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how to build a successful sales team

How To Build A Successful Sales Team From Scratch: Going From 0-10 Employees, FAST!

In this series, How to Build a Sales Team from 0-10 employees, we review in detail how early stage software companies can go from having a tiny or non-existent sales team to having a large, organized and revenue generating sales team. Specifically, we’re writing for CEO’s with little sales experience or new sales managers of small start ups.

There are many parts to building a successful sales team. You need to hire right, put the right procedures into place to make your team successful, provide your sales team with the proper business development/marketing support etc. For the first part in our series we’ll focus on hiring right because we believe that this is the most important part to creating a successful sales team by far.

If you have a product market fit and talented/hardworking sales people, you can do a whole lot of other things wrong and still see substantial revenue growth.

Which Roles Should You Hire First?

Your first two sales hires, in most cases, should be two Account Executives.

They will be ‘full cycle’ AE’s in that they will handle the business relationship from beginning to finish.

There are many career paths for an AE, but in this case they will essentially be an SDR, AE, and AM simultaneously.

You do this for a few reasons:

  • Hiring only one AE removes competition from the sales process and disables you from seeing any sort of ‘average’ in terms of performance levels.
  • Before hiring SDR’s to book meetings for your AE’s, you need to make sure you have AE’s that can close deals.

For more information on this very early stage hiring, we recommend you watch Danny Leonard from 500 Startup’s speak about this process.

One thing Danny notes is that for these early AE’s you need particularly hungry, entrepreneurial, aggressive salespeople who can pursue new business in a new market with a product that has little brand recognition. This is most likely a different type of employee than a highly polished and refined salesperson that you’ll hire as your company grows.

After your AE’s are consistently closing deals, NOT BEFORE, you can start to scale your sales team. An initial scaling will look something like going from 2 AE’s to 3 AE’s and 2 to 3 SDR’s.

By the way, hiring for SDRs is a different ballgame. Great SDRs will certainly have adjacent skills to AEs, but they are not necessarily one in the same.

Once you have 3 AE’s, you can begin to have a good idea of performance baselines. Here’s what you should see (again, if you have a product market fit):

  • Exceptional AE’s will close up to 45% of opportunities in their pipeline

  • Decent AE’s will close 20-30% of opportunities in their pipeline

  • Poor AE’s will close less than 15% of opportunities in their pipeline and should be fired

Ideally you want to foster a culture of excellence in your company and have all AE’s performing exceptionally. If you have 2 decent and 1 exceptional AE on your sales team, you’re doing a swell job.

Once your sales team is at 5 or 6 people, if your company doesn’t have a sales leader it’s time to hire one. There are two choices, hiring an experienced external leader or promoting your most talented AE to the role.

According to Auren Hoffman (serial entrepreneur with over 1B in exits) companies hire externally for leadership because they want to import the culture of other companies (they want to be like Google or Oracle so they hire sales managers from there). If you want a more pure culture (this is the route Auren seems to prefer for his own companies) you promote internally.

Post Sales Leadership – Hire For Growth

Now that you have a sales leader, you should hire more salespeople very conservatively. If you have three good AE’s, there’s no need to hire more unless they all have calendars that are completely full. If they don’t have full calendars, it’s more important to find out how to earn more leads before hiring more salespeople.

In other words, improve the SDR team’s output or improve marketing efforts before hiring more AE’s. A lot of companies hire to many AE’s and then have to divide the opportunities so much that no AE meets their quota. This is bad for moral and financially inefficient.

Think about your AE’s as conversion rates — and know that they only have value in proportion to the opportunities the company can feed them.

How To Hire For Your Fast Growing Sales Team

Hiring for a sales team is hard especially if you don’t come from a sales background. You have to hire based on the individual level (will this person perform well?) and also at the group level (will these people work well together to accomplish goals as a team?).

We’ve detailed two criterion that you can use to evaluate candidates, with some clear cut guidelines to help make your hiring decisions easier.

We think you should focus on:

  • Sales Talent (for individual success)
  • Diversity (for the success of the team)

How To Identify Sales Talent

Sales talent is different from other kinds of talent. It’s not the talent of software engineer or symphonic pianist. Good SaaS sales people have to be effective communicators, socially strategic, technical, hardworking and patient.

Here’s a good breakdown of evaluating sales talent:

Intelligence:

There are a lot of stereotypes about good salespeople being the former high school popular kid who gets B minuses and C pluses. For good software salespeople this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your company needs smart salespeople. Can you evaluate this by looking at what school a candidate went to and what grades they got? This might help a bit, but it’s better to evaluate intelligence through a conversation during the interview.

Here’s a great question to ask to evaluate intelligence, and its favorite of mega-investor Peter Thiel.

“What is an opinion you have the most other people disagree with?”

An intelligent person will be able to give a thoughtful response because intelligent people think outside of the box.

Ability To Learn (And Be Coached):

Oftentimes this is referred to as ‘coachability.’ But what happens if you’re a CEO with no sales experience hiring your first two AE’s? In this case you need salespeople who can recognize their own mistakes and areas to improve, and figure out how to do better. We’ve found that salespeople who are naturally curious and humble are able to learn from others (management, coaches, peers) and from their own experience. This is something you need to hire for.

Hunger, Hustle, Heart:

Is this person going to work hard enough to foster a culture of competitiveness on my team and drive revenue? You can evaluate this by asking about career goals (people who have high ambitions want to beat the competition to make it to the top). People who played sports in high school or college typically fit this criterion, but so do candidates who did not. You’ll have to go with your gut on this one for the most part.

Hiring For Diversity

We think diversity is perhaps the most important component for having a successful sales team. This is true for the sake of driving revenue, as sales teams that have diverse backgrounds are able to pursue a wider variety of accounts. It’s even more important for internal culture however, as teams that lack diversity often form cliques, and the development of cliques at a startup is highly counterproductive.

We think you should try your best to hire for the following kinds of diversity when building your early sales team:

Gender diversity:

Study after study has concluded that sales teams with a sizable portion of women almost always outperform their male dominated counterparts. For various reasons (perhaps being more empathetic generally), women are typically 5% more likely to close a deal then male salespeople.

Cultural diversity:

Having a mixture of cultural backgrounds at a company is vital to having a strong ‘company culture’. The more backgrounds their are, the more perspectives and ideas permeate the company. This promotes individualism, creativity and prevents ‘group think’. Not to mention there are massive opportunities to sell SaaS in Asian and Latin American markets which require salespeople from those backgrounds.

Experience diversity:  

As we mentioned earlier it is important for early sales hires to be aggressive and hungry. This often times means hiring sales people with less experience than usual who can ‘grow with’ the company so to speak. However when a company starts selling large contracts to Fortune 500 companies, it most likely will need to hire more experienced sales reps who have done something similar. That being said, with a mixture (for example one experienced rep and two less experienced) the experienced rep can coach the newer ones, while the newer ones keep the experienced rep hungry and on her toes.

SPIN Selling

Sales Lead Database Reviews

The world of sales today is dramatically different from what it was a generation ago. Today there are more technologies and tools at the disposal of sales professionals to help make their jobs a little easier. Some might even say that there are far too many tools out there, making it difficult to identify which ones are the best to use. Of course, what’s best for one organization may not be the best for everyone else. As is with all tools and services, each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore understanding how well these match the needs of your business is key to finding that best fit.

Now when it comes to choosing a tool to help your sales team, there are a lot of options. You can choose to invest in tracking systems, masked dialers, email automation, or a plethora of other technologies out there to help improve sales efficiency. To dig deeper and compare the various players in each of these spaces would result in an overly extensive report that most people probably would not want to read through in its entirety. As such the focus of this article will be on lead database solutions that can help the very early, and possibly most crucial, stages of the sales process, prospecting and engaging. Also, do note that this is not a fully comprehensive list.  However, this list is a great way to kickstart your search. The vendors we’ll be looking at today are InsideView, ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg, and Elucify.

 

InsideView

Other than Elucify, which is a free tool, InsideView is the least expensive of all the providers on this list. As of December of 2016, their pricing was at $99/month per user, with a 15% discount if you go with a full year subscription instead of going month-to-month. With that subscription you’ll have access to their database which provides names, titles, emails and phone numbers for prospects at your target accounts. They also have links to some of your prospects social media profiles if they’re able to find them. The only downside is that of the phone numbers, only around 5% of them will be a direct dial. This might not be a huge concern for some, but for others it can definitely be a deal breaker since direct dials can definitely help speed up the sales process by allowing reps to bypass some gatekeepers. The other thing to note about this service is that they do have a 5 seat minimum, so if your team happens to be smaller than that, you may have to consider buying more than you need to start off.

 

ZoomInfo

Founded in 2000, ZoomInfo is the oldest vendor on this list. Having been in the space for quite a long time, their database is actually very well fleshed out. From personal experience in using the service, I can attest that they do have plenty of workable contacts across various functions and industries. The way ZoomInfo goes about populating their database by using a proprietary web crawler called NextGenSearchBot to analyze, extract and store information. They also have a free version of the tool available which requires users to download an extension that also provides them with even more data. Though ZoomInfo is a little more expensive than InsideView, being priced at $4,900/year for 2 seats, it has a strong advantage in that their database contains a large amount of direct dials. The accuracy of their direct dials has some room for improvement but overall they do work and is well worth the price difference for those willing to cough up the extra cash to gain access to them. Though they don’t particularly help you find all the social media profiles for your prospects, they do have a button you can click to quickly find your prospects on LinkedIn which is actually a pretty helpful feature that can save reps a bit of time. There is also an integration with Salesforce, so if your company is using Salesforce for its CRM, you can take advantage of that integration to more quickly import contacts and save your reps even more time.

 

DiscoverOrg

DiscoverOrg is probably the most expensive of the vendors on this list with a price tag of $2,000/month for 3 users. However with that high price tag also comes a lot more data accuracy. They claim to have 95% accuracy as a result of their 90 day refresh cycle wherein their dedicated researchers call to re-verify all of their information in the systems. They also provide you with a report on the technologies that some of these companies have as well, which can be particularly helpful for certain businesses. DiscoverOrg also provides their best guess at an organization chart to help reps more easily navigate an organization and more quickly find decision makers, though they can’t contractually promise for these charts to be as accurate. Their database is also skewed more towards data around the Information Technology and Services sector, so if that happens to be your target market it could be even more reason to give DiscoverOrg some serious consideration.

 

Elucify

Elucify is actually a tool that anyone can use. Their product is currently in beta and completely free for users. All you need to do is register with a valid business email and you can gain access to their database of leads. They do have a paid version of their product coming up in the near future but for now it’s still a resource that any sales or marketing professional can lean on if they want an additional source of data, especially one that’s free of charge. The contingency is that like ZoomInfo by signing up, you’re agreeing to sharing the business contacts you interact with from that account. This is actually how they’re building out their database and because the company is still in its early stages the database is not as fleshed out as it could be. There is definitely some data accuracy issues here as well. Additionally, unlike some of the other lead database providers we looked at earlier, Elucify only provides you with names, titles and emails. Direct dials aren’t something the company seems to be focusing on, at least for now, but overall the company is getting some serious groundswell and definitely seems to be headed in the right direction. If you don’t plan on leveraging them immediately, it’s definitely worth just keeping tabs to see how the product might evolve in the years to come.

 

Final Takeaway
Just to reiterate, though this list is not comprehensive of all the tools available today it should serve as a great starting point for your research journey in finding the best tool for your team and organization. If you’d like to check out some other providers you can also take a look at Book Your Data, Unomy, Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers, DataFox, Datanyze, ProfileHopper, LeadGenius, Ripple, Cliently, or the many other companies working to empower sales and marketing that weren’t included here. Again there is no shortage of help out there so take the time to dig through the pros and cons of each company to see which could make the greatest impact on the success of your own business. You can also reference business software review websites like G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Gartner, Capterra, Crozdesk and even communities like Reddit for further insights to aid in your search.

-Dean Park

 

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

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