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How Startups Can Build a Powerful Sales Team from the Ground Up

Building a sales team from scratch isn’t easy.

As a startup, you must carefully balance your need for sales with your need to conserve resources. Combine that with the fact that most startups lack defined hiring and onboarding practices and things start to get complicated real quick.

Despite all this, there’s comes a point when every startup founder realizes they need to hire a competent, effective sales team to get their product into the hands of customers.

Today, we’ll look at the steps you should follow if you want to build a sales team that drives revenue for your startup without sacrificing culture or performance.

But first, let’s discuss how you can decide if your startup is ready to bring on dedicated sales reps.

When Should Your Start Building Your Sales Team?

In the early days of running a startup, a sales team isn’t a necessity. After all, you’re probably doing sales yourself or with the help of a few independent reps. Even though you know this is a temporary solution, it can be tricky to tell exactly when your startup has grown enough to warrant hiring a sales team.

Some telltale signs that you’re ready to make the leap include:

  • Consistent positive feedback from existing customers and prospects
  • A growing demand for your product or service
  • Having more leads than your current team can handle
  • Earning enough revenue to afford hiring a full-time sales rep or two

If this sounds familiar, you might be ready to expand your team. Here are the steps you can follow to build a strong, efficient sales team for your startup.

Ready to Expand Your Sales Team? Start with These Steps

Get the Timing Right

Ready to Expand Your Sales Team? Start with These Steps

Timing means everything for a growing startup.

Hire too early and you risk depleting your cash reserves trying to sell a product that isn’t quite ready for market. Wait too long to hire sales reps and you’ll struggle to get the customers you need to fuel your growth.

Before you expand your team, you need to prove product-market fit and test the waters to see how your target audience responds to your offering. After all, the best sales reps are hardwired to sell. They aren’t well-suited for developing strategy or figuring out product-market fit.

Plus, if the timing is way off, you’ll struggle to offer the attractive compensation plans needed to draw top sales reps away from their jobs with established companies. Your customer lifetime value (CLV) should be a multiple of your customer acquisition cost in order to justify a new sales hire. Otherwise, you simply won’t have the budget or revenue to afford top sales reps – and hiring a mediocre sales team is unlikely to yield the results you want.

Make sure your startup is at a point where it makes sense to expand the team. Be honest with yourself about whether hiring a sales rep is the best use of your existing resources.

Define Your Sales Strategy

Before you can build a sales team, you need to develop a comprehensive sales strategy.

This involves identifying your target market and ideal customer, which will keep your sales team’s efforts focused. You should also define specific sales territories help the team stay organized as it scales.

If you don’t have a sales strategy in place and you’re not sure where to start, begin by tracking data like crazy. Look at what products or packages are selling best and how much they sell for. Keep tabs on who’s making sales and what techniques they’re using to boost their close rate. Track sales metrics like your monthly recurring revenue (MRR), churn rate, and sales pipeline coverage ratio.

This information is useful for many reasons. In terms of hiring decisions, these metrics reveal if there’s extra space in the budget to bring on a sales team. For example, a startup with an average deal size of $5,000 can’t afford to hire a team of outside sales reps for field work.

Collecting sales data makes it easier to define your organization’s goals, which can help you decide what roles to hire for and how quickly to expand your team.

You might set certain goals for increasing revenue, reducing customer acquisition cost, and other objectives related to your business plan.

On a smaller scale, you should also define which metrics you’ll use to measure a sales rep’s success. This might include the number of phone calls or emails needed turn a lead into a customer, for example.

Without an established sales processes, your reps will be forced to come up with their own techniques and solution, which may or may not align with your overarching goals and culture. Figuring out all of these details before hiring a sales team empowers your new hires to excel in their roles.

Determine Role Requirements

Determine Sales Role Requirements

Consider how you want to structure your sales team. If you plan to keep your team on the small side for the foreseeable future, you should focus on bringing on multi-talented reps who can do a bit of everything.

However, many startups find that putting together a specialized sales team is more beneficial, especially in the long-term.

Specializing ensures you’ll hire a mix of talented hunters and gatherers, rather than reps try to do it all. This helps keep your pipeline full of opportunities that are moving along towards closing – but it only pays off it your startup at a point where a more robust sales team makes the most sense.

For instance, if you’re hiring for specialized sales roles, you’ll be more interested in someone who excels at finding new leads than someone who wants to handle everything from prospecting and field sales to converting inbound leads.

Specific sales roles you might consider hiring for include an inside sales rep, sales development rep, field sales rep, account executive, and a sales engineer.

Recruit the Right Talent

Sales reps who sell for startups have very different experiences than reps at more mature companies. Startup life can be difficult for someone who’s used to selling for a well-known brand with a stronger reputation and social proof to support their sales.

The obvious solution is to recruit sales reps who have experience with startups or who have sold similar products to similar customers in a similar field.

The rep’s personality matters, too – especially in startup culture. Your ideal sales team is comprised of ambitious, confident, optimistic, flexible, adaptable professionals who work well under pressure and thrive in the face of adversity.

Most importantly, your sales staff should be able to handle the curve balls your startup might encounter, such as changing organizational structure or sudden spikes in growth.

The recruiting process doesn’t stop once you’ve made a few key hires. In fact, you should never truly take a break from seeking out talented salespeople. When you come across a top-tier professional looking for work, scoop them up while you can (if it’s in the budget!) since they won’t be on the market for long.

For more detailed tips on recruiting top sales performers, check back soon for our article on how to hire your dream sales team.

Onboarding: Set Your Team up for Success

Onboarding: Set Your Team up for Success

It’s hard to get down to business without the right tools to get started.

With all the effort that goes into hiring a sales team, it would be silly not to give them the training and resources they need to succeed at your company.

Ideally, you should create a repeatable onboarding process that provides all the necessary information sales reps need to know about your business, product, sales strategy, customers, and goals.

Make sure any tools your new hire might need are already in place before they arrive for their first day of work. This includes everything from basic office supplies, a phone line, and computer to inventory information, product guides, and an up-to-date CRM system.

If you don’t already use a CRM as part of your sales process, consider that the right tool can simplify data tracking and internal communication – making it much easier to get your sales team on track.

A good rule of thumb is to plan out the first 90 days of a new hire’s employment and closely monitor their activity during that period. However, if you have a particularly long sales cycle, consider extending the onboarding period to accommodate a full sales cycle.

However long it takes, your onboarding process should be designed to ensure all new reps understand how to effectively sell your product or service.

Sell Smarter, Not Harder, with These 17 Proven Cold Email Templates

Whether you’re ready to hire a fully-fledged sales team or will continue doing sales yourself for now, it’s important to know how to connect with and warm up cold leads. That’s why we put together a package of 17 proven cold email templates to help you open up more sales opportunities for your business.

Get the templates

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