As a founder, you and your team wear many hats--CTO, COO, CMO, CFO. As the company grows, there comes a time when you need to start hiring people that specialize in those roles. Of all of the specialty roles you can hire, a sales executive and extended sales team is the one founders should think very carefully about.
The sales executives are responsible for growing the business. The sales team is the front-line. They have the most contact with customers. They are the brand ambassadors that relay their passion for the company on a daily basis. A top sales team can often make or break a company. It's why companies with an inferior product but a superior sales force still win.
This article isn't about how to hire a sales team, but rather how to work with and motivate one. Here are three tips to make that happen:
1. Trust but verify.
Regardless of whether you are hiring one sales executive or a team of people, the idea that as CEO or founder you need to do more than just blindly trust is critical. You must confirm that the sales team understands what they are selling, what the message should be and how to sell. When you go beyond just trusting and confirm that expectations are being met, you reduce the risk to the business.
Trust but verify--a Russian proverb used by Ronald Reagan works when it comes to building teams. The key with the word "trust" is confidence.
When you hire smart people, you should have complete confidence in their abilities. But, as a founder it's important to recognize that not everyone is going to understand everything about the business, so it's possible that they'll make mistakes. Diving in deep from time to time and making sure that the details are right is vital.
2. Understand the sales mindset
From my experience, great salespeople are like locomotives that can pull ten trains. The best thing to do is to not stand in front of the train. A strong sales person will run you over if they feel like you are slowing them down. That doesn't mean you should walk away, but instead run beside the train and be supportive, and confirming.
If you are checking in with your sales team to verify (or confirm) that their performance is in line with the company goals, the next step is to make sure the team is motivated.
Of course, sales people are motivated by the same thing as other employees. But, the one difference you'll find with great salespeople that doesn't necessarily translate with other specialty roles is that great salespeople are coin operated.
Whether that sounds insensitive or not, I have found it to be true. It doesn't mean that you can't find great salespeople that are motivated by things other than money. It just means that compensation is more of a motivating factor when it comes to hiring and keeping a sales force.
3. Think critically about compensation.
This is where things can go very wrong. A poorly planned or wrong compensation model can be the reason for high levels of frustration and turnover. Understanding the sales mindset will help you build a compensation plan that motivates and meets the passion high performing salespeople have for the product or industry or whatever other reason they've joined your company.
Design a plan that has escalators. The more sales people sell, the higher their commission. Definitely don't try to cap compensation in some way.
And, don't be surprised if your top sales people are making more than you. If they are wildly successful, the company will be too. Embrace it!