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How to Build a Sales Team for Your Startup

6 min read

Getting your startup off the ground is an exciting experience. Between launching your product, getting your branding ironed out, and seeing your product out in the world for the first time, few things are more rewarding.

But for your business to succeed, you’ll need someone to buy your product. And that means you’ll need someone to sell it.

Although it may not be the first thing you think of when you plan your startup’s launch, building a sales team and overarching sales plan is an important part of the process, and getting the right people on board from the start can set you up for long term success.

1. Develop a Strong Hiring Process

Gathering up a strong sales team has two main components: picking the right people and developing their talent.

Although anyone can improve their sales skills over time, it’s best to start off on the right foot by finding people who have a knack for sales.

To do that, you’ll need to work out an effective hiring process.

The first step in doing that is figuring out what you’re looking for in a candidate. That way, you’ll know when you’ve found them. For example, perhaps you’ll want to find someone who has three years of experience in SaaS sales, an eagerness to learn new skills, and will accept a salary of around $70,000.

From there, you’ll have to decide how you hope to identify potential candidates. Will you approach them on LinkedIn? Make a post on a job board? Both? There are lots of different ways to find qualified reps, so you’ll likely want to pick a few but focus your efforts on just one or two.

The next step is to decide what you want to ask your candidates during your interviews. Basic questions about their experience, examples of problems they’ve solved, and successes they’ve had are all good. You may also want to ask about their favorite sale, what motivates them, and what their long-term goals are. Plus, it never hurts to ask them the famous “sell me this pen” question.

Finally, you’ll need to figure out how you want to evaluate the candidates you’re considering. This part is more art than science. You’ll have to make decisions about what skills and experience you’re prioritizing, and to some extent, you’ll also need to rely on your gut.

When you’ve made your decision, hire them and bring them on board.

2. Design a Robust Training and Coaching Program

Once you’ve picked out the talent for your team, you’ll need to make sure they’re at the top of their game by investing in training and coaching.

Training is typically part of the initial onboarding process, whereas coaching refers to an ongoing effort to ensure that your team is as good as they can be and is selling as much as possible. During training, sales people will learn how to follow company guidelines, strategy, and more.

One important part of training your sales people at the start is that, even though they may be talented on their own, they will need to be able to work together to form a cohesive team. To do this, they’ll all need the same training under their belt to work with.

When your reps are finally out in the world hunting for a deal, you’ll still need to work with them to make sure they’re at the top of their game. Typically, this means investing in coaching materials and software.

Some offerings, like Dialpad, actually provide real-time coaching while listening in to the sales rep’s conversations. To achieve this, it uses natural language processing (NLP) and AI to evaluate conversations as they happen and provide advice on the fly.

As your sales team does its work, you’ll also likely want to set out some key performance indicators (KPIs) so that you can judge your progress against these. The specific KPIs you should monitor will depend on your own unique situation.

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3. Put Together a Sales Tech Stack

Once you’ve got the team set up and they know what they’re doing, the final step is to arm them with the weapons they need to succeed. Namely: technology.

There are lots of tech products out there these days, and it can be hard to wade through all the different options. Here are a few categories you should consider investing in.

4. CRM

CRM stands for customer relationship management. This type of product is designed to take in new information about leads, prospects, and customers, and add it into a database that is easily accessible by sales reps. This makes it easier to keep track of all your leads and customers.

Out of all the technologies available for sales, CRM is perhaps the most important. It will serve as your hub as your reps go out there and try to make sales. When they need information on prospects or leads, the CRM will provide for them.

Examples of CRM software include Salesforce, Hubspot, and Pipedrive.

5. Sales and Market Intelligence Tools

Sales are more about listening than it is about speaking. To truly make an impact in sales, you need to understand your customer and what they’re looking for. Beyond that, you also need to know how to reach them.

This is exactly what sales and market intelligence tools help you do. Some tools, like Clearbit, help you keep track of changes in your lead’s information, while others, like Voila Norbert or Wiza help you track down their contact info, find verified email addresses for your cold outreach campaigns. Other tools, like MadKudu, are focused on evaluating the expected revenue of different campaigns.

6. Sales Engagement Tools

Once you have your customers in your CRM and you know who you’re going after, sales engagement tools can help you reach out to them and make a sale.

These tools, which include the likes of Mailshake, Dialpad, and Twilio, are focused on facilitating communication. For example, they make it easy to automate multichannel sales sequences, such as calling, email, and SMS. This helps sales reps get through lead lists quickly and spend more time doing what they do best: selling.

7. Contract Lifecycle Management Tools

If a sale goes well, you may need to have a client sign a contract. Contract lifecycle management tools are used to make managing legal documents and e-signatures easy.

Many contract lifecycle management tools will enable legal teams to streamline the entire contract process from contract creation through to auditing contract data post-signature. 

Whilst some contract tools are designed specifically for eSignature, like Adobe Sign, HelloSign and other DocuSign alternatives, contract lifecycle management software seeks to address inefficiency throughout the contract process at various different stages. 

8. Process and Training Tools

These tools are dedicated to making your sales process as efficient as possible. However, they can do this in many different ways.

Some, like Gong, are essentially very deep analytics tools that comb through your conversations and data to find ways that you can improve your sales. Others, like Guru, try to make it easier for reps to find the information they need to close deals.

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4. Let Go of Reps Who Aren’t Working Out

Once you have your trained sales reps in place and armed with cutting-edge tech, it’s time to sit back, observe, and decide if you need to make cuts.

As difficult as it can be, the unfortunate reality of sales is that low performers – regardless of whether they are a sales consultant or a sales manager – sometimes need to be cut from the team. While that’s not always the case (some low-performing reps just need a bit of coaching), there are times when you need to cut your losses and let your rep go.

That said, figuring out whether it’s time to jump ship is not easy. To aid your decision, you can look at each rep’s KPIs to get a better idea of how they are performing. Some of the KPIs you’ll want to consider are:

  • Opportunity to Win Ratio
  • Average Deal Size
  • Rate of New Contacts
  • Cost Per Lead
  • Overall Conversion Rate
  • Number of Appointments Booked
  • Close Rate
  • Sales Qualified Leads

It’s also worth evaluating whether these KPIs improve after coaching. If there’s a significant improvement, then cutting the rep may not be necessary. However, if the numbers are still bad even after more coaching, that may indicate that it’s just not working out.

Key Takeaways: How to Build a Sales Team For Your Startup

Your sales team is the part of your company that will be focusing all its effort on getting your product into the hands of customers. It’s an invaluable division that needs to be developed carefully.

Building your team goes in several stages: finding talent, training your talent, arming it with effective sales tools, evaluating what’s working, and making necessary changes.

There’s no denying that it can be a difficult process, but getting it right from the get-go can set your company up for long-term success like nothing else.

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Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder of Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.

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