When we started Main Street Hub, we knew that building a world-class sales team
would be critical to making a big impact for our customers. There are millions of local merchants in the US and around the world, and they are all busy people. We would need to develop a team that could reach business owners efficiently and guide them through the buying process while being respectful of their time and responsive to their particular needs. And we would need to do this at massive scale. With our sales team now 300-people strong, we've learned several lessons along the way. Here are four that can hopefully help you as you begin to build your sales team:

1. Sell it yourself

Before you hire others to sell your product, you need to sell it yourself. The insights you'll gather about your product through customer feedback in the sales process are invaluable. Equally important is that you'll discover the sales process that fits your business. Is inside sales or outside sales a better approach? What kind of demo works best? How long is your sales cycle? What are the key conversion steps in your sales funnel? You will learn the answers more quickly and cost effectively by selling your product yourself before hiring others to sell it.

2. Do the math

Your sales funnel might start with cold calls, narrow to demos, and result in deals. You might also include additional factors--connections to "decision makers" or the completion rate of your scheduled demos--but regardless of how many steps are in your funnel, you'll want to make sure the math works in your sales funnel before you scale your team. How many calls does it take you to get a demo? How many demos to close a deal? Is the number of calls or demos needed to get to a sale achievable and within your customer acquisition budget? If the math works, you may be ready to hire your first salespeople. If it doesn't, keep refining the process.

3. Your first hire should be two hires

As you begin to hire the first members of your sales team, you should hire your first two reps at once. With two salespeople you'll have more data to understand whether your sales process and metrics are replicable. If you hire just one rep, your data could be meaningfully worse. For example, what if that one rep is exceptional at selling the product? Or what if she is not a good fit for selling the product, but other reps would be? Two data points are far more useful than one to give you the information you need on whether your sales process works.

And, you'll want your first hires to be a particular type of salesperson. The Sales Learning Curve by Mark Leslie and Charles Holloway refers to these people as "renaissance reps." These reps thrive on the ambiguity of the early stages of building a sales engine, and they should play an important role in developing initial sales collateral and sharing feedback on the product and sales process. Hiring this type of person for your first hires will be critical to your ultimate success.

4. Motivation is key, but it's not just about money

While the right compensation plan can be highly motivating, money is just one motivator for great sales reps.

A purpose-driven mission, a strong company culture that emphasizes professional development, and a career path that provides opportunities for high-performance individuals to develop within the company can go a long way to motivating your growing sales team.

When it comes to sales, people are everything. A happy and productive sales team can set a positive tone for all that follows in your long-term relationships with your customers.

What are some of the lessons you've learned building your sales team?

Published on: Dec 29, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.