training

If you aren’t setting up new hires for success, then you aren’t doing a good enough job.

By now you’ve learned a lot about your product, your customers, your market, and how to position your company’s offering. You’ve gained that knowledge over a period of time, but now you need to figure out how to efficiently transfer that knowledge to new employees.

Here are 5 tips to help you create effective and scalable training processes:

    1. Put them in your customer’s shoes: Competition is tight. Customers are more likely to buy from salespeople who understand their perspective. To make your reps more relatable, get creative with finding ways to expose them the pains that your customers experience.
    2. Outline the buyer’s journey: Your customers have things in common, but no two conversations will be the same. Give your reps the ability to adapt. Outline the buying process for each buyer personas, and create content to help them along the way. Get your experienced reps to document case-specific advice on handling objections and any other important insights.  
    3. Product training: Nothing is worse than a sales rep who isn’t genuine. You want your reps to be comfortable in their understanding of the ‘better world’ they are pitching to prospects. If they aren’t well-versed in your product, it will quickly become evident. You cannot afford for them to lose credibility; train them thoroughly on your product.
    4. Ditch shadowing: There are common traits of sales success, there are variable traits of sales success– some reps are successful for different reasons. In order to take advantage of that, ditch shadowing as a training practice. Take two examples of successful salespeople–John and Kathy. John is one of the most personable people you’ve ever met, customers buy from him because they trust him and he takes that trust seriously. Kathy is less personable but successful because she grinds it out. Now imagine if personable John shadowed for gritty Kathy. He would walk away thinking he needs to be like be like Kathy to be successful. The result? You would completely lose what could have made John great. Instead he fails because he’s busy trying to be like Kathy and not himself.
    5. Embrace storytelling: People are persuaded by ethos, logos, and pathos–emotion, reason, and credibility. Salespeople commonly do well on the credibility and rationality but fall short with emotion, the most powerful of the three. Building a compelling company narrative and train reps to become your evangelists. Check out this blog post by Andy Raskin and his other work… if you haven’t already.

6) Create a coaching culture

Something was curiously missing in the last section about training. There was no reference to training reps on sales skills or any of the sale methodologies. There’s a reason for that.

Cramming doesn’t work. You learned this in school. 80% of what you learn in intensive training isn’t retained long-term.

Learning a skill doesn’t happen overnight, it happens incrementally and over time. Instead of teaching sales skills in your onboarding process, create a culture around continuous improvement through coaching.

To do this effectively, make every dashboard and metric you measure visible at rep-level. Hold monthly meetings with reps, and work with them to find ways to improve. Look for bottlenecks in performance, and use those for coaching opportunities. Over time you’ll cover all the sale skills necessary but in an organic, retainable, and effective manner.

Conclusion:

The most important lesson you should draw from this article is a matter of perspective–there is no cookie cutter approach to building a sales team. Best practices have a lot to offer through wisdom of experience. They’re a great starting point, but don’t treat them as dogma. Always ask questions and seek improvement. There are many variables when it comes scaling a sales team effectively. The best you can do it know what they are, have an effective strategy for measuring them, and be strategic with managing them.

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Chris Hill

Chris Hill

Chris stands on street corners educating people about the new world of data-driven hiring. If lost, please return to Hire Smarter.
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