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Avoid These 6 Mistakes When Building Your Small Business Sales Team


For B2B companies that sell their products and services to other businesses, revenue is usually generated by a team of sales reps who reach out to prospects and manage relationships with existing buyers. Ideally, your salespeople should be self-motivated, persistent, and skilled at all forms of communication. But sometimes, hiring the right sales reps and supporting their success is easier said than done. Here are six mistakes to avoid when building a small business sales team.

1. Hiring for the wrong experience

A good salesperson can sell virtually anything. If you limit your recruiting to salespeople who have previous experience with the kind of products your company sells, it can lead you to overlook potential superstars.

When hiring sales reps, how they sell is far more important that what they’ve sold. Will your sales team be making cold calls all day? If so, hiring salespeople who are great on the phone should be a top priority. Will your reps be doing on-site product demos? If that’s the case, be sure to hire sellers who are comfortable speaking to small groups and can explain complicated concepts in simple language.

In other words, look for sales reps who have experience that matches your company’s sales methods, not necessarily your product type.

2. Rushing the onboarding

Setting new sales hires loose without formal guidance is setting them up for failure. According to sales effectiveness consultant Anita Nielsen, proper onboarding should cover these four areas:

  • Company and product/services knowledge (what do we sell?)
  • Knowledge of the sales role including requisite activities, processes, and resources (how do we sell?)
  • Customer/buyer knowledge (who are we selling to?)
  • Tools and systems-related knowledge and capability (how do we organize our customer data and sales communications?)

By the end of the onboarding program, every new sales rep should know your products forward and backward, have a roadmap for how to make sales in your organization, and be fully integrated into your sales culture. Don’t expect new reps to simply learn on the job. Considering that the average turnover cost per sales rep is $97,690 when you add up recruiting costs, training costs, and lost sales, it’s a mistake you can’t afford to make.

3. Using money as your primary method of motivation

One of the worst misconceptions about salespeople is that they’re only driven by money. This leads sales managers to rely on commissions and bonuses as the primary means of motivating their teams.

Decades of research has concluded that money actually has a demotivating effect on salespeople. The promise of financial reward decreases the enjoyment a person gets from a given task, reduces critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and, unsurprisingly, can create a culture of greed in an organization which can lead to unethical behavior.

If you really want to inspire your small business sales team, celebrate their little victories, not just their major deals. Create a culture of camaraderie, and offer your reps new challenges and growth opportunities. Remember, every company can offer money. To keep your best sales reps from jumping ship, you have to offer them something special.

Related: How to Recruit, Hire, Motivate, Retain, and Reward Your Talent

4. Setting unrealistic quotas

Want to burn out your sales team in a hurry? Give them aggressive quotas pulled out of thin air.

Sales quotas shouldn’t just be an arbitrary goal that you hope your reps can reach — they should be based on an actual calculation of potential sales. According to Bob Apollo, founder of the B2B sales advisory firm Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners:

“It’s very hard to make intelligent decisions about what quotas should be if you don’t understand the territory for each individual sales rep or sales team. What is your historical revenue from existing customers in that territory? How many customers who match your ideal customer profile are present in that territory? Without a clear idea of those parameters, you won’t be able to set quotas in an informed way.”

Do your research first, then set expectations. And if your reps hit their quotas, don’t “reward” them by immediately raising those quotas even higher.

5. Letting every rep sell their own way

Giving sales reps too much autonomy over the way they sell makes it hard to know which specific actions are working or failing in your sales efforts. The lack of a specific game-plan can lead to disorganization and lost deals, as sales reps could forget to follow up with valuable prospects.

The solution? Establish a standardized sales process, which defines the key actions that all of your sales reps need to make throughout a sale. Having your entire team use the same sales process helps you identify where deals are getting stuck and focus your efforts on the activities that drive the most revenue. That way, you can make steady improvements that have an impact on all your sellers, not just individual ones.

6. Not offering continuing training and education

Don’t just encourage your sales reps to undergo continuing sales training — schedule it, and make it part of your monthly routine. Anyone who leads or manages a sales team should make sure that their sellers take time each month to participate in sales education webinars, take online courses, and join industry trade groups. Give your sales team copies of a book that inspired you recently, then pick a date to discuss it over lunch.

Without continuing training, bad habits solidify, and your sales reps have to rely only on the bag of tricks they came in with. Personal development gives sales reps more ways to succeed, which makes them more effective, more fulfilled, and more motivated to drive revenue for your business.

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