Business growth can be an incredibly exciting and exhilarating time at your company.
But it can also be stressful, challenging, and messy.
Scaling effectively is vital for long-term business success. Consider, for instance, how half of all startups fail within the first five years. While there are many reasons why a business fails, one major one is the inability to sustain successful processes as your organization grows rapidly.
And, as you begin to scale, your sales team will be one of the first teams you'll want to ensure are prepped for the increase in demand.
Fortunately, there are a few key strategies you can implement as a sales leader to ensure your sales team — and sales process — doesn't experience serious growing pains as your business scales.
Keep reading to learn AWS Principal Startup Advocate Mark Birch's tips for preparing your sales team for growth and long-term success.
How to Scale Your Sales Team and Process Effectively
1. Get ahead of your hiring sooner than you think you'll need it.
As your organization grows, you're likely given new revenue targets that might seem impossible for your current team to achieve.
And that's an important call-out: Maybe the new revenue projections are impossible for your current team to achieve.
To prep for an increase in demand, it's critical you build out your team now, not later.
As Birch told me, "Many sales leaders only think about hiring when they know they have an identified need, and they're working towards those dates. However, in most rapidly growing organizations, companies hire as they have that uplift in need and activity, and so they never get ahead of where they need to be from a revenue standpoint."
Consider, for instance, the following scenario: You have the same five sales reps you had in 2020, and you're aware of how much revenue they can generate as a team of five. However, by the end of 2021, you're expected to hit much higher revenue goals compared to last year.
Mathematically, this is an impossible situation for your existing team. You need to hire additional reps to ensure you can meet your company's new goals.
As Birch puts it, "You want to make sure that you're hiring before the year even starts, so you have enough time to get through the hiring process, plus onboarding and training your new hires, so they can hit the ground running by the start of the year."
2. Start shaping your sales team's culture at the hiring and recruiting stage.
As your team grows, you'll begin noticing a shift in your team's culture. And that's normal.
However, waiting until you've added new hires to your team to begin thinking about culture is a big mistake.
Birch recommends sales leaders take the time to think about the principles or core values that matter most to you and your team. Additionally, he encourages leaders to write these values down on paper.
Once you've identified the values that make your team uniquely qualified to get the job done, Birch says leaders should use those principles to shape how they recruit and hire."If you wait to think about culture when you're onboarding sales reps, you started too late," Birch says. "Shaping culture starts at the recruitment and hiring process."
Birch adds, "What I mean by that is that in your hiring process you need to have questions you've pre-determined to ask every candidate that gives you a clear indication of how they align with the cultural aspects you've found important for your team. This way, you can hire according to your stated principles."
Mark told me HubSpot Advisor and former Chief Revenue Officer of HubSpot's Sales Division Mark Roberge writes about this concept in his book, "The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million."
In HubSpot's early days, Roberge built an effective sales team by creating a rubric for determining the core traits and skills he identified as important for a sales culture — including curiosity, coachability, and intelligence.
Consider how you might do the same for your own team.
Additionally, it's important to iterate on your interview process over time, as you identify the questions that work — and don't work — for selecting the best candidates for your team's culture and values. Birch told me a big mistake he sees in sales organizations is sales leaders who don't take the time to modify their interview processes over time.
3. Create a structured mentoring program.
One of the biggest deterrents to any strong, lasting culture is exclusivity.
It's why so many leaders invest so much time and energy into creating a more inclusive culture.
Consider, for instance, how 83% of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organization fosters an inclusive culture — compared to just 60% of millennials who are actively engaged when their organization does not foster an inclusive culture.
If your reps don't feel they work in an inclusive environment, there will be less trust, less engagement, and less commitment to meeting your team's goals.
All of which is to say: It's impossible to scale successfully without taking the time to ensure each team member feels heard, valued, and included.
"The biggest challenge that happens in sales organizations as they grow is that there's a wall which begins to form between the first group of sales reps, and the second group of sales reps," Birch says.
He adds, "That [divide] only grows over time because none of them really talk to each other, even though they may be on the same team. It's like you have cohorts, and those cohorts form their own micro-cultures, which excludes people who join later on."
Fortunately, Birch has a solution to this challenge: A mentorship program.
"In order to break-up those cohorts," He says, "you need to require the reps that have been there for a while — the veterans — to take the time to speak with new reps in a structured mentorship program."
Birch tells me a structured mentorship program has two major benefits:
- Starts to break down the walls between different cohorts as the team scales
- Helps to inculcate the culture of the organization into the new reps, so they understand what they need to know to be a successful rep on the team
If you don't already have a mentorship program, consider developing one. As you scale, you can't singlehandedly protect your team's culture — and you shouldn't have to. Your veteran reps can take on the key role of teaching and engaging with new reps to ensure your team grows together, not apart.
(Take a look at 7 Steps to Establish a Successful Sales Mentorship Program to learn more.)
4. Enable the same sales floor communication dynamics even in a virtual setting.
The shift to remote work was challenging for the workplace as a whole — but some might argue it was most difficult for salespeople.
"The shift to remote was a serious change in mental modes for sales leadership," Birch told me. "I would say that if I mentioned bringing on a remote sales team, well over nine out of 10 sales reps would tell me, 'That's not what we want to do'."
Unfortunately, the pandemic made the choice of remote or in-person sales obsolete. Leaders didn't have an option — they needed to pivot, quickly, and learn how to serve their sales reps as they adjusted to a work-from-home environment.
(It's important to note we're primarily talking about sales organizations at SaaS, B2B, or technology organizations. The larger enterprise sales teams that spend their time on the road follow a different model.)
So … why were sales leaders so hesitant to buy into the remote lifestyle? As Birch puts it, "Many sales leaders feel the in-person experience is the best way for reps to learn from each other, because being in the presence of other reps creates a sense of competitive dynamics."
"In-person nudges sales reps to want to work harder, and collaborate, and figure out what works and what doesn't."
Birch adds, "Working on a sales floor cuts out a lot of the communication lag that happens when you're working asynchronously. You can't really replicate that environment in a remote setting."
Over the past two years, a key challenge for sales leaders is figuring out the answer to the following question: How can we replicate the sales floor in a remote world? And if we can't replicate it, how can we enable some of those same dynamics around collaboration that we saw in-person?
To create a collaborative environment while working remotely, technology is key. You might consider using a sales dashboard to enable reps to see their performance compared to their peers — this can help facilitate some of the competitiveness you find on a sales floor.
Birch also recommends doubling down on sales incentives to get reps more excited about work.
Additionally, Birch told me, "It's about trying to employ different types of technology and communication tools to keep people engaged and talking to each other. I draw upon my own experience at Stack Overflow, which definitely had a remote culture built-in … we often used Slack as our lifeline to communicate with each other, even if we were in the same room."
And, lastly, Birch recommends pairing up your reps. He says, "Pair together two or three reps to create mini-cohorts. They can encourage and support each other, and having smaller teams gives you a sense of closeness to people you can trust."
Ultimately, leading a sales team is more art than science, so it's important you land on the strategies and tools that will best inspire your sales reps as you scale. Ideally, you can use some of the tips listed above to get you started.
And remember, as Birch says, "Your team moves as fast, and your results move as quickly, as the average of your team" — so it's critical you ensure you're creating the strongest foundation you can, so each member of your team can feel supported and ready to do their best work.