Building a Sales Team, Part 1: Hiring

Building a sales team is one of the most challenging things you will ever do because people are difficult. Period. They look great on paper; they make a killer impression during interviews; yet six months later, they fail. And it’s not all their fault. As CEO, you are responsible for choosing the right salespeople and giving them the tools to succeed.

Here in Building a Sales Team Part I, I’d like to up your odds of hiring the right team. For this article, I’m presuming that you have a small sales team (say 25 members or less) or none at all. Sellers are not programmers, marketers or accountants – the way you hire salespeople will be different, and it begins with a few good questions.

How Do You Sell Your Product?

Before you hire any salespeople, there is a lot of work you need to do. First, discover what it’s like to sell your own product. When you get on the phone, what does it take to convert a prospect into a buyer? What objections will prospects raise? How do you overcome them? How long is the sales cycle?

Based on this experience, map out sales guidelines. Should sellers call or email prospects? What is the cadence of communication? What are the most important points about your business they need to get across? When you eventually train salespeople (Part II), they will need documented, specific guidelines on how to sell your product. Type ‘em out now.

Who Can Sell It?

Based on your experience selling the product and your knowledge of the market, you need to determine who should sell it. Complicated products with a high price point and long sales cycle generally call for experienced salespeople. For example, if your company makes expensive medical devices, you probably need sellers with a minimum three years of experience and healthcare expertise. Would you buy $50,000 devices from a 22 year old who involuntarily says “like” and “um” between every sentence?

On the other hand, if you run a tech startup that makes consumer products with a low price point and short sales cycle, you can hire fresh graduates or sellers with one to two years of experience. They’ll most likely mess up a few times, and they might cost you a client or two. In the long run though, the cost of losing a few clients is better than the upfront costs of a larger salary with slower returns, which could kill your business before it even gets off the ground.

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