How to Build a Top-Performing Inside Sales Team From Scratch
Author: collin stewart
Dirk Van Reenen always loved business growing up. He shared with us on a recent episode of the Predictable Revenue podcast that he grew up in an entrepreneurial family and had the opportunity to buy his first business at age 20. He owner-financed a ski and board shop and had a tonne of fun doing it, but when 2007 came around his business failed and he realized there is a lot more that goes into running a successful business than just doing what you love.
Now $300k in debt, he started working for an auctioneer liquidating real estate. After a couple of years packed with travel, he wanted to settle down and spend more time with his family, so he decided to build his first team. He failed miserably. Repeatedly. He couldn’t get his staff to perform to the potential he saw in them in the interview process, and he couldn’t get them to jell with their colleagues. He couldn’t get out of debt.
It took 4 years of hitting his head against the proverbial wall before he asked himself, “what do really successful business owners do that I’m not doing?”.
Around this time, Dirk took a class on high-performance team building offered by Corporate Consulting called RSTMM (Recruit, Select, Train, Manage, Motivate), and lightning struck. He finally got the information he’d been seeking for years. He took the 3-course series 7 times in the next 3.5 years and started studying human behavior, and at the same time built a killer team, was relocated to bigger offices twice, and was soon the head of the fastest-growing Keller Williams Realty location in the world. But something was still missing for him.
He wanted to put more of his focus into his newfound passion: human behavior. So he started BERGflow in 2017 to help small businesses build solid, pivot-ready teams, and the rest is history.
THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB
Dirk believes that there truly is the right person for each job, and it comes down to 3 things: behavioral match, cognitive match, and goals. Every job has an ideal behavior suited to it. Most people understand this on some esoteric level, but there’s actually a science behind it.
When you bring someone onto a team that isn’t a behavioral fit for their role, their stress, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue increase. It impacts not only their work performance but often their home life as well. You may think that the best person for each job is the smartest person you can find. But you can actually hire someone too smart to do the job they’re hired for, and they’ll end up a poor performer because they get bored and distracted.
It’s for this reason that a cognitive match is important. Finally, the role needs to set this person further down the path to what they really want in life.
When you get these 3 things right, you end up with an employee who is much more fulfilled in their role. The job feels natural like it was “made for them.” They feel that they’re achieving at a higher level, and they are.
You get higher productivity and better longevity from an employee who is a true fit for their role. At a time when turnover is more rampant than ever and is a great expense to companies, this is an important point to consider.
A VARIED TEAM
As important as it is to find the right fit for every role, it’s equally important to build a team with diverse mindsets, behaviors, and capabilities. Take a football team, for example. You have 11 players on the field, and they all look different.
Depending on their position they may be taller, heavier, leaner, or faster than their teammates. Each person has a body type with abilities that fulfill the position they play and, when they work together, they make a great team.
It’s natural to want to hire people like us. But when you build a team that is too alike, you end up with major gaps in your company or team. You need to understand the scope of activities that need to be done for an organization to run optimally, break those down into the specific behaviors necessary to tackle each part of it, and then find the right people to complement each other and make a great team.
BUILDING AN INSIDE SALES TEAM
We asked Dirk to help us build a dream inside sales team. For the purpose of this exercise, the company for which we are building this team is an industry-agnostic SaaS company targeting companies of all sizes.
Some of the behaviors we’ll be looking at when building this team are assertiveness and where someone sits on the sociability scale (not emotional intelligence, but how much human interaction one needs to be happy).
Some of the behaviors required of a prospector depend on the culture of the company they’re working for and who they’re targeting. But, generally speaking, when you’re looking for a prospector, you’re looking for someone assertive. You want someone right in the middle of the sociability scale.
Anyone too high on the scale will take negative interactions with prospects harshly, and take some time to build their confidence back up before they can make another call. Someone low on this scale will be introverted, and more analytical and linear in their thinking. Someone right in the middle will operate with a sense of urgency.
They are driven and aggressive – hitting the phones and the accompanying rejection is seen as part of the job and a necessary evil. Variety and change appeal to them. They think creatively and can see the bigger picture – meaning they can follow a script on a call but take a step back and understand what’s happening in a conversation and where it should go next.
A pure outbound prospecting role is a tough one and requires the right behavioral makeup. People who aren’t quite the perfect fit can want to do the job, be motivated to do the job either by the money or someone else, but if they aren’t the right behavioral profile it’s going to be extremely stressful for them.
There’s also a lot of turnover in this role because companies feel they can’t find anybody to stick it out in this role even for a year. In reality, they’re probably not hiring the right people for the role.
This customer success person or account manager should be less aggressive and driven than their cold calling colleague. They should sit higher on the sociability scale – they want lots of human interaction and conversations. Customer retention starts with a great onboarding experience, so you need the right behavioral profiles to support your clients from day 1 to day 1001.
A lot of companies get faster and better at lead generation but experience higher churn as a result. If you’re a growth-focused company then retention should be a focus. Companies that can retain their clients grow exponentially faster than those onboarding new clients and losing them just as quickly.
This role really depends on the client you’re dealing with. If you’re doing lower ticket, higher volume sales, you can have a more generic type closer suited to the role, not the client. But if you’re doing fewer transactions at a much higher value, you need to be specific about what type of behavioral person will be able to sell to your client best.
The best closers, in Dirk’s experience, are people who truly understand how to ask questions, and can lead someone else by asking them questions. Someone that is too driven in this role will be impatient to get to the next deal, but someone too friendly will struggle to close.
The perfect person for this role is someone with lower assertiveness and higher emotional intelligence. They are a great problem solver, great at dealing with human beings and think of the process of closing as helping the buyer understand that your solution is something that will help them.
The best fit for a sales manager position is someone who understands how to practice care and candor. Sometimes a sales manager has to “put their arm around their employee,” so to speak, and show them some love after a tough day.
Sometimes a sales manager has to come down hard on their employees with accountability. Either way, it’s vital that the sales manager knows the right time to do each. They are tough but in a way their people respect. They genuinely care about their team and get to know each one of them behaviourally and personally. They involve their team in goal setting and vision creation.
They are willing to set their ego aside in favor of a collaborative team.
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
First of all, you need to look at each role you’re hiring for specifically and individually. Figure out what the ideal behaviour, cognitive match, and emotional intelligence are. Then have candidates work through some custom assessments to determine if they should enter the hiring pipeline based on the results.
BERGflow recommends you build a larger talent acquisition pipeline, especially if you’re a services company because you’re going to be so selective about your hiring. A lot of companies grow faster than their ability to hire and train people – don’t let this be your bottleneck.
After the initial assessments, BERGflow sits down with the candidates they determined to be good fits. This is where the real work starts. As a leader, you might turn your nose up at a lengthy hiring process, but it’s nothing in comparison to the cost of a bad hire.
This step lasts just 10-15 minutes per candidate and is called a pre-screen. From there, BERGflow moves the candidates they like into a 1-hour screening interview. They tackle some important topics like work, education, interests, and goals to get a basic understanding of who the candidate is. Before they move onto the next step they check references and do a complete social media scrub.
Next comes the deep dive. This portion of the interview process is split into 3 meetings.
Life Story (90 mins to 2.5 hrs)
- BERGflow digs into the candidate’s early years from kindergarten to junior high to high school to post-secondary education or first work experience.
- There is a rule that the interview can’t add comments, they can only ask questions.
- This interview shows a track record of emergence. Has the candidate elevated their position in life? When they started something, where were they? When they left, where were they? What had they accomplished? Who were their inspirations? Who did they conflict with?
- If you want to build a growing company you need growth-minded people who have a history of advancement.
Thought Process (90 mins)
- BERGflow asks questions based on the results of the candidate’s assessments. These questions are tailored to each candidate and designed to dig deeper into how they think based on the behaviors they exhibit.
- How do they think? How do they process information? How do they make decisions?
Future Pacing (2 hrs)
- This step is where BERGflow dives into what the candidate sees happening in their life in the next 5 years.
When a candidate has made it through every one of these steps, BERGflow has enough evidence to determine if they are a fit for the company behaviourally, cognitively, and emotionally.
They know everything they can about a candidate’s mindset, values, and culture. They can determine whether or not they think the candidate can do the job they’re interviewing for. That doesn’t mean the candidate has to come with the hard skills required, but if they’re a fit in every other way the skills can be taught.
Companies who spend this time at the front end of the hiring process find better candidates and build better relationships with the candidates before day 1 of work. Employees show up on their first day more motivated and eager to help the company win because they believe they’re working for a company that cares about them and wants to help them win.
The next step is a killer onboarding process. You can’t bring a person on and start their training on day 1. The onboarding process should be used to get the employee acclimated to your company and its mission, vision, and values. Use it to help them understand how to win within your organization. What does it mean to be a team player? Who should they go to to ask for what they need?
In 2016, Dirk read an article published by Yale about the speed of business. It posited that the rate of change in the business world would become the greatest disruption in business. When it comes to the evolution of technology, the enhancement of processing power, and the rapid advancement of AI, the rate of change has now surpassed the human capacity to adapt.
This is totally mind-boggling. Throughout history, man’s adaptability has always outpaced the rate of change. It took 300,000 years for Homo sapiens to invent the telephone, then, 97 years later the cell phone was introduced, 31 years after that Apple dropped the iPhone, 8 years after that Tesla released a self-driving car, and a year later Amazon was delivering packages by drone. And this is just the beginning.
These advancements are snowballing, and COVID only accelerated them further as we were forced into our new identities as digital-first companies.
After learning this, Dirk realized that building more teams that are static-based and won’t survive in the future isn’t the answer. Building “pivot-ready” teams is. From the start, we need to engineer teams to be ready for change. Especially in the services world, it’s no longer about the quality of service.
It’s the companies who can go to market the fastest and pivot on a dime who win. The world of outbound is similarly ever-changing, and only the most adaptable teams will keep up. Instead of digging in their heels at the prospect of change, a “pivot-ready” team collaborates, communicates, and executes at a top-level.
Each person has their own individual list of skills and strengths that make them excel at one role, and maybe not particularly suited for another. But it’s a mix of people with varying capabilities and experiences that come together to make a great team.
And if you don’t know exactly who you’re looking for to fill each role, how they fit into your organization, and how to equip them to be “pivot-ready” your team isn’t going to be as strong as it should be.
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