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How to Build a Sales Team for Your Small Business in 8 Steps

October 25, 2023

18 minread

byCristy O’Connor

Cristy O’Connor
Cristy O’Connor

Senior Business Advisor

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Cristy decided to use this passion and searched for five months to find the right company to share her skills. She aligned with Cultivate’s values and culture and knew that they had the tools and resources to help businesses grow without re-creating the wheel.

Expert Business Advisors Cristy O’Connor and Chris Caton break down how to build a world-class sales team to increase revenue and grow your business.

No matter what industry you’re in, the size of your business, or your location, there is one key factor to company growth: sales. Nearly every organization includes a sales team that drives customers to the business and makes progress possible.

For most small businesses, sales are one of the last tasks owners delegate. As one of the most valuable tasks to the company, many entrepreneurs are hesitant to pass it off. However, if you want to create a revenue engine that fuels consistent growth, you need to build a sales team with intention.

To create an effective sales team that will drive your company to success, you need to make some smart decisions and receive sales advice along the way. How you structure your team, who you hire, how you onboard them, and what they get paid will impact your ROI.

Read on to learn proven steps to build a world-class sales team that drives long-term growth.

What Is a Sales Team?

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A sales team is the department in your company that is in charge of meeting business sales goals. The department is typically headed by a sales manager and consists of sales specialists, sales representatives, and customer service reps. How the sales team looks depends on the company’s size, the industry, and the sales climate. It ranges anywhere from a handful of roles to a team of hundreds.

Everyone on the team works together to meet the daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual sales targets to ensure a thriving company. They do this by focusing on business growth through sales generation, customer acquisition, and retention.

8 Steps to Build a World-Class Sales Team for Your Business

Starting a sales team from scratch is intimidating for most entrepreneurs, but it offers a critical opportunity to create a department that aligns with your company’s goals and culture. Here are the steps to building the right sales team for your business.

Determine the Right Time to Build a Sales Team

Because of its high impact on revenue and the company, sales should be one of the last jobs that owners delegate to a team. However, it’s critical to recognize when it’s no longer profitable for your business for you to be making sales.

Entrepreneurs owe it to themselves and their businesses to evaluate what is the least valuable job they do every day and find someone else to do it so they can focus on more valuable work. As companies grow, owners often become the bottleneck in the sales process. If you find that sales are falling off because you don’t have time to do proper follow-up, it’s time to bring someone on and train them with your skillset.

It’s also critical to start building a team if you have more leads than you can handle on your own promptly. You should be following up with leads within 24 hours to keep them warm. Otherwise, your business will not be growing as it should.

Choose an Optimal Sales Structure

How you structure your sales team depends on your company culture, industry, and overall goals. For example, whether you want a more competitive sales team or a collaborative environment will impact which structure you choose for your team.

The three most common types of sales management structures are:

  • The island structure. The island structure is the more classic sales team, where each rep is responsible for their customers from beginning to end. It is ideal for companies that sell a complicated product with a long sales cycle and enables salespeople to create deeper client relationships.
  • The assembly line structure. In this structure, each sales rep handles one part of the sales process and then hands it off to the customer at the next stage. It requires salespeople to have less skill than the island structure and more closely resembles customer service. It does require hiring a bigger team than the island structure, though.
  • The pod structure. This structure combines the two previous systems. Sales split into smaller “pods” and work as a team with a customer through the entire sales process. It enables the competition of the island structure but still fosters a team spirit.

Your structure needs to work within the culture you’ve already created in your company. If you have a business that thrives on high energy and competition, you need a competitive team that aligns with that. However, if your company is collaborative, your team should reflect that.

Think of the Appropriate Sales Channel

Think of the Appropriate Sales Channel
There are two sales channels to choose from: direct and indirect. Which one you choose depends on several factors, including what you are selling and whether you would like to support or complement your sales team.

Direct sales mean selling directly to the consumer, whether at your location, on your website, or your customer’s premises. This sales channel reduces anything between your rep and your customer.

Indirect sales use an intermediary during the process. Examples of indirect selling include selling through Amazon or at a drugstore. In these cases, you do not have direct contact with your customer. Instead, the wholesaler and retailer interact with the buyer.

Many companies have a mixer of both. For example, a company could sell its product both on its website and on Amazon.

Determine the Sales Method Right for Your Business

Every business must start with multiple channels to get leads and track which channel each lead and sale comes through. Over time, owners can use this data to determine which channels serve their company best to help them refine their processes and narrow their focus.

Ultimately, you will need to choose inbound, outbound, or a mixture of the two sales. In inbound, customers come to you through content such as a website, blog post, or webinar. Outbound means going directly to your target customers. This can occur with email, classic cold-calling, or social selling, as a few examples. Typically, outbound has a higher ROI but is more challenging to control. Inbound sales are easier to dial-up or back depending on your needs but can be pricier.

In addition to what works best for you in sales, consider how to best optimize the process to scale to a team. For example, you may have had success making door-to-door sales. However, it is an incredibly inefficient sales method that will likely waste time for your team. Owners often lean into the sales methods they are most comfortable with, but they are ineffective for sales.

Start Hiring

Who you hire makes or breaks your business, so it’s critical to find the people to build your company. Don’t rush into hiring just anyone: doing it right will reduce turnover and pay off in the long run.

Deciding how many reps to hire is a matter of math. Consider how many sales you need to be successful, how many meetings it takes to close those sales, and how many reps it would take to have those meetings.

Start with one hire when building a team from scratch. It will help you get a feeling for the hiring, onboarding, and training process you can then improve upon before bringing on a whole team.

When considering candidates, it’s critical to consider the goals and KPIs of your company. Do you need someone who can display deep expertise? A collaborative team player? An efficient worker? How you answer that will affect your resume screening, interview, and hiring process from beginning to end.

Determine the five characteristics that your current sales rep exemplifies — even if it’s just you. Use that as a baseline to objectively score candidates. Create a rubric that enables you to score the answers as poor, good, and best. That way, you don’t get stuck in a trap of hiring for compatible personalities versus hiring someone who will be successful in your company.

Have candidates roleplay selling in the interview. Have them sell a pen or bottle of water to you to get a sense of their selling skills.

Don’t be afraid to look within your personal network for potential candidates. If you recently had a great sales experience, consider offering that person a job. It’s not only a great hire, but it will set the standard for hires after them.

Design a Comprehensive Onboarding Process for Your Sales Reps

how to build a world sales team
Although this step comes after hiring, in reality, you should have your process in place before interviewing candidates. Creating your onboarding training with the sales rep will always lead to failure.

Your onboarding process is critical to the success of your sales rep. A poorly designed onboarding process will reduce the sales that they can make and cause many to quit, wasting precious time and resources.

Start by documenting the entire sales process. Have your sales rep write down what they do step-by-step. See if you have any gaps in the process by starting at the end and moving backward to ensure no steps are missed. Also, record some of your sales meetings to create best practices.

Training should be longer than one day or week. It needs to be 30, 60, or even 90 days. Stick with a graduated process to set them up for success. Help them build their confidence by having them shadow you (or your sales rep) and listening to sales calls. From there, bring them into meetings and have them share in participating. Then, shadow them as they take charge of calls and meetings.

Roleplay outside of calls throughout the onboarding process to improve your sales rep’s success with customers. Provide helpful feedback and allow them to practice their pitch. Provide them with the education they need to know how your company stands out from the competition to help them be more successful in selling.

Choose a Compensation Model

Many business owners starting to hire for the first time are confused about the best way to compensate their sales team. Do your research to see what competitors pay their sales reps and consider what you can afford. Start by determining the industry standard for your business.

Many companies are moving away from the “base + commission” standard and instead implementing a bonus structure that better reflects your company goals. A healthy base salary will best help you attract higher-quality sales reps and avoid burnout on your sales team.

For many companies, “base + modest commission + bonuses” based on overall team performance is typically the compensation method that companies use to encourage team performance. Offering monthly and quarterly bonuses will keep both high and low performers motivated since low performers won’t feel they missed their chance, and high performers will still have more bonuses to earn even at the end of the year.

Set KPIs and Track the Team’s Sales Performance

If you’re not measuring how your team is doing, you won’t be successful. KPIs enable you to understand how your team performs and enforce employee accountability.

Measure your KPIs weekly to ensure no surprises at the end of the month. Compare them to industry standards and consistently work on improving those numbers.

The KPIs you choose need to align with each step in the sales process. For example, if sales calls are critical, track how many leads led to actual sales calls? How many showed up to the call? How many turned into demos or whatever the next step is for you? And how many of those turned into sales?

Track the whole process from start to finish and have KPIs to measure them. If 30-35% of your leads turn into sales, you’re doing something right.

Beyond KPIs based on sales, it’s also important to track productivity indicators, such as emails, calls, and follow-ups. Follow-ups often do not have a set KPI, but most experienced sales reps understand that follow-ups are where most of the sales take place. It is one of the most valuable steps in the sales process, but your KPIs need to reflect that.

One of the most critical KPIs to consider is the age of contacts. How long has it been since a client has heard from you? The further you can cut down on the length of time between contacts, the better your sales.

A CRM is the best way to track this information. They don’t have to be expensive if your budget is limited. Some are available for as low as $15 a month.

Create a Sales Team That Builds Your Business

Sales are one of the most crucial departments in your company. When it is done well, it will pay off with future growth and revenue. Intentionally building a team that reflects your company culture and customer needs requires looking at how you will structure your teams, build an onboarding process, and track results.

Need help building your world-class team? Sign up for a free advising session and get some pointers from Cultivate Advisors experts who have been there.

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