sales leadership

5 Ways Startup Founders Can Help Their Sales Teams

5 Ways Startup Founders Can Help Their Sales Teams
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For entrepreneurs who don't come from a sales background, the entire sales process sometimes seems like an indecipherable combination of confidence, knowledge and luck.

They expend extra effort to compensate for these handicaps when hiring sales managers and reps. It's the only way they know how to ensure they have people in place who can craft and execute a sound sales strategy based on proven strategies and performance metrics. Sales-novice founders wisely cede the details of sales strategy to others, but they don't need to shut themselves entirely out of the process. 

Related: 3 Steps to Aligning Sales Teams and Maximizing Results

If you're a startup founder, remind yourself that being a decisive, fair and visionary leader is more important than possessing any particular technical skill. You can use your leadership know-how to help your team without being a distraction or interfering with sales strategy your experts already have devised.

Relay on your visibility as founder and your ability to provide tools your team needs to perform at the highest levels. You'll better position your sales force for success, even if you've never once closed a deal in your career. Here are five ways to get there.

1. Use the power of your network to your team's advantage.

Successful sales professionals frequently rely on referrals to connect with potential new clients. It's a great way to bypass cold calling in an era when B2B sales opportunities have expanded exponentially.

But referrals needn't remain the sole provenance of the sales department. Any member of your organization can ask to connect to a referral. According to Eimantas Balciunas, CEO of Travel Ticker: "To secure more hotel partnerships at Travel Ticker, sometimes the sales team enlists help from members of the executive team -- including me -- to gain introductions to other influencers in the hospitality industry who may have access to hard-to-reach executives at boutique and chain hotels around the world." 

As the founder, you're most likely to have connections with people who've developed deep and robust professional networks. This includes your investors or members of the board of directors. Many sales reps won't contact these sources themselves because they worry about overstepping their bounds. Don't miss the opportunity to reach out to them for client referrals on behalf of your sales team. They do have a stake in your company's future, after all. In the process, make sure that sales team gets the credit once a deal goes through.

2. Become a thought leader within your industry.

Cultivating a thought leadership position usually is associated with marketing strategy, but there's no reason that position can't positively affect your sales efforts, as well. Successful sales reps and entrepreneurs are effective communicators. Thought leaders convey a value proposition to a potentially wider and more diverse audience.

Salespeople walk prospects through the early stages of the buying funnel by providing them with a baseline understanding of your company and product. But the founder can do this, too. In the early days of HubSpot, founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah educated hundreds of thousands of businesses about the value of inbound marketing. Those efforts ultimately made it easy for HubSpot’s sales reps to sell the company’s inbound marketing software to that same audience.

3. Build cohesion between marketing and sales.

Promoting thought leadership through content creation is one way to shore up your marketing effort, but it's up to you to ensure that your marketing and sales strategies complement rather than inhibit one another. Even when all other variables present an attractive proposition, mistakes seriously can hinder your sales efforts.

You need to assure that your marketing staff identifies appropriate leads for your sales reps. And you'll want to make certain that your funnel delivers prospects at the correct stage in the purchasing journey. Bring your sales and marketing teams together for training efforts so each unit can better understand the other's needs, abilities and limitations.

Related: 5 Strategies for Driving Sales With Thought Leadership

4. Encourage opportunities for professional development.

Most sales professionals want to feel as if they're encouraged to grow personally and professionally. Involving them as you develop a comprehensive professional development program for the company invites their investment as individuals and team members. 

Professional development needn't relate exclusively to the sales field. Understanding processes within other business units could give employees more confidence when they speak to clients about the company.

You might also consider attending sales training events with your staff. This provides you an opportunity to learn more about the day-to-day issues they face in their roles. At Campaign Monitor, for instance, employees may attend and participate in any conference or workshop they choose, at the company's expense. This supports personal and professional development across the company as a whole.

5. Find unique ways to keep your sales reps motivated.

Most people are motivated by more than just financial rewards. Yet many startups still employ traditional incentive programs, such as cash-only bonuses for top sales performers. It turns out, however, that a myriad of different factors can drive your highest earners. Transitioning to a more inclusive reward system encourages all team members to consistently perform better.

Related: 3 Best Practices of All-Star Sales Forces (Infographic)

You have the power as leader to create new and unique incentives for your sales reps, and to promote the idea that positive outcomes benefit everyone in your company. How are you looking for ways to help your team today?