building a sales team

Four Successful Sales Teams Later, Here’s How to Build Yours

Building a sales team is one of the hardest challenges and most important steps to get right for startups looking to scale up their business. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to the average engineer co-founder. But an excellent sales team can make the difference between achieving hyper-growth and having to fight tooth and nail to capture marketshare. Over the course of my career, I’ve scaled up sales teams at three hugely successful startups, and I’m working on my fourth. Every team is different. But I’ve put together the following fundamentals which can help anyone create a cohesive team capable of building a large roster of satisfied customers in today’s digital world. Even if your sales team is already in place, these considerations will help you maximize their effectiveness and continue to grow quickly.

To create an efficient and effective sales organization, each member of the team needs a well-defined role and clear-cut responsibilities. And while every job comes with a description, it’s very common to find that in many organizations, individual roles and responsibilities are not very clearly understood. Once put into practice, roles begin to blur and expectations become foggy. When this happens, efficiency suffers. The first step when building and scaling a sales team is to clarify expectations for each member of the team and make it perfectly clear not just who is responsible for what, but how everyone’s jobs fit together.

In traditional sales organizations, sales professionals would commonly be accountable for every stage of a deal. They would spend significant effort sourcing their own leads. They would prospect new customers and manage the conversation all the way from discovery to deal close. This model has fallen by the wayside with the rise of inside sales teams. The sales cycle has become segmented and roles have been specialized, with most companies creating positions to fulfill three main functions: Research Specialists, Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) and Account Executives (AEs).

Everyone who has ever touched the world of sales is familiar with the all-important “lead”. Leads are the names, titles and contact information of individuals who may be potential customers. Many companies choose to buy lists of leads from research firms and start their outreach as soon as possible. This allows them to immediately begin collecting feedback from potential customers and building a formal sales process. It also gives them a source of product feedback directly from their target market. While lead lists can be valuable, most include names that are either out of date or outside the market you intend to target. Working through these lists in their entirety can be a time-sink and produce a limited amount of worthwhile prospects.

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To mitigate the time-sink and maximize the value of purchased leads, it’s worth considering a Research Specialist hire. This is an in-house (or outsourced) role whose primary job function is to sort through these lists to find the worthwhile leads, and produce lists of their own that are customized to the needs of the company. This offloads “data cleaning” to a person more suited to this type of work, and frees your Sales Development Representatives from slogging through the lists themselves.

For the next segment of your team, you’ll need Sales Development Reps (SDRs). They will account for about half of the team. They work from the office and perform no field activities. Their job is to build interest in your product through outbound emails and phone calls to leads. Once they’ve found an influencer from a potential customer and arranged a meeting, ownership of the lead is typically transferred to an Account Executive.

The Account Executives (AEs) are the best closers in your organization. They rarely perform outbound lead generation, and only come into contact with prospects once the SDR team has arranged a meeting. The SDR is in charge of bringing deals into the funnel; the AE is in charge of closing them.

Examine the existing process in your sales organization. Your team should have defined roles and that reflect their day-to-day activities. Your Research Specialists should be talking to your SDRs about which type of leads are panning out, and revising their sorting criteria accordingly. Your SDRs should be talking to your AEs about each meeting they set, and ensuring they’re adequately prepared. Identify any places where prospects fall through the cracks, and consider how communication might be breaking down. Once you’ve found any weak points in the process, make sure everyone involved understands what they can do to guarantee a smooth sale.

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