Scaling Your Sales Team? Don’t Make These 12 Dangerous Mistakes

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Meg Prater (she/her)
Meg Prater (she/her)



More salespeople equals more sales, right? Wrong. Scaling your sales team is crucial to growing a healthy business. Do it at the right time, and your company will grow exponentially. Do it at the wrong time, and your company could shutter within six months.

Don’t just hire with your gut. Take a strategic approach to scaling your sales team, and make smart hiring decisions that will benefit your organization for years to come. Check out these 12 mistakes to avoid when scaling your sales organization.

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1. Overpopulating Territories

Scaling your sales team almost always means bringing on new reps. And while that's exciting in its own right, it means that you — as a sales leader — have more balls in the air.

That means more room for error — particularly when it comes to misallocating staff or accidentally overpopulating your existing territories. Successfully scaling a sales team means optimizing efficiency, and if you haphazardly scatter your new hires around, you won't see their full potential and will likely stunt your existing team's operations.

So, how do you avoid that dilemma? Well, you start by looking at three key factors: A territory's potential, its existing accounts, and your reps' broader workload.

Do you have sufficient green space in the territory? Are your current customers in the area productive and satisfied? And do your reps in the region have the bandwidth and energy to get more out of it?

With that information in mind, you can get a better picture of what kind of hires you can make for a given territory — if you need to make any at all.

2. Hiring Out of Desperation

A lot of time can pass between determining you need headcount, receiving budgetary approval, posting a job listing, and thinning the herd of candidates down to a top three.

And while maintaining thorough attention to detail throughout that process is key, that extended period of "hiring limbo" can take a toll on your team — but you can't let that frustration have too much bearing on your decision.

Don't hire someone you're not sold on out of convenience. Have a firm rubric for what you want and expect out of your candidates. If you want someone with a background in SaaS, don't settle for someone who thinks SaaS is an attitude.

Low-quality hires dilute your team's collective talent, can mess with your culture, and ultimately undermine your sales org's results. Make sure you make the best hires you can — even if it takes a while — and your team and business will benefit as you continue to scale.

3. Providing Insufficient Training

If you're not investing in a sensible, effective, comprehensive training program for new reps, you're selling your team short. Onboarding new hires with a single day of orientation and a few weeks of shadowing are certainly convenient — particularly for small or rapidly growing sales teams — but it makes for inconsistent and low-quality work from your reps.

You need thorough, uniform training if you want to ensure that your reps are on the same page and best-equipped to operate effectively. That kind of program sets a high, definitive bar that all of your salespeople are aware of and expected to meet.

Before hiring to fill a gap, take a look at your salespeople and decide whether training or coaching could help them perform at a higher level. If you can make existing reps more efficient, invest there before expanding your team.

4. Using Out-of-Date Compensation Plans

Compensation is the ultimate incentive. It's literally the main reason any salesperson works in the first place — so if you want to ensure that your team remains as productive as possible as it scales, you need to have a thoughtful, effective compensation plan in place.

Misaligned compensation is one of the worst wrenches you can throw in your team's direction and motivation. That's why it serves you to regularly check your plan and ensure it aligns with your quarterly business goals as your team grows.

If you’re expanding to a new territory and prospecting is a big priority for the quarter, compensate your reps accordingly. Is converting those prospects into new business the goal next quarter? Shift the bonus structure to reflect that.

For example, if you want to encourage prospecting, you might offer $100 to every rep who gives more than 10 demos in a week. This ensures reps are being rewarded for the right work. It also makes them more efficient in pushing the business toward meeting the right goals.

5. Tracking the Wrong Metrics

You can't know whether it's time to hire if you're not evaluating the right metrics, but finding them is easier said than done. One place to start is by tracking your reps' base compensation.

Once you have those figures, take a look at their variable compensation at the rate at which they meet their quota. Finally, review their average deal size and churn.

By looking at their on-target earnings, you’ll be able to determine whether your reps are working at capacity. That will give you insight into whether it’s time to hire someone new and, if so, what type of role to recruit for.

Your salespeople should be turning a profit within six months to a year of their hire date. If they’re not, it might be time to replace them or invest in training.

6. Ignoring Role Pollution

A rapidly growing sales team comes with a hefty share of administrative requirements, and if you overlook them, you'll wind up wasting your reps' precious selling time on data entry and other tedious, menial tasks.

You can't afford to pollute your senior reps' jobs by having them pull too much administrative weight — so if you're finding that those salespeople are squandering time that could be better spent selling, consider making your next hire a BDR or administrative assistant as opposed to another sales manager.

Those kinds of hires are cost-effective ways to free up your sales reps to do what they do best, alleviate unnecessary stress, and make your growing team's operations more efficient.

By that same token, you need to make sure roles aren’t being diluted. If you have reps that aren’t functioning at full capacity, see if they can take on more responsibility before making another hire. If they can’t meet the numbers you need from them, it might be time to replace them instead of hiring additional headcount.

7. Not Aligning With Marketing

Forgive the SAT word, but your sales and marketing departments need to be symbiotic — one can't productively function without the other. Even the most effective sales department can only get so far if it's not being fed high-quality leads.

So before you go ahead and hire more salespeople as your company scales, make sure your marketing team has the bandwidth and resources to generate a solid stream of prospect interest for your growing sales team to capitalize on.

Work closely with marketing leadership to gauge whether their department can meet the lead demand that an influx of new salespeople will create. If they're not equipped to meet those benchmarks, consider scaling your company's marketing team before adding to your own.

8. Spending Too Much Time Forecasting Instead of Coaching

Forecasting is crucial to gauging your team's potential success, establishing appropriate expectations, setting quotas, and putting reasonable goals in place — all of which are central components of your team's success. 

You need to forecast thoughtfully and effectively, but you can't get too fixated on the process. In some cases, the time you take to construct and refine your forecasts can run too long and encroach on time you should be spending coaching your team.

Dedicate at least a few hours each week to coaching your team. If you don't, you're selling your sales organization and individual contributors short. Set up weekly or monthly check-ins, build a mentorship program, or implement a quarterly training day.

If your reps aren’t constantly improving, it will affect their growth potential down the line. By investing time and resources into making your employees better, you might be able to accomplish more without expanding your team.

9. Over-Hiring Executive Talent

If you're fresh off a round of funding or in the thick of a high-growth period, the prospect of stacking your organization with high-powered executive talent might seem tempting.

In some cases, that could be the right move for your company, but whether it's successful or not generally hinges on one big question: "Do we have the right people in place to do the actual selling?"

If you already have a scalable and efficient sales process in place, you might be better off hiring reps to work it. If you lack that kind of direction or need a major overhaul of how your sales team sells, making that Fortune 500 hire could be in your best interest.

You don’t want to make an expensive hire that you don’t have the sales team and revenue to support — so try to have your nitty-gritty, lower-level ducks in a row before recruiting high-level talent.

10. Being Afraid to Trim Fat

If you scale strategically, you should be able to avoid making large-scale layoffs — but making periodic cuts is a natural, healthy part of how a growing business operates.

The skills you needed from your reps when your sales org was just five people might not be the same ones you need once it scales to 50. Ideally, your reps will adapt, grow, and refine your skills as your business scales, but that's not always the case.

Some of your team members might get complacent in their positions — leaning on their tenure at your company as justification for their lack of growth.

Keep a pulse on your sales team, and be honest with yourself and your current reps about whether their underperformance warrants replacing them with new hires who will bring more energy, enthusiasm, and life to your organization.

11. Setting Goals Beyond Your Reach

Ambition is obviously key to the success of any growing business — if you didn't have it, you wouldn't be scaling in the first place — but it gets away from a lot of companies as they expand.

No matter how confident you are in your sales team's ability to absolutely nail every last challenge that comes your way as you scale, you need to take a deep breath and measure your expectations.

Make sure your goals are attainable. That could mean ensuring your revenue targets are reasonable enough to let you establish quotas that your reps can hit while still keeping their feet moving.

Understand what your, your reps', and your company's limitations are at whatever stage of maturity your business is in — and adjust your ambitions accordingly.

Also, be sure to break down your broader strategic objectives into more easily digestible operational objectives to keep your reps on track and in higher spirits.

Scaling your sales team is exciting, but you can't let yourself get too excitable. Make sure you temper your ambitions and set objectives that your sales team can reach — if you do this right, you'll put yourself in a good position to hit those high-minded goals, further down the line.

12. Disregarding Retention

You can't scale a sales team without bringing on new customers — that's more or less how scaling happens in the first place — but you can't get fixated on that process exclusively. You have to understand how to retain customers before you start hitting new markets.

Getting to work and focusing strictly on acquisition is a tempting prospect for scaling sales teams — but don't let yourself fall into that trap. A close rate of 25% in a new market doesn't do too much for you if your churn rate within it is 50%.

Take the proper strides to keep your new customers on board. Make sure your reps are keeping in touch with the customers they bring in, ensuring that they're thriving with your product or service. Also, make sure your company has a solid customer support infrastructure in place to keep your customers satisfied.

Acquiring a customer is more expensive than retaining one, and while you can't scale if you rest on your laurels and avoid pursuing new business, you'll undermine your growth if you can't keep your existing base.

Make the right hires at the right time, and avoid these mistakes along the way — and your sales team, executive leadership, company at large, and bottom line will all thank you.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.



Topics: Startups

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