Building a sales team: What to consider as a small business

Building a sales team is a daunting prospect for any growing company, but can be achieved with the right people, technology, and activities. Here are some tips to getting it right.

Building a sales team that can perform to expectations is a key function of any business. While having a stellar product is fundamental to any successful venture, if you cannot effectively demonstrate your product’s value to customers so they buy it, you will fail. To grow you need to sell, and sell well.

Building a sales team is a daunting prospect for any growing company, says Laurence Bret-Stern, chief revenue officer at sales CRM company Pipedrive. ‘Who to hire, what systems to adopt, and when to scale are key considerations,’ she says.

Bret-Stern says, based on the company’s experience working with thousands of young sales teams, there are three constants that young companies need to be aware of when building a team: the right people, the right technology, and the right activities.

Hire the right people

To scale your business, one needs to attract the right talent to your team. ‘In the first instance, you need clarity on why you are recruiting for that role in the first place,’ says Bret-Stern. ‘A wrong hire is a costly mistake, (especially for SMEs), so make sure you review your current business needs and identify gaps and areas that are ripe for expansion.’

Once this is done and you’ve written a clear and concise job description, it’s time to reach out to potential candidates.

‘Be strategic in your search and be absolutely clear on what you will, and will not, compromise on. While it is important to be open-minded about experience and background – the experience must be relevant; someone with five years’ in manufacturing sales is unlikely to be appropriate for your property business.’

Finally, develop a clear interview process that incorporates the values and ideals you require in the candidate. Adam Graham, founder of business development consultancy Gray Matters, says the main thing he looks for is the ‘hunter mindset’ and ability to spot opportunities and turn them into something.

‘This is very hard to find and companies often go wrong by putting account management people into sales roles but if they lack this instinct, they will eventually fail,’ he adds.

‘We make sure we have clear values or behaviours in place that represent our culture and that we can score candidates against.

‘For us, honesty is a big part of having an authentic approach to new business, so we look for people who are passionate about what they are selling and strive to add genuine value to their prospect’s lives.’

If a candidate ticks all the right boxes, it’s time to make an offer and negotiate. Naturally, a skilled salesperson will aim to get the best salary and commission structure possible; if they can convince you, they may well be the perfect fit for your company.

Use technology to your advantage

Once the right people are in place, it’s time to give them the tools they need to succeed. Unfortunately, for many salespeople working in SMEs, the right resources are not provided. According to new research of 1,000 UK sales professionals by YouGov, one in four British sales professionals still rely on pen and paper to keep track of their pipeline. This is a staggering statistic, particularly given the abundance of tools available to the modern salesperson.

Quality sales tracking is fundamental to quality sales performance management; to scale fast as a business, you need to be able to continually optimise and refine your processes. ‘Building a team that uses an effective CRM platform from the outset will allow your sales team to easily track key metrics and incorporate simplified, actionable insights into their pipeline,’ says Bret-Stern.

Focus on the right activities

The key to building a successful sales team lies in focusing on the right activities; it’s the classic debate between quantity over quality, with the latter providing the best route to overall success, Bret-Stern says. ‘No matter the calibre of the salesperson, some deals are just not winnable, and your time is best spent on those leads that actually have a chance to be converted into a win. So teach your team to drop those low-quality leads early and to learn to love the word ‘no’.’

Many sales teams fail simply because they have a rigid focus on end targets rather than the right activities to move deals forward. Graham agrees. ‘I see a lot of sales pipelines and the reality is only a handful of those deals are likely to close,’ he says.

‘I advise people to test the prospect just as much as they are testing you. People are busy so you must be patient but experience and data shows that the longer it gets from the point of ‘pitch’, the less likely it is to close.’

To nurture leads, create small activities that you think deal with any doubts or concerns the prospect may have and maintain a consistent and relentless keep in touch strategy, he adds.

Why an effective sales team matters

According to research, UK SMEs are currently losing £15,000 a month due to poor sales processes, and this has to change if businesses want to smash growth hurdles. In an increasingly competitive market, and with many teams needing to secure national and international sales, unfocused or inaccurate sales activities could be costing the UK billions per month.

Investment in appropriate technology and tools for your sales team is of paramount importance. As Bret-Stern says, a well-oiled and productive sales team is not something that should be taken for granted; it’s something of a holy grail for high-growth, scaling companies, and needs to be cultivated with care.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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