Hiring a Sales Team that Grows Business
By: Catherine Conlan
There comes a point where your business can’t grow without a team of great salespeople. A solid sales team serves as cheerleaders for your product or service and keeps your client pipeline moving. Great sales teams are collaborators who see opportunities to improve the business — not just land another deal.
“Today, selling is really a team sport,” says Ryan Estis, chief experience officer at Ryan Estis & Associates, a sales and business consultancy in Minneapolis. “The best salespeople at fast-growing organizations are doing a lot of internal collaboration with marketing or finance. They’re being asked to contribute to R&D and product development. The best salespeople are collaborators.”
Screen for Skills that your Stars Demonstrate
If you already have top sales performers at your organization, use an assessment tool to identify what makes them successful and then hire for those traits.
“Most organizations have some type of profile or assessment that creates a standard relative to what’s needed to succeed,” Estis says. “A lot of good sales organizations are trying to validate their selection decisions with assessments that go beyond subjective interviews.”
Using an assessment tool can help you create a behavioral interviewing process that screens for the traits and competencies that ensure success at your organization, says Mike Kunkle, senior director of sales enablement at Brainshark, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based sales enablement platform.
Because innate traits are difficult, if not impossible to change, you can help ensure your new salespeople are a good fit from the start. “For example, either you’re ethical or you’re not,” Kunkle says.
Find Helpers, Not Just Closers
Salespeople can’t get by on simply selling and moving on, Estis says. Customers expect them to understand their business and provide insights and advice that might not even have anything to do with your product or service.
“Customer needs and expectations are changing,” Estis says. “They have more information and alternate choices, so they have elevated expectations when it comes to personalization and customization. That puts a new kind of pressure on both the sales organization and the individual contributors. There’s been an evolution from ‘sign on the dotted line, shake hands and do the deal.’”
When hiring salespeople, look for people who think of themselves as helpers and teachers, he says. “They’ll be helping customers think, execute, solve problems and approach business differently,” Estis says. “They’re almost more like consultants or a guide for the journey.”
Estis says this “helping” approach should work internally as well. “You’ll see that the best salespeople and fast-growing organizations are doing a lot of internal collaboration with marketing or finance,” he says. “Salespeople are being asked to contribute to R&D and product development. The best salespeople are collaborators.”
Ask About Data Skills
Working with data is increasingly important in sales, says Dev Tandon, founder and CEO of The Kini Group, a sales performance analytics software company based in Chicago.
“The line between sales rep and analyst is quickly becoming blurred as more sales tools to evaluate prospects, customers, deals and even technique emerge,” Tandon says, although he notes that some reps still rely on gut instinct and people skills.
As the use of data and data analytics grows throughout organizations, look for sales candidates who can evaluate and mine data for insights. “Sales professionals who are excited to work with technology and data are a huge asset to your entire company, not just your sales team,” Tandon says.
Seek Digital Marketing Skills
Estis describes some of the best salespeople he sees today as “micromarketers.” The forward-thinking salespeople you need for your company are using social media and other tech tools to contribute to online conversations about the industry.
“They’re creating a level of thought leadership and deploying that into the marketplace,” he says. “I don’t care what you’re selling — you have to have a digital mindset.”
As you hire salespeople who understand social selling, look for sales candidates who have a robust and professional presence on social media. They share insights from others as well as original ideas and information on how companies can use those insights for themselves.
The platform and target audience may vary, Estis says — salespeople in some industries may use Twitter more than Instagram, for example — but understanding the value of social media and promoting ideas through it is a vital skill for salespeople.
In light of all these new skills and roles, you may be wondering if compensation models have changed. Not so much, Estis says. There’s been a lot of discussion about different types of compensation, but he says his research has found that when salespeople are compensated on performance through incentives and bonuses, they are much more engaged.
When setting up compensation models, stick to the tried-and-true. “Salespeople are more committed when they have some kind of incentive or variable-based compensation,” Estis says.