Conventional wisdom has long held that the most successful salespeople are born, not made. However, recent research shows there’s no shared salesperson gene. Instead, the right mix of tools, training and self-awareness can be effectively combined with a wide range of personality traits to create sales success.
By profiling sales professionals who routinely exceed their quotas, a 2016 study by Velocify made the case that high achievers attain success using a diverse set of strategies that play to their own individual strengths. According to the research, while some people may have more obvious attributes that make selling a natural fit, the path to success is as individual as the people involved.
These insights open the door for companies -- especially startups -- to broaden their thinking when it comes to hiring, training and sales planning.
Stay away from "one-size-fits-all" sales development.
Hiring a sales team is like placing a bet that a person’s production will be worth the investment. For startups, those risks are amplified: There’s not a lot of cushion for recalibrating if someone hasn't been able to hit the ground running; so one sales hire can mean the difference between success and failure.
Velocify’s research offers some good news that can help alleviate the pressure. Sales success isn’t determined by finding perfect matches for some elusive attribute, Velocity says. Instead, entrepreneurs who focus on a combination of strategic hiring and individualized development have the advantage.
First, find the right balance between hiring experienced reps and those less-proven-but-hungry types.
Experience comes with a higher price tag, and it may not be the right time in your company’s development to place that bet. That’s why it’s essential to map out a sales strategy, detailing how it will scale and grow over time.
Once you have a plan to refer to as the business evolves, you'll find it easier to identify the point at which hiring that seasoned sales professional makes sense -- and, more importantly, when it doesn’t.
With your hiring decisions made, you should next turn your focus to resources and sales support. Rather than set up a rigid structure for salespeople to follow, focus on building an environment that helps each individual optimize his or her strengths. Invest in tools that help salespeople recognize the attributes they possess and the best practices for leveraging their different strengths to achieve their goals.
Helping people tap into their strengths -- rather than focusing solely on their weaknesses -- pays off. Recent Gallup research found that when employees are focused on their personal strengths, teams see a 12.5 percent jump in productivity. Even better, individuals who are able to apply their strengths on a daily basis are more engaged and committed to the company.
Optimizing strengths from the start.
Startups need to make the most of every decision. Sales development is a critical area that deserves time and energy from day one. Fight the tendency to generalize or rely on coaching by spreadsheet. Take these steps to optimize growth and ensure that individual strengths add up to team success.
1. Reward the prospectors.
Cold-calling is hard. But effective prospecting is crucial to keep the pipeline full of qualified prospects. Naturally, some salespeople are better at prospecting than others. Capitalize on that.
Whenever possible, structure the team so that the best prospectors are focused on -- and rewarded for -- nurturing prospects. Doing so can also enable the team’s best relationship managers to focus on their strengths, as well.
2. Don’t treat training as a once-and-done task.
While it may be tempting to settle for having your team merely hit its objectives, do more: Incentivize top performers to create and share best practices. Sales skills are developed through years of training and on-the-job experience, and a company’s sales leaders are often the best teachers.
Look to Oracle’s “Class Of” sales program for inspiration. Following an initial training with the program, a company’s trainees spend at least nine months focusing on generating leads through cold calling. From there, Oracle pairs each trainee with an experienced salesperson who mentors him or her toward “graduation” and is rewarded with a share of the commission.
It’s a great template for keeping trainees engaged and continuously sharpening their skills.
3. Make sure individuals play for the team.
Even with thefocus on optimizing individual strengths, things have to come together to create team success. Be mindful that the true competition comes from the outside. Sales representatives have to keep up with changing products, markets and customer demands.
For startups, multiply the rate of change by 100. A shared view of the competition -- and what sets the company apart -- does more than just boost morale. It’s a foundation for both day-to-day production and the team’s long-term ability to drive profitable, sustainable growth.
4. Look ahead to the next deal.
Dropbox offers an amazing example of the powerful effects that operationalizing a customer-referral program can have. The company went from 100,000 registered users to 4 million in a 15-month period, according to Referral SaaSquatch. That’s a 3,900 percent growth rate.
Laying the groundwork from the beginning for customer referrals, loyalty and expanded relationships pays off. Even if Dropbox’s approach isn’t a realistic benchmark, embedding a long view into sales culture makes good business sense.
5. Measure process.
Don’t make the mistake of looking only at the numbers to gauge your success. Develop measures that track end-to-end processes ,as well. Establishing metrics based on different steps in a customer’s journey helps to identify the right mix of outreach, along with the triggers that take the relationship to the next level. A deep understanding of exactly how your customers move through the sales funnel provides timely insights to better interpret the numbers and refine how sales resources are deployed.
In sum, creating the right mix of strengths and strategy is at the heart of sales success. Hiring, training and planning with strengths in mind promises that both the team and the company are on track for growth.