5 Strategies for Building a Sales Operation From the Ground up

You may be expected to create an organizational architecture and to train your sales reps. Here's how to meet that challenge.

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By Danny Wong • Apr 7, 2017


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How many corporate sales managers have dreamed of the following scenario: You've earned rave reviews by multiplying revenue, spurred your sales reps to reach new heights and used your support structures to create sustainable growth. Now, you're being considered for director of sales at a new B2B startup.

Related: Your Sales Training Won't Stick Until You Modify Your Behavior

You're sure you'll get the job and pick up right where you left off.

But that is not to be: When you march in that first day, ready to rule the world, you discover that everything is different from what you'd expected: There is no existing organizational architecture set up to help you succeed. And there are no sales reps for you to manage. In fact, you are now in charge of creating -- out of thin air -- a functional sales team and a predictable sales process.

To help you thrive in this sort of scary situation, here are several strategies that will help you hit the ground running to build a strong and sustainable sales unit -- yes, from thin air.

Don't wait to develop your messaging and engage with prospects.

In startup situations, many sales leaders want to wait for the perfect opportunity before they begin to present their case to potential customers. They're waiting for a specific product prototype or list of specifications to be finalized. They're counting on the IT team to get the CRM platform integrated with another system. They're scouring through reams of candidate profiles in search of their first great sales representative.

Certainly, these are all important components of a fully-functional sales operation, but they shouldn't be used as excuses to delay in creating what will be the true essence of your sales operation: demonstrating value to prospects.

This begins with developing your messaging, then presenting it to your customers in engaging ways. As long as you understand your company's value proposition, you don't need any help to begin creating your messaging and communications with prospective buyers.

Related: 3 Ways to Integrate Traffic Analytics Into Your Sales Management Platform

You don't even have to wait for your production and distribution to be ready. Build anticipation with your prospects by describing your offering's value, and enlist their commitment to purchase the product at a specific price just as soon as it's available.

Make it a priority to work with marketing early and often.

A lack of alignment between the marketing and sales functions is one of the most prevalent problems facing B2B companies today. Most often, these gaps don't arise by chance; they manifest themselves once a company starts to experience growth, but the seeds have been sown long before that point, because marketing and sales leaders neglected to collaborate early in the organization's lifespan.

When your operation is small, it may not seem that integrating your marketing and sales functions is that important. But if you want to avoid problems once your structures and systems get more complex, you should dedicate yourself to preventing any problems now.

Studies have shown that companies that excel at sales and marketing alignment grow at an average annual rate of 20 percent, compared to a 4 percent drop in revenue for those who struggle.

Learn about the issues around forecasting for your startup.

As the first sales leader of a startup, you'll find that one of the key factors the executives and stakeholders will use to evaluate your performance is the results you generate in comparison to their expectations.

If those expectations are out of whack from the beginning, your bosses will find it difficult to accurately assess your results, and you'll find it diffcult to justify your numbers. Shoot for the moon, and you may find yourself being held to unreasonable standards.

On the other hand, if you underestimate your potential, your company's leaders may deduce that you don't have a solid handle on generating realistic expectations.

Because the company has no history to aid you in your forecasting, you'll likely find that the bulk of the work is on your shoulders. You'll need to consult multiple sources and build and evaluate several models to arrive at a forecast that will accurately portray your expectations and capabilities.

Be relentless with your time-blocking.

One of the most difficult tasks for new sales leaders at startups to manage is the breadth of responsibilities allocated to them. This is especially true if they were previously sales reps or managers at an established organization, where they could comfortably stick to a defined role and focus their efforts.

In building a sales unit from scratch, you are going to have to complete wildly different tasks simultaneously. Strictly delineating your time and sticking to your schedule is the only way to ensure that all of the disparate endeavors on your plate receive the attention they need.

Develop your training programs.

It doesn't matter if you haven't hired a single sales rep yet, or even if that first hire is projected to be a year down the road; build the foundations of a sales training program as soon as possible.

Training is going to be one of the most important components of your ability to scale your sales operation as your company grows, and you'll need to have it ready for new hires immediately. According to research from RAIN Group, companies that offer exceptional sales retention training see 30 percent more of their sales reps hit quotas when compared to the industry average.

Related: 7 Must-Know Tips for Managing Your Millennial Sales Team

Well-designed training programs have a dramatic impact on your team almost immediately. So prioritize their creation early to get a jumpstart on your competition.

Danny Wong

Entrepreneur, marketer and writer.

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company, and leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. 

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