The Secrets to Building a World-Class Sales Team

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President and CEO of Velocify
5 min read
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Assembling a stellar sales team is not easy. In fact, most sales leaders consider hiring and retaining the right talent as challenging as ensuring a consistent pipeline of quality leads.

In a study last year conducted by University of Southern California business professor Steve W. Martin that was sponsored by my company, Velocify, 71 percent of sales leaders cited as a top concern their ability to hire and retain sales talent.  

This year, the Miller Heiman Research Institute found that that only 8.5 percent of the sales professionals surveyed in its annual “MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study” could be considered “world class.”

So what is the secret to building a world-class sales team? While different leaders may tout different approaches, the best way to attract and retain a talented group of salespeople involves five crucial steps:

Related: Whether Inside or Out, the 4 New Realities of Closing Sales   

1. Strike the proper balance between inside and field sales.

Over the last decade, the purchasing decision process has dramatically changed. Information is now more readily accessible and available to buyers, and technological and interpersonal shifts have made it easier to make a purchase without face-to-face interactions.

Knowing this, the first step should be to assess your sales team’s makeup (consider the inside sales team vs. field reps) and determine how to leverage each group. Consider what is required to convert the majority of the leads into sales? Do inside reps or field sales staffers work better for certain deal sizes or products? Is a face-to-face interaction required to close a deal? If the company is like 46 percent of the companies Steve W. Martin surveyed, the inside sales team is capable of handling more deals and a stronger emphasis on inside sales should be considered.

2. Reward great sales performance.

It's obvious that good sales people expect to get paid well. What may be less obvious is that a good sales compensation plan isn’t generous in every way. The best salespeople will be attracted by a plan that has a moderate base salary and no commission caps.

If a salesperson says he or she needs a decent (or above average) base salary to sustain his or her lifestyle, it’s a sign that the person doesn’t believe in the market, the product or even his or her own abilities. The bottom line is that a salesperson who lacks confidence is probably not going to close deals and bring home the bacon.

For the same reason, commission plans should not be capped because there’s no reason to tell a saleperson on a roll that he or she should stop selling. Capping commissions turns off the best salespeople. It can be tempting to limit commissions in certain circumstances, for example, because the company is selling a new product or in a fresh market or territory and the management is worried about having to pay out too much. But in the end, if a salesperson takes home a monster commission because he or she exceeds expectations, everyone should be happy.

Related: 7 Crucial Steps to Building a Champion Sales Team

3. Ensure quotas are aggressive but realistic.

A quota should always be a reach but never a stretch. Outlandish stretches on quotas will quickly lead to discontent. Salespeople are naturally competitive and the first order of competition is to establish themselves as above average. Reaching quota, in a salesperson’s mind, is the equivalent of getting an “average” ranking.

Therefore, setting artificially high quotas can make a good salesperson feel like they are not competing on a higher level. That said, don’t be fooled into setting quotas so low that mediocre salespeople find them easy to reach.

4. Create a culture that celebrates sales success.

Nothing is more discouraging than being part of a team that doesn’t acknowledge success. High-performing salespeople, like anyone else, want recognition for their efforts. It could be as basic as ringing a bell to announce that they’ve closed a major deal or something more involved, such as quarterly contests and congratulatory events.

It's surprise to some to see how motivating and infectious this type of recognition can be to the entire organization. When hiring salespeople, make an effort to walk them past a sales dashboard that celebrates the highest-ranked sales people and the attainment of the team at that point in the month or quarter. The sign that the company cultivates a competitive environment where success is celebrated will energize good salespeople.

5. Wear the company's competitiveness with pride.

Talented salespeople are competitive at heart. They’re in sales because they love to win. Fostering this competitive spirit in a constructive manner can make the difference between a good sales team and a great one.

Look for people who have played sports, participated in academic-focused competitions or who engage in activities where they compete against themselves (such as marathon running or golfing). One of the best things to ask in a sales interview is “Outside of work, when was the last time you won at something?” Great salespeople will answer immediately, telling of a recent activity that they have personally participated in.

Related: How to Recruit Salespeople Who Will Deliver Dramatic Returns

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