How to Build a High-Performing Sales Team From Scratch

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Sales Management : 8 min read

How to Build a High-Performing Sales Team From Scratch

Everyone wants to have the best sales team, but not everyone is able to make it happen.

Did you know that, according to the Harvard Business Review, the annual average turnover in sales is about 25-30%?

Too often, seemingly talented candidates fail to transition into good sellers or leaders for the organization.

They’ll start on a high note, fresh with excitement entering a new environment (and given the benefit of the doubt) as they go through their onboarding and ramp process. But soon, they start to feel overwhelmed. After a few months, a seller can start falling behind and handing off the sales motion—one of the most critical motions to the success of the company—to the manager.

It’s easy to hold the seller accountable, and we should to a certain extent for the company’s and also for their own benefit.

But the root of the problem is us failing them, not them failing us.

What causes low-performing sales teams?

When building a sales team, many of us shirk the hiring process. We take it casually and don’t spend the required time and energy on getting this important step right. We hope a new hire will just “get it” and excel as soon as they’ve hit the ground running—rather than being certain that they’re in the right role and being accountable during the interview process.

We’re in need of someone now, and that blinds us to signals that someone might not be the best fit for the role.

That’s why we don’t end up with sales rockstars, and why our teams can miss the mark.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve your hiring process, get your top-performing reps to stick around, and create a collaborative sales team that wins consistently.

And though it may seem challenging at first, assembling a winning sales team is key to bolstering the growth of your business. It’s not something that can wait for “down the line.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to attract the best sales reps and build a world-class sales team.

How to build a high-performing sales team

1. Define your sales process.

Before hiring any reps, it’s critical to have a well-defined sales process in place.

A sales process isn’t rocket science. It is, however, critical to make sure your sales team understands yours because it’s the formal structure of sales stages in your selling process from lead to win (e.g. discovery, qualification, demo, pricing, close).

The process is different for each company and should be tracked in your CRM—here’s an example in Copper of some sales process stages that a company might use:

sales process in copper crm

Some companies leave the sales process up to individual salespeople, letting everyone run their own show. Seems easy and flexible, right? However, in my experience, that usually results in inconsistent performance.

Avoid that fate by helping a prospective candidate better understand your sales motion: share your sales process and stages early on in the hiring process.

Even better, define specific actions they’ll need to take at each stage to move leads or opportunities through the funnel. Dig into their capabilities along those dimensions and ask for examples from their past or test them via behavioral exercises during interviews.

Pro-tip: If you have a CRM in place, you can use that to manage your sales process.

This also empowers you to document your reps’ progress, and the reps will be able to use the CRM’s features (like automatic scheduling and following up) to advance their leads through the sales stages.

You’ll be making modifications as you get the ball rolling, especially early on. But, having your sales process laid out up front will not only help applicants understand what’s expected of them, it’ll also make sure your sales team is in good shape from the get-go.

Pro-tip

Hire the best.

Learn how to recruit and hire a high-performing sales team with this Sales Recruiting Handbook.

2. Hire for the right traits.

When you spread the word that you’re building a sales team, you’ll probably receive a ton of applications.

But if you want to narrow in on the best talent, you need to be able to evaluate the right personality traits.

Ask yourself: “Is this applicant coachable?” There are a lot of salespeople who do things based on their past sales experience—regardless of the sales process you’ve built out for them to follow.

Those are the types of people you might want to avoid since they’ll likely implement techniques that may not work for your organization.

Instead, look for reps who are naturally curious, humble, and willing to learn from others (peers, managers, coaches).

Another best practice for building a high-performance sales team is to hire for emotional intelligence (EQ).

EQ is commonly defined as the capability to observe, interpret, deal with, and respond to your own emotions and influence the emotional responses of others.

According to research from TalentSmart, emotional intelligence accounts for 58% of a person’s job performance—and 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence:

hiring for emotional intelligence

So, how do you sort applicants for emotional intelligence?

The best way is to focus on core EQ competencies: self-management, self-awareness, relationship management, and social awareness.

Make sure you get a feel for these during the interview process to gain a good understanding of how a candidate might fare on the EQ scale.

If you’re unsure of where to start, here are some interview questions to assess emotional intelligence.

Learn more about building and hiring a sales team:

3. Use metrics to drive accountability.

Accountability is central to the success of a sales team.

Poor accountability can pose a big hindrance to optimal performance, because reps won’t have the same interpretation or understanding of results.

To clear up the confusion, a proper accountability structure should be established, and your team should know how their performance and contribution toward company and sales goals will be analyzed.

That’s where metrics can really help.

Pro-tip: Sales managers should define and monitor key sales metrics on which they’ll judge a rep’s overall performance.

Ideally, the data that your CRM generates should help you define metrics and streamline accountability efforts. However, it’s easy to get lost in all this information.

It can also be challenging to know which data to look at if you want to not only create accountability, but also understand how your sales team performs.

Here’s a good rule of thumb to avoid analysis paralysis: don’t measure everything. Instead, focus on the core sales metrics that matter to your company, which might include lead response time, lead conversion rates (both to opportunity and to win), and average sales cycle.

Rep-level metrics might also include things like average deal size, sales pipeline generation, and attainment against quota.

Use your sales process to guide your thinking on which metrics make the most sense to measure and highlight for your team. Keep it simple and focused, and you’ll be able to drive more accountability with reps on performance to those metrics.

For potential hires, consider using a dashboard template that lists at-a-glance metrics for candidates to see:

sales rep dashboard

This will help them gain a clear perspective of your company’s sales flow structure and how they’ll be held accountable for their performance.

4. Build an effective onboarding process.

It’s tempting to recruit high-potential salespeople and let them loose as quickly as possible. But unless they understand your sales structure, they’ll be spinning their wheels from the jump.

If you want to build a high-performance sales team, you first have to build and implement an effective sales rep onboarding process.

Considering the average tenure of a sales rep is less than two years, it’s even more critical to have a repeatable, effective onboarding approach.

The good news is that this is already within your reach.

Start by laying out a plan that highlights key responsibilities for the first six to 12 months.

Spell out your expectations, what below-par and above-par performances look like (based on the accountability metrics you chose earlier), and how to work as a cohesive unit.

For example, you might include expectations around:

  • Number of deals worked and closed per month
  • Average deal size
  • Sales cycle length

It’s also a good idea to keep an open line of communication.

Help new hires feel more confident by communicating with them regularly and asking for their feedback—for example, what they think about the organization, the sales process, and the team. The most important thing for you to do when you ask them? Listen.

Not only does this dialogue allow the new reps to feel more involved, but it can also highlight potential improvements to the onboarding process.

According to data from BambooHR, effective onboarding helps new employees start contributing to the team more quickly:

employee onboarding stats

Also, don’t forget to place a strong emphasis on delivering product knowledge.

All good sales teams (whether they’re in SaaS or not) need to know the ins and outs of the product or service they’re selling so that they can explain its benefits in detail to prospects and customers.

One way to do this is by making product information as accessible as possible—use your company’s file sharing tools to enable incoming and longtime reps alike to quickly access critical information.

This also gives them the opportunity to learn on their own time and when they’re away from the office.

Lastly, make sure any apps and tools your new reps might need are already deployed before they arrive for work. Don’t let your own lack of preparation be a blocker for selling. This includes everything from calling software, to prospecting and emailing tools, to an easy-to-use CRM.

Ready to build your high-performing sales team?

Building a good sales team is no small feat.

Unless you have the right approach to hiring, appraising, and onboarding, it can be difficult to attract and retain top talent.

That’s why it’s key to think of this as an ongoing process, and something you need to structure for scale rather than think of as a one-time event. Taking the steps mentioned above will help you start off on the right foot!