Hiring an effective sales team is mission critical for any growing organization. Get it right, and you’re on the path to revenue growth. Get it wrong, and the future of the organization can be in jeopardy. Following the best practices for building a sales team can help you mitigate the risk of bad hires, attract the calibre of talent you need, and hire candidates who are excited to join your team and start selling.
What are the best practices for building a sales team?
- Target candidates with a profile that aligns to your needs
- Include passive candidates in your recruiting strategy.
- Be ready to sell the opportunity, and the mission and vision of the organization.
- Plan your interview and offer process—and plan to move quickly.
- Build competitive compensation packages.
1. Target candidates with a profile that aligns to your needs.
When you’re sourcing candidates, look for sales professionals who have a track record of success in a similar industry or vertical, with similar deal sizes, and similar sales cycles.
Each sales organization is different, and you won’t always be able to find candidates who perfectly align to your needs. But it’s smart to determine what your ideal candidate profile will look like before you write a job description, post any ads, or start reaching out to candidates.
Who will they be selling to? What is your average deal size? How long are your sales cycles? What kind of sales admin support is available? Who are your competitors, or members of your partner network? How much subject matter expertise is needed to be successful? The answers to these questions will form the basis of the profile you target.
2. Include passive candidates in your recruiting strategy.
You’ll probably get plenty of applications if you post a job ad on a few boards—so why bother taking the time to do proactive outreach to passive candidates?
The problem with a “post and pray” approach to hiring is that you have no control over the quality of applications. You might get lucky with a few well-qualified applicants, but you’ll also likely need to sift through dozens (if not hundreds) or unqualified applicants to find them. You’ll also only receive applications from candidates who are active on the job market—either currently unemployed, or miserable enough in their current position to be actively job seeking.
When you’re building out your sales team, you want to hire professionals who are at the very top of their game, getting results for their current employers. Doing proactive outreach to candidates who fit your profile allows you to ensure that you’re speaking with highly qualified candidates. You might have to work a little harder to sell them on the opportunity (and give them a bit of time to polish up their resumes), but you’ll increase your chances of a successful hire.
3. Be ready to sell the opportunity, and the mission and vision of the organization.
Throughout the interview process, you should be thinking about selling candidates on the opportunity by highlighting the overall mission and vision of the organization. When you’re ready to make an offer, you want your new hire to be excited to get started. While a competitive compensation package will do some of the work to attract and excite candidates, painting a compelling vision of the problems your products or services solve for your customers, and describing your company culture will help to seal the deal.
What does success in the role look like? What problems does your organization solve for its customers? What does the path to advancement look like? What are the perks that come with working on your team?
Many interviewers make the mistake of forgetting that an interview process goes both ways—just as you’re evaluating a candidate, the candidate is evaluating you—the organization, the opportunity, and the ways that their lives will change if they accept the role. Make sure that you’re actively painting a compelling vision for their future, and you’ll have a much easier time closing them when you’re ready to make an offer.
4. Plan your interview and offer process—and plan to move quickly.
Before you post any ads or reach out to passive candidates, figure out each of the steps in your interview process—including who will be responsible for each stage and their availability. It’s also smart to do a bit of contingency planning—what will you do if a key team member is out sick or travelling? How much flexibility will you have for rockstar candidates?
For sales roles, we recommend a 3 step interview process: a phone screen with the hiring manager, an in-person meeting with a few members of the team, and a go/no-go meeting with the hiring manager and any other stakeholders involved in the decision. This gives you enough time to qualify past experience, ask the behavioural questions that will help you understand cultural fit, and lay out the details of the current team and role. If you decide to add more steps, you run the risk of losing strong candidates who are unable to (or uninterested in) jump through a lot of hoops. It’s also smart to keep peak busy times for sales professionals in mind. The end of the month, quarter, and year are likely to be hectic for both your candidates and your own sales team—so prepare to be extra flexible when booking interviews at those times.
When you’re ready to make an offer, move as quickly as possible. If a candidate is waiting weeks between a final interview and an offer, they are going to assume that you’re not very excited about hiring them.
5. Build competitive compensation packages.
At the risk of generalizing, most salespeople are motivated by money. Sales is a profession that incentivizes results like few other jobs—if you’re good, you can make a lot of money at it. As an organization, you want to harness that ambition to your benefit by creating compensation packages that motivate your team, and excite your new hires.
For software sales, we generally recommend a 50/50 split between base salary and on target earnings. The total amount should reflect the level of seniority of the candidate, the complexity and cycle length of the deals, and the average deal size. Look at how long it typically takes your reps to ramp up and start closing deals as well, and factor that into your base salary calculations. Make sure that you’re transparent about any limiting factors or accelerators, the territory and pipeline they’ll be taking over, timing for commission payments, and any other factors that impact compensation.
I’ve you’re not sure what compensation will attract the calibre of candidates you need, don’t wing it! Talk to people in your network who have a similar industry vertical and/or deal size, look for online resources like our Salary Insights series, or consult with your recruiting team. Specialized third party recruiters are uniquely positioned to help you answer the compensation question—they spend their days speaking with employers and employees in the field, having open and honest conversations about compensation.
For early-stage, high-growth companies, every hire is critical—but arguably the most important hires are the sales professionals who will be the front lines for the organization. The sales team will be talking to customers and solving their problems, advocating for your product in the market, and driving the revenue that will sustain the rest of your organization. Following these best practices will help ensure that you bring on the calibre of sales talent you need to get results, secure sales, and continue to grow.
Are you getting ready to grow your sales team? We've created a free checklist to help you refine your requirements, plan the interview process, and get aligned on competitive compensation.