Get in line or take control – building a skilled sales team for small business

Every small business owner I talk with is looking for talent.  We hear from many sources and daily how hard it is to find the best talent for any business.  When broad job categories are considered skilled sales professionals emerge as the highest in demand.  At the time of writing, a simple search on Australian job boards indicates there are more than 35,000 open roles for sales professionals in Australia.

Small business owners need to be cognizant that they are competing with larger, cashed up organisations for the best sales talent in the market.  Therefore, in recruiting sales professionals into your rapidly growing organization, you need to put an end to end package together, which can be used to attract, train and retain the best talent in the market.  

Here are ten guiding points which may assist in this process:

1.    The ideal sales recruit

Decide the profile of the best candidate to come into a sales role in your organisation.  It’s a personal decision and something that forms the basis for your client engagement model.  It also impacts the culture you are trying to establish in your business.

  • ·         Graduate or experienced?

  • ·         From your industry or more broadly experienced?

  • ·         A proven track record in sales?

  • ·         Values and competencies?

  • ·         Diversity considerations?


2.    The recruitment sales and marketing plan.

Develop collateral that can be used on your web page, social media and in hard copy to help sell your company vision and culture.  Get ready to “sell to recruit sales” candidates.  It sounds cliché and catchy, but it's essential. 

Remember to have a good mix of fun things and professional aspects of the selling process.  For sales professionals: the personalities and the amount of time spent out on the road seeing clients means that sales can be a lonely function.  Therefore, sale professionals love a social environment, incentives, challenges and opportunities for professional training.  What you decide to incorporate in these areas becomes part of your sales pitch to new candidates.


3.    First impressions: the recruitment process.

Get organised before you advertise!

The design of the job advertisement, the note sent on LinkedIn, the interview screening appointment, the face to face interview experience, the offer and onboarding all need to be thought through carefully.

It’s a gauntlet that can undo the best plans in a flash.  Top talent wants to join a professional organisation that woos and impresses.  Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and walk through the process from end to end.  Does it put your company in the best light?  Is it how you want your brand represented in the market place?

 4.    Onboarding process

It’s on the first day.  Have a checklist and welcome environment ready.  A small welcome party, introductions, work environment prepared, mobile devices ready, company email address, presence on web site are some of these considerations.

 5.    The training curriculum

The training program you have in place will depend on the profile of the ideal sales recruit you specified earlier.  If it’s a novice, you will need a comprehensive training program covering “sales 101” and gradually ramping up as the skills increase.

If the recruit is a seasoned sales professional, then company-specific training will be more of a focus.  Of course, this includes training around the products and services.

Common to both will be the company culture and “the company way”.

Mix up the delivery between online, basic trainer and subject matter expert.  Having subject matter experts in a training environment is necessary but also expensive.  Use the time of your best people sparingly.

Consider putting a learning management system in place.  These are relatively low cost and a powerful way to facilitate self-guided learning while tracking who has done what and how well they did it.

6.    Territory planning

Have a defined territory ready for the recruit.  Ideally a mix of warm and cold accounts.  All accounts are the property of the company and not the sales professional.  Too many times, companies are held hostage by successful sales professionals who want to hang onto as many great accounts as possible without developing them to their full potential.

Territory planning is the responsibility of each team leader or sales lead.  Allocate just enough accounts with the premise that there is enough business to achieve budget with upside.   Keep the remainder as house accounts.  Use the time to reallocate accounts between members in your team while at the same time keeping in mind the essential client relationships.

 7.    Executive support

Executives in the business (this could be you) are valuable in helping to establish the success of new sales recruits.  Introductions to contacts, mentoring, background and history of clients, client visits, drafting deals and training and development are some of the ways where the senior leaders in the business can support new sales recruits.

If you have a small business, then there is a high likelihood that this mentor is you.  As your business grows, it remains important to allocate an appropriate head to mentor and guide the progress of each.

8.    Management training 

One of the key sales development areas neglected is the training of the sales leader.  Too often, it is assumed that a great sales professional can lead a team.  However, it is common for this approach to fall over as a plan; with costly outcomes. 

Whoever is in the sales leadership role, make sure they have received appropriate training and development.  One of the key areas to learn is how to balance being a sales professional and a leader; learning to effectively time manage.

One of the best sales team leaders I have ever had on a team was adamant that success comes from the careful design, organisation and enforcement of effective systems and processes which cover the complete sales process.

There is plenty of low-cost sales leadership course around.  All leaders for whom I have arranged programs come back energised and organising their time effectiveness systems and processes.

9.    Reward and recognition

There is an old saying which says: “Success has many fathers, but failure is a bastard”.

The reward and recognition system you put in place must reward the person who is responsible for closing the deal and bringing the invoicing capability to the business.  Along the way, there will be many who have input and give support.  Ensure you have a clear system which shows accountabilities for what must and is happening.

If you have a complex team system, there can be confused accountabilities.  There will be much-wanting compensations for a closed deal and nobody taking responsibility for a failed deal. 

It's OK to have small bonuses to support staff, but the front person who brings the business needs decent compensation that is at the threshold of the cost structure component for sales which is part of the overall business operation costs.

The best sales professionals earn more than their manager.

 10.  The CRM

This contains your company IP.  Salespeople hate data entry.  It has to be part of their role and not negotiable.  If they walk out tomorrow and join someone else, then the contents of the CRM is what you have left.  It’s a cultural thing.  If everyone in the company does it (including you), then there will be less debate and more compliance.

 In conclusion: putting a competent, professional sales team in place is difficult and takes time.  If you want the best in a competitive market, think through, from end to end, what the environment will be like, and what your approach will be to attract the best talent. 

When it's prepared, start selling!