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How To Build Your Salesforce For The First Time

Sep 16, 2021
Author: collin stewart

Building a salesforce for the first time can be a daunting task. It’s tough to know who to hire, what skills and attributes you should be looking for, and how to best equip your new hires to be top performers. Doug C. Brown, a recent guest on the Predictable Revenue Podcast, maintains that the first step to getting this right is to slow down. Most companies decide they want to scale, decide they need a top performer, and then they rush in and miss vital steps in the process. In the end, the company isn’t set up to properly handle the top producer it was so desperate to hire. We asked Doug to walk us through the process, step by step, so you can avoid these common mistakes when building your sales organization for the first time.


The most important balance Doug recommends for your salesperson to strike is that between ego and empathy. A salesperson needs a degree of ego. Their ego is the foundation of their self-confidence, their bravery, and their drive to see things through (almost to a fault). But a salesperson needs empathy in equal measure. Empathy is what allows a salesperson to push for the close, but in a way that is truly mutually beneficial. The salesperson must genuinely care about people, be curious, ask the right questions, and understand both explicit and implicit answers to be able to create a positive outcome for their customer. Ego can push deals across the line, whether they make sense or not. Empathy will be more selective and in the short term, let certain deals go, but in the long term, customer satisfaction, lifetime value, and annual contract values will benefit.  

Most companies understand that these attributes make a good salesperson. The problem is, according to Doug, that this is where most companies stop. They interview a candidate and discover they have these qualities. Some companies might even do a personality test to gather some data behind the attributes. That’s it. Companies assume that because a candidate meets these behavioural criteria they can sell, but that’s not always the case. As much as companies test for personality, they should be testing for ability to sell as well. 


Before you can hope to test candidates for the abilities you’re looking for, you need to take a step back and define their role in exact terms. A lot of job descriptions and discussions around roles in interview processes are unclear, but you can only know who you want in a role once you know what the role is. So, ask yourself: What do you want this person to achieve? What will they be doing in their day-to-day? What kind of personality would fit this role best? What kinds of skills would this person need to have?

The interview process will only help you uncover so much. Doug recommends that you use a candidate’s resume as a map to the truth. When you see something useful on a resume, question it. A salesperson with a top performer mentality won’t mind the challenge and will be able to respectfully handle it. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can test your candidates on these specific skills and attributes. Will this salesperson be strong at follow-up? Will they handle rejection well? These skills can be tested using assessments designed specifically to uncover selling ability. Objective Management Group offers an assessment where they have compared 2.2 million salespeople across 21 categories. A more simple sales-specific DiSC test would also do.


If you want A players, you need to be an A player company. Ideally, you’ll have the process in place already to ramp them quickly, train them, and support them. But just because you don’t have your process ironed out, it doesn’t mean you can’t handle top producers. You just need to be honest about what the role is going to entail. 

What you do need is a sales onboarding process (not just HR’s onboarding) that walks new salespeople exactly what is going to happen every day and, like military training, simulates worst-case scenarios. This helps to set expectations. Experienced reps are often used to work for companies where they have steady lead flow, endless collateral, resources, tools, etc. and if they’re going to need to go after business themselves at your company, they need to be prepared to do that from the get-go. This onboarding can be less structured when you first start to build the sales organization. In fact, it should be – what works for a company with a sales org of 1 will likely be different from what works for a sales org of many. But you can start to build the foundations of your sales onboarding process. Similarly, you can create the building blocks of your ongoing training program at this stage. Laying the groundwork for process early will make it significantly easier to scale.  


Quality of life is becoming a bigger motivator than cash for top producing salespeople. While a big part of that is dictated by the amount on their paycheck, countless other priorities factor into a salesperson’s decision to take one job over another. To retain a top producer, you’ll need to understand what their goals and aspirations are and help them get there. If you build them up as human beings first and salespeople second, they’ll likely be satisfied at your company.


Building a salesforce from scratch is certainly no easy task. One thing that can make it easier is having a top producer on the team to win some deals and serve as a role model for later salespeople. Attracting, onboarding, and retaining a top producer is impossible, however, without a plan. Doug C. Brown has learned over his many years in sales, sales training, sales management and sales thought leadership that there are a few vital steps many companies miss. By ensuring that you define your sales roles in great detail, test your candidates for selling ability, and have foundational processes in place, your company will be equipped to not only bring on top performers, but to replicate their success. 


More from Dirk Van Reenen on How to Build a Top-Performing Inside Sales Team From Scratch

And from Collin Stewart on When To Build an Outbound Sales Team

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