Building a Sales Team From Scratch

by Chris Young

You only have one chance to do this the right way.

Building your sales team will define the short- and long-term success of your business. You only get one shot. When your company is founded or when a new business unit is first set up, assembling a team of Sales Wolves is critical.

But here is the sobering truth: Few organizations do it well.

harmony-1229901_1280The founder’s mindset.

You have a brilliant business idea, raise funds or bootstrap, and you are off to the races. In all likelihood, as Chief Executive Officer, you are also Chief Sales Officer, wearing as many hats as you can to keep your organization afloat and growing. You know your business inside and out and the passion you feel for your business model is palpable. Makes perfect sense.

With so much on your mind, though, you’re probably not considering the ramifications of selecting and hiring only the best-of-the-best sales talent.

When a new business goes from concept to aspiring business model to revenue to profit, it can seem surreal. To see your baby grow could even seem like a miracle.

No one wants their baby to be called ugly.

One day in those first few years, the decision is made to hire that first salesperson. Most organizations lack someone with the experience needed to do it well. Founders rarely have the experience of sales hiring failure to understand what is needed and the pitfalls to avoid. Adding insult to injury, more often than not, initial sales hires are made from the founder’s friends and family.

A recipe for disaster.

Think long and hard about this (or not so long and hard, really). Are you or your family/friends really the best possible choices to help your company continue to grow?

Hiring salespeople is complicated. And challenging. What are the chances that selecting the BEST possible salesperson for your business is going to go well the first, second, third, or even fourth time?

Do not beat yourself up. This is how SO many of the first salespeople are hired.

Building a sales team the right way.

There are four considerations to keep in mind when building a sales team from scratch.

  1. What kind of sales team culture do you want to have?

  2. What business are you in?

  3. How important are profits?

  4. How important is moat-building?

1. What kind of sales team culture do you want to have?

Are you shaping a sales team culture of entitlement thinking and play-not-to-lose or are you playing-to-win?

The quality of sales talent dictates which sales culture you ultimately will build and protect. To be crystal clear, your sales team's culture will be a DIRECT reflection of your mindset. The extent to which your sales team plays-to-win and adds extreme value to the Client relationship will depend upon what you will do and protect. All problems start at the head.

2. What business are you in?

Working together in startups or small businesses, your team can feel like family. But never forget the ultimate goal here. Is your business a social club or a for profit enterprise? Social clubs have social causes to protect. Profit-maximizing enterprises seek to maximize profits.

3. How important are profits?

If they are not of utmost concern, it is a matter of time until your business becomes a social club.

4. How important is moat-building?

"Moats" are a value proposition that some Customers really, really appreciate and are willing to invest top dollar to experience.

There are just two problems:

  • Not every Customer is willing to pay for the value proposition, and

  • Few companies have salespeople capable of delivering real value above and beyond their product / service mix.

It takes true Sales Wolves to ensure moats are built and strong value propositions are delivered.

Learning the hard way.

I speak from a thousand PhD's from The School of Hard Knocks. The selection, hiring, on-boarding, andthought-2123970_640 coaching the best-of-the-best Sales Wolves is a field I have been studying and doing for a living for 20 years. My calling was born from direct frustration and experience of sometimes hitting and mostly missing the act of getting who I hired as a salesperson consistently correct.

I am not particularly intelligent. Like you, I love joy and dislike pain. So I seek patterns that help me get what I want and avoid the bad. I have had many more feedback loops from trial, error, and measurement.

Operating and building a startup does not come with an operations manual. Unless you are driven to perfect your sales team, you will probably settle without realizing you have settled.

“But wait, XX company did not invest in sales right away and they just sold for an obscene amount of money!”

Companies are successful in spite of themselves. The barriers to entry may be large. The company may have regional brand power. And the sales team gets the credit even if they are merely order-taking (of which most are anyways).

All they know is their business model is profitable and they are fond of their salespeople who have become friends or family if they were not already friends or family.

You do not mess with friends of family.

Meanwhile, competitors are coming up with their own business model to compete with yours. They smell profits. Sometimes a competitor is a key salesperson, who as a Sales Wolf, could not handle the mediocrity and favoritism. They were astute enough to see the handwriting on the wall and what was being left on the table. These competitors do their homework and work. They hire the best possible sales talent and begin taking away key customers.

The disastrous future.

In this scenario you, of course, notice the missing Customers as well as your sales team.

You just do not know what to do about it. You cannot fix broken job fit with salespeople who have been with you since the beginning.

It is too late.

The death spiral begins.

At first you and everyone on your sales team is in denial. No one wants to admit the sales team is a wreck. No one wants to admit the first salespersons hired have destroyed more value than they created. Thank goodness no one keeps track of the missed sales. And hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20.

If only you could roll back the hands of time to the first signs of trouble. One such sign is when you, the founder or CEO, had to intervene to save the sale over and OVER again.

Strong sales leaders recognize the importance of mindset in salespeopleTake action now.

Founders, immediately start the strategic assembly of your sales team. Especially if you have any intention of scaling your business model.

Keep in mind: There is no way in hell you are going to be able to hire a true Sales Wolf on your own. You may get lucky but you will not get lucky repeatedly. It is best to bring in an expert.

If you have acumen…

You have a lawyer to draw up your legal papers and handle legal matters.

You have a CPA handle your accounting.

Accordingly, you must have an outside expert help you build your sales team. You cannot build a team of Sales Wolves on your own and the distraction of trial and error and emotional turbulence is largely avoidable.   

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