How to Build a Sales Team (in Just 3 Steps)

A few months ago, I was a top sales performer for a global healthcare company. Weighed down by broken internal processes and with minimal power to effect change, I made the choice to do something radically different. I joined a growth-stage startup, an innovative healthcare company dedicated to bringing a viable bundled payment solution to market.

While many people would prefer to avoid the heavy lifting required to form a sales team from scratch, I welcomed the challenge. Starting with an empty plate offers the unique opportunity to implement viable solutions right from the start. That said, you must be strategic to be successful. In addition to the obvious – know how to sell the product yourself! - here are three crucial ingredients:

1. Start with two hires. 

Hiring two salespeople at once means that you’ll have more information to help you evaluate whether (or not) sales processes are effective and repeatable. The more data you have, the more insight you have into what’s working, what’s not working, and where to tweak for maximum efficiency. Two reps also make a team; you can support each other, offer creative feedback, and evaluate performance. Taking a product to market is tricky. With two hires, you’ll be able to more precisely gauge effectiveness and sales talent. For example, if one rep is selling and the other is not, then you may have a performance problem to address rather than a market problem to solve. There are inevitably peaks and valleys during the initial product launch phase, which includes more than a small amount of ambiguity and uncertainty. Hiring salespeople who can not only survive but actually thrive in this phase is critical.

2. It’s an equation – ensure it adds up.

It is imperative to get your arms around your sales funnel early and to view the funnel through a practical, skeptical lens. This funnel might be something that you build from scratch, or you may need to refine what is currently in place. This is hard. Be prepared to miss and readjust as needed. Until there is a good grasp of the market, “accurate forecasting” is a misnomer. Use every data point available, including conversations with potential customers, to bring the funnel into the realm of reality and out of the crystal ball phase. Stop. Refer to step one. Data from two reps is more helpful than data from one. Your sales funnel might start with cold calls, narrow to demos, and result in deals – or not. Be sure to include additional information that affects the sales cycle. It is important to have a full view of the key players. This includes noting additional factors, such as connections with “decision makers” or how many touch points it takes to move an exploratory call to a demo. How many demos does it take to close a deal? How many deals do you need before it makes sense to scale your team? Are both reachable and within the allotted customer closing budget?  Knowing the math is imperative to determining the optimal pace to grow your salesforce.

3. Hire and train a “solution sales” team - no information dumping allowed!

It might be surprising, but the most useful information obtained from the first thousands of sales calls is not the first customer closed or the first dollar of revenue secured. It’s information about the customer’s mindset, their problems, challenges, strategies, and goals. Why? Only by deeply understanding your prospective buyers will you be able to understand your buyers’ decision-making criteria and processes and tailor your messaging accordingly. Customers don’t care how much you believe in your product, or solution. They buy based on how they believe your product solves their predicament. This can only be accomplished through effective use of questioning. Obtaining market information allows you to refine your sales approach, sharpen the market message, and ultimately enables more sales.

Building a sales team from the ground up is challenging endeavor, but can result in a powerful sales force that delivers solid, steady, predictable revenue. It requires executing well, while maintaining resiliency. Once you’ve successfully tackled these steps, there will be no rest; you’ll have the new challenge of taking a solid growth-phase sales team to a larger company mindset.