How to Build and Support a Sales Team

How to Build and Support a Sales Team

In sales management, a common saying is, “Hire slow and fire fast.” This reflects the dominant thinking of many organizations. On the surface, it makes sense. The more you vet a candidate, the surer they will work out. When it doesn’t—boom—there’s the door. Of course, this presupposes success in one organization correlates to success in another. Also, when something doesn’t work, do you just cast it aside or attempt to fix it? In the first place, this philosophy ignores the time and expense of the slow hire. Secondly, it neglects coaching and training to boost performance. In addition to reassessing this approach, here are productive ways to hire, fire, and support a sales team:

The Slow Hire/Fast Fire Approach

It’s simple. Run an ad. Review, filter, and select. Bring on a candidate. Monitor performance. After a predetermined period, an assessment determines their fate. If they make quota, they pass. If they don’t, they’re gone. If you think there’s something Salem Witch Trials about this (“Does she float?!”), you’d be correct.

Like the witch trials, this approach starts with a series of false assumptions, such as witches commune with animals. Anyone who’s had a pet sees the fallacy of this. For sellers, it assumes all sales organizations, products, and clients are inherently equal. Therefore, success is solely based on the skill level of the individual seller.  

Effectively, this “revolving door” policy ignores differences in products, clients, and organizations. These factors can influence the success of a sales rep. In addition, the pressure of a slow hire/fast fire leads to organizational stress and underperformance. Further, with the slow hire/fast fire approach, organizations must hire multiple sales reps to find the few that fit their business.

To avoid this revolving door and build a successful sales team, organizations should instead adopt the following practices:

  • Develop an efficient sales onboarding process that works for new recruits
  • Plan how new hires can achieve their objectives in a specific timeframe
  • Set and communicate realistic expectations for new salespeople
  • Monitor your recruits to improve their selling ability
  • Provide access to sales enablement tools with frequent coaching and training

The hire/fire approach can be a demanding and time-consuming process for sales organizations. This adds to their business overhead. Rather than hiring a bunch of recruits with the foreknowledge you’re going to lose some, target those who can grow with your organization.

Next, let’s look at the best strategies for sales hiring, firing, and training.

Hiring the “Right” Sales Team

According to Chad Burmeister, author of Sales Hack and founder of ScaleX.AI, “Sales reps don’t want to be managed. They want to be led.” He adds, “It’s your people, not you, who get the job done every day.”

When hiring sales professionals, organizations must recruit skilled and knowledgeable candidates. This should go without saying. But more importantly, seek self-starters who share your business vision. Then, work from the POV that you will train, guide, and instruct sales reps to succeed in your organization.  

Here are a few questions that can determine the capabilities of a potential candidate:

  • Is your new hire open to learning new skills?
  • Are they receptive to mentoring and coaching?
  • How well can they respond to real sales situations?
  • Do they have a record of success?

More than previous achievement, this helps find those you can train to suit your specific organizational needs.

In addition, these activities can reveal their true motivation and sales acumen:

  • Ask them to highlight an instance where they had to “think like an entrepreneur”
  • Ask about specific leadership skills (for example, starting a new business initiative)
  • Ask them to recommend a feasible solution to a real-life customer case study

Activities like these allow reps to showcase their critical thinking. It isn’t so much choosing a right or wrong answer. Instead, it’s gauging their ability to think on the fly. This is an important skill when reps confront new experiences in the field.

How to Fire a Salesperson

Despite the best hiring and interviewing process, some reps will not fit your culture and goals. Sometimes, it’s personality. Other times, it’s a lack of skill, drive, or some combination. Whatever the cause, this is never an easy decision. However, if you’ve exhausted all avenues, such as time, coaching, and training, it can be the best choice.

For managers, firing a salesperson is a difficult but necessary part of building a successful sales team. Hasty firing can often impact the morale of the team and their performance. However, managers cannot afford to keep underperforming sellers.

Here are a few tips to minimize disruptions and consequences when letting go of a team member:

Recognize Your Organizational Faults: Be it a poor training, guidance, or hiring, organizations often end up with the wrong personnel. Before firing the salesperson, identify the reasons for this decision. In addition, note the corrective steps taken so that you don’t repeat the same mistake. For best results in the future, create an internal process to pinpoint and prevent organizational failings.

Prepare in Advance: Though sellers can build up a thick skin from rejection, getting fired is something else. Depending on the employee, prepare for an emotional response. First, provide ample warning of poor performance. This can be weeks in which managers review metrics and set goals. A common mistake is to fire a salesperson without warning. This may come as a shock. Ensure that low-performing employees were informed of their performance and given the opportunity to improve.

Engage the Team: Firing any employee can have an adverse effect on their colleagues. For example, the fired employee may have been a popular presence in the office. Hence, be prepared to address the other team members and explain why this step is needed. Often, they themselves have seen the warning signs and understand. However, they still need openness, transparency, and compassion.  

How to Train a Sales Team

While hirings and firings are bookends, the heart of a sales career is achievement. Before firing a sales rep, managers must provide the support and enablement for the rep to succeed.

Of course, to be most effective, sales training should never be a “one-off” event. Instead, it must be an ongoing, holistic learning experience that reinforces skills, behaviors, and best practices. It should also be supported by regular coaching. This not only increases performance but also boosts motivation and retention.

Apart from training and coaching, salespeople can also benefit and improve in an environment of collaboration and continued learning. For example, managers can share relevant stories of their sales experience. In addition, creating informal group meetings can inspire team support and mentorships.

Here are a few tips to use in training your sales team:

Communicate Your Product Value: More than focusing on features, product training must be about the value your products provide and problems they solve. Along with this, training should cover how to effectively differentiate your offerings from your competition. It’s one thing to proudly exclaim the greatness of your product. It’s another thing to show why it’s superior or represents a better value.

Avoid Information Overload: To be effective, sales training should not lead to information overload. Instead, design and deliver your training with your current staff in mind. Consider their skill levels, job responsibilities, and how to reach them. For some organizations, this is a class-room-style training environment with a visiting facilitator. For others, it’s an online or a blended approach combining self-paced eLearning with live or virtual instruction. In addition, the best trainings feature smaller chunks of knowledge, spaced over a longer timeframe. This promotes retention.  

Document Everything: Be it the sales process or best CRM practices, make sure that your business processes are documented and stored for future reference. Documentation is also useful for sales personnel to self-learn whenever they have questions. Additionally, encourage your sales team to document their best practices or selling tips.

At first glance, the old-fashioned hire slow/fire fast approach makes sense. There’s much to be said for experience in hiring sales professionals. However, it presumes the most experienced candidates will immediately succeed in your organization. Considering the time and expense of onboarding, this is a leap of faith. Today, with an ever-changing sales landscape and more informed buyers, an alternate approach could yield greater rewards. By emphasizing sales coaching and training—hire slow/fire slower—you give sales reps a greater chance to succeed.