The “What, When, Why, Who & How” of building a sales team

Hubert D’Mello conversation with Rajiv Sharma, –  Sales leader with  15+ years experience in Inside Sales

Hi Rajiv. Could you tell us about the various aspects with regards to building sales teams for SaaS(Software as a Service) companies?

What: First off, let me start by saying that a company needs to have a level of maturity to understand what it means to have a sales team on board. A sales team is not going to come in and give you exponential growth overnight. It depends on your business model and the time of closure. You have to understand that this is a long term plan, and that’s where the sales team fits in.

It’s not a case of throwing people at a problem and expecting the problem to get fixed. It’s more a case of getting the job done, and building a predictable revenue model over a period of time. The second biggest requirement to having a sales team is, if the company is trying to penetrate into a market that requires a more mature selling model. To put that into perspective, you need a sales team to help you close bigger deals. You need to know your targets for your field sales/ inside sales personnel. This would apply to both SaaS models and field sales, but primarily SaaS models,

When: In terms of “When” there is no fixed milestone as to when companies should hire a sales team. It’s purely based on a company’s recognition to identify that they’ve either reached a point when they cannot get any growth going or want to reach the ‘big’ customers. Or, a company may decide that they’ve got a sudden influx of Venture Capital funding and they can now afford the best available talent.

Why: I’ve talked about this briefly earlier. If you want to build a predictable revenue model, close larger deals, and penetrate into newer markets, you should have a sales team. If you are selling 10 units of $10 each and you now want to sell 1000 units, you are better off using automation techniques or a BPO approach rather than a sales team.

Who: That’s an easy one for me. I’ve built many sales teams from scratch. In my experience, if you are trying to start a sales team from ground-up, you should avoid throwing the cream of the crop at the problem. The problem with hiring top talent up front is that people who have been doing things in a particular way may not be able to adjust easily. There’s a lot of un-learning to do in some cases.

What I prefer to do instead is, look for very capable sales individuals as my first few hires. People who are quick learners and more importantly, they need to be very tech-savvy in this field. Even if the product is highly technical, a tech-savy sales person will be able to understand it better. Next, in my second or third round of hiring, I prefer to hire less experienced people who are relatively new and can be moulded easily. Also, they will be able to learn from the previous, more experienced hires. Say, if a sales team is 10 people strong, only 4 of them would be more experienced. The rest can be people with 1 or 2 years of experience or even freshers. All of these would form my core team, from which I can build on.

How: In India right now, the Inside sales industry is very niche and small. The first few hires would ideally be people I have worked with in the past. If that luxury is not available to me, LinkedIn is a very mature resource. Word of mouth is the other resource I will tap into. These are the three main channels from where I have hired before. It’s, of course, easier once you get the first few hires in. You can use their referrals also. I’m not a big fan of recruitment drives because that doesn’t work in Inside sales.

Also, any advice for young, upcoming sales managers and recruiters?

One needs to realize that you are not looking to hire just 5 people in your organization. You are expecting the team to be big enough and sustain itself. My advice is to invest upfront in a decent recruitment software, one that tracks where your best hires are coming from.In 6 months to a year down the line, you should be able to identify where your top performers are coming from. For example, they could be from Company A or a particular institution. So, you can now target Company A or that institution since the best sales people are coming from there. You also need to realize that your process needs to be scalable. For recruiters, a proper hiring process needs to be in place. It could be a standardized written test, or a standard set of question. You must be able to put those metrics down as a marker. It gets easier then, to identify a good hire from these common parameters and also build your team going forward.

 Thank you Rajiv, for your valuable insights. I’m sure our readers, both sales professionals, and recruiters will benefit immensely


rajiv sharma.jpg

Sales team manager (Browserstack)

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