Guest Column | June 12, 2019

Building An Effective Sales Organization

By Gavin Gamber, ConnectWise

Team Meeting

When a business first starts out, employees typically wear multiple hats. However, at some point you will realize that you need to boost sales and your superb engineer is an engineer — not a salesperson. You make the decision to grow the team and you want to hire someone to take on the critical role of revenue growth.

Now for the million-dollar question: How do you find them? Posting ads on job boards and using tools like LinkedIn are a great start; however, referrals are typically the best way to ensure you bring the right people into your organization. Whether you’re attending chamber of commerce events or industry tradeshows, pay attention to individuals that standout.

Who Should You Hire?

Sales is not a 9-to-5 job and it often requires long hours. Some of the best salespeople respond late at night to close the deal and provide white glove service. When searching for the “right salesperson,” look for traits including passion, grit, tenacity and ambition. You want to hire the person you can groom to manage, someone willing to follow details and processes that takes good notes and marks the opportunities correctly. They should also be detail oriented, confident and willing to have constructive tension.

You should also look for a sales rep that focuses on understanding the prospects’ needs and challenges versus forcing features and functions on them. Look for the person that is familiar with your industry so they can ramp up quickly. They should also be a quick study, hungry, and a team player that shares your core values. At the end of the day, all actions should focus on making the customer successful.

The Interview Process

In order to effectively interview a sales candidate and determine if they are a good fit, consider a panel style interview. By selecting a few team members that the candidate will work with on a daily basis, the hiring process will be more objective and will take less of the staff’s time. This interview style provides consistency with regards to the questions asked and it gives each person on the panel the opportunity to hear a job candidate’s answers firsthand. During the interview, be sure to ask questions that will help you better understand who the person is and how prepared they will be in front of your customers and prospects.

Sample questions include:

  • How do you keep up-to-date with the industry?
  • Are you better at hunting for business or cultivating existing relationships?
  • What motivates you? Note, responses will give you an indication if it is money, culture, etc.
  • How do you use social media to sell?
  • Describe your last sales job—why did you leave?
  • Tell me about the sales cycle of your last job.
  • What does a typical day look like? Do you have a daily/weekly sales plan? How do you attack hitting your quota?
  • Describe a first sales call, what do you want to get out of it?
  • Once you are hired, what will you work on first?
  • What do you do if a customer or prospect keeps saying no?
  • Tell me about a time when, as a sales person, things did not go well.

During the interview process, it is important to understand how they approach the sales process. You want to hire the person who will ask questions to better understand the company’s needs versus repeating a list of product features, service offerings or even the ‘why us’ messaging.

After the panel interview, consider calling the candidate at an off hour. It is telling to see how someone responds when they are not in interview mode. This interaction could ultimately sway you one way or another in determining if they are someone you want to hire.

Learn How To Fire

While we go through a lot of steps to ensure that we hire the right person, we don’t always get it right. Even though you have asked the right questions and they have said the right things, it doesn’t work out for various reasons—maybe they are uncomfortable in the industry or they don’t have the right skillset. If it is not working, act sooner rather than later or it will cost you more in the long run. Document the problem, set clear expectations and if they do not meet or exceed them, move on.

With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that it is up to you, the manager, to set appropriate sales goals and track metrics through the sales funnel. If the goals are impossibly aggressive you cannot blame the sales rep if they are unable to hit the number. It is your responsibility to set the right sales goals and then measure specific sales performance metrics over time. For example:

  • How long is each rep’s sales cycle?
  • What are the conversion rates through the sales funnel?
  • What is their average sales price?

These performance metrics should be measured over time and the reps should be held accountable; however, it is your responsibility to motivate them to over perform. Praise team members for a job well done. And be cautious about berating underperformers. As the motivator and coach, remind them of the reasons that you hired them and let them know that you believe in them. You are invested in their success, but if it doesn’t work out that’s o.k. Sometimes it is best for everyone to move on.

And now you are back to square one—you don’t have a sales person. As a hiring manager, you should always be interviewing. Again, keep an eye on the best performers out there and focus on hiring two positions ahead of your current need. Hire the best sales person that you can afford and remember to leverage referrals as well as your own network.

Quarterly Commission Plans

When onboarding a new sales person, start off with a probationary period—or ramp period—that lasts for approximately 90 days. This is a good time for training, immersing the new hire into the culture and seeing if they are a good fit overall.

After the probationary period, implement a quarterly commission plan, which will give you the ability to quickly measure the effectiveness of the new sales person. If they continuously miss quotas, you can address what’s working and what’s not on a quarterly basis versus waiting a full year. By measuring quarterly, you can track if a sales person is missing month after month of quotas and since you are immersed in and already understand their pipeline you can guide them on what they need to do to improve.

Spend the time mentoring them and truly understanding what motivates them—some like money, travel, golf, and material things as well as more time with their family. Then, you can use this knowledge to move them toward overperformance.

Having The Right Systems In Place

In order to make the right decisions for your business, you need understand if your sales team is following up fast enough—or too much, if the customer or prospect has viewed the quote and the systems that you will need for the sales team. Having the right systems in place will help keep the sales team organized. And as their mentor and coach you need visibility into their activities and the pipeline so that you can step in and assist on a deal at a moment’s notice. Things to look for include:

  • Has the sales person had any calls, how many?
  • How many leads do they have?
  • How many quotes have been sent out?
  • How does each sales person compare with their peers?
  • What pipeline is needed to achieve their quota?
  • Are they organized, do they know when a specific RFP is scheduled and will they be ready?

In order to effectively track leads, you need a system that will allow you to take a methodical approach to look at the leads, determine what calls need to be made each day and create follow-ups. This type of systems allows reps to manage their daily, weekly and monthly pipeline.

Additionally, you will need a system that helps you provide professional quotes for each customer, track a sales rep’s progress and provide visibility into when the customer views the quote.

Setting Up The Commission Plan

The commission plan should be tailored to the sales person’s level of experience. If you plan to hire someone with more experience so that they can eventually buildout the team, it’s likely you will have to pay them more.

The lifeblood of the company depends on securing new customers to help you grow so eventually you will want hunters—who go after net new business. And then farmers or account managers—who build relationships and expand the portfolio of offerings with existing customers. With this in mind, you can set up the commission plan for:

  • Hunters vs. Farmers
  • New logos vs. add-ons
  • Pay at different rates
  • Assign different quotas

No matter how you differentiate, the plan must make sense—unattainable goals will demotivate the sales team. Consider setting goals so that the rep will finish at 110 percent. Why? So that everyone feels good. Each compensation plan should be clearly defined and not overly complex. Some may include activity components like daily call metrics because activity is a key driver for sales—reps need to be calling and in front of customers. However, ultimately, it’s about hitting their numbers and making the sales rep stretch quarter after quarter to hit their new goal and grow the business. Also, it’s likely you will need to adjust—either up or down— and that’s o.k.

Commissions Only Vs. Base Salary + Variable Commission

If you decide on a commission only plan, you will likely see a lot of turnover. Instead, provide your sales rep with a base salary so that they can put food on the table without having to worry where they will get that money. Most salespeople are generally in it to make the big bucks—the commission is what it’s all about for them.

Determine your budget and then determine the plan. In general, 50/50 plans are well received. They will have a 50 percent base commission with another 50 percent based on sales. For every dollar the rep closes, that’s the percent that they will earn toward their monthly commission. Again, a plan should be built so that the goals can be achieved and even exceeded. Creating unachievable goals is unrealistic and will create high turnover. And you want to keep people — especially the good people — longer.

Keeping Good Sales Reps

While some people believe sales should have a high turnover rate, that cannot be further from the truth. When you find good sales reps you want to keep them. They will learn your offering, believe in it, and hit their quota year after year.

It is also important to note that it takes approximately 10 months or more for a new sales person to be fully productive so it’s important that you structure your onboarding process so that your new sales rep will get the most out of it. One idea to reduce time to sales productivity is a blended learning approach that includes eLearning programs that will allow the reps to complete training at their convenience. This could include a video-based online sales certification program that helps companies speed ramp up, save costs and time on sales training and certify their sales teams.

As you build out your sales team you want to make sure that each person has a specific role—no one is a jack-of-all-trades. Also, it is important to define a career path from SBDM to TDBM to RSM to solution strategist. Moving up in the company will help keep the team motivated and you should define a clear progression, provide mentoring and get them invested in the success of the company.

Once you have the career path and commission plan in place, focus on the core values—everything they do should revolve around the core values. Examples of core value include:

  • Love your work, every day
  • Your voice, your company
  • Innovation
  • Humility
  • Deliver on what you say
  • Obsess with partner success

Also, reward the team for fostering these ideas and for a job well done.

When it comes to building a successful sales team, the most important thing to remember is that the DNA of every business stems from the top. How you do it is up to you.

About The Author

Gavin Gamber is currently serving as VP of Channel Sales and Alliances for ConnectWise and responsible for overseeing ConnectWise’s relationships with its distribution partners (Ingram Micro & Tech Data) and the vendor solutions that ConnectWise resells to the partner community. He joined the team in 2011 and previously was the Director of Sales responsible for worldwide sales. During his tenure, sales have achieved record setting growth.