Five Steps to Building an Inside Sales Force

There are many things to consider when building a successful inside sales force. I talked to an expert in the field, Jason O’Hare, the VP of Sales at WordStream, to ask for the most important factors when creating a sales team. WordStream is a company that sells automated marketing software, and required a robust sales force to make it the successful company it is today. Jason gave these five recommendations as the steps to building a sales force for any company.

1. Recruiting and Hiring

When it comes to building an inside sales force, recruiting and hiring the right sales representatives is the foundation to success. One of the most common mistakes is to hire the wrong type of person. This can cause employee dissatisfaction (with their position), and costs a company time and money (to re-hire and re-train those positions). A company can avoid these pitfalls by thoughtful hiring, not hiring just to meet a quota. They should identify a “persona” or “profile” to hire so they can determine if the person is a right fit for the company. They can do this by developing a multistep, standardized hiring process. This will not only aid the company in finding the right person for the given position, but also see if the company will be a good fit for the employee.

2. Training Programs

After the initial hire, a company must have a training program in place for new employees to quickly become productive. This includes identifying key performance indicators, benchmarks and achievable goals that the new hires must meet. If this is not in place, then an idle sales representative can quickly become unhappy, which creates a negative work environment at minimum, and possibly losing the employee and having to re-hire/re-train. This training program should be standardized for all employees. Consider hiring a full time sales trainer or director of sales operations, whose job is to create and implement the program, which may streamline the process.

3. Specialization

A sales force should specialize as soon as possible. This means that a sales force should be divided into what products are sold to which markets. While each company will divide in different ways according to the market, specialization is important. It not only allows the sales force to divvy up tasks, but it also allows sales reps to become experts in the areas and products that they sell. A key point here is to make sure that the right employees are in the right place to succeed for themselves and for the company. Some representatives may want focus on the big deals that are less frequent, while others may want to focus on volume and quick, small deals. By specializing a sales force, the company can please the sales representatives by giving them the leads they want, while also allowing the representatives to gain experience in their markets of interest and be successful.

4. Compensation Plan and Career Path

A company needs a compensation plan and career path outlined and ready as soon as they start hiring sales representatives. The key to both is to keep it simple. Don’t draw up a complicated career path or compensation plan because that will lead to confusion and lack of focus. The goal is that companies want their sales force to sell their products! Career paths should have similarly clear objectives. It should be clearly written out for all sales representatives when a promotion will occur, or a compensation change, would happen. Not only does this help the representatives stay focused on sales, it also avoids office politics (i.e. everyone knows why Bob was promoted last week, he just sold 200 units of AwesomeSauce™.) The model for this career path should be at least 2 years, and expanded when needed.

5. Transparency and Changes

A huge part of developing any team, especially a sales team, is transparency. The entire process of creating an inside sales force should be transparent, from hiring employees to creating the training programs and the compensation plan. The more transparent the company’s policies are, the more representatives will know what’s expected of them. Change is a part of every company, but it should never come as a surprise!  If and when changes occur throughout the life cycle of the company, transparency on specifics and timing will help the team stay focused on their work. They should know why change is happening and what to expect in the future. Keep communication clear and open, and answer all questions. A distracted and upset sales force will not be an effective or productive one, and the danger of an unhappy team is the possibility of losing your top sellers to other firms. Don’t dismiss representative’s questions or opinions; clear communication will ensure everyone feels included and part of the team.

A happy, productive sales force is hugely important to growing a successful company. If you follow all of the points outlined by Jason at WordStream, you will not only have hired the ideal candidate for your company, but also created a culture of productivity, trust and transparency between company and sales force. Be mindful of Jason’s five steps to building a successful sales force, and the revenue (and growth, acquisition or hugely successful IPO) will follow. 

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