Becoming a manager is a huge responsibility. I remember when I was offered my first sales manager role, an incredible opportunity to build UberEATS Seattle's sales team from the ground up. I felt a the weight of my responsibility to build a team that would not only be a top performer in terms of sales outputs but also have a strong and uplifting team culture that would help people bring their best selves to work every day and feel happy at work.
UberEATS was an early startup within a startup at that time, and there were no playbooks to tell me how to do my job because it had never been done before. I was fortunate to have supportive leadership who encouraged me to experiment, gather data, keep what worked and be ok throwing out things that didn't work. After a lot of trial and error, I was able to build an absolutely incredible sales team, which went on to be a global top performer that launched numerous cities throughout the Western USA. Building that sales team has been one of the highlights of my career to date. I'm writing this article to pass on some of the key nuggets of wisdom I learned through my own trial and error, with the intention to help anyone who is currently new to sales management and looking for guidance.
1. When hiring sales talent, test sales skills in your interview process. Sales is a skill, just like computer programming or any other skill, that some people are simply better at than others. Sales ability can be tested in a practical interview, just like programming skills can be tested in a practical engineering interview. Surprisingly, many sales interviews don't involve any sort of practical component, where the sales rep has to actually go through a mock pitch and try to close the deal with their interviewer. But behavioral questions are not sufficient to test sales ability. Be sure to include a practical component in your sales interviews and only extend offers to candidates who show they can clearly pitch and then close the deal in your interview process.
2. Hire new sales reps in groups of 4-5. If your budget allows for hiring multiple sales reps at a time, I have found that hiring 4-5 reps at a time is the ideal number. This group is large enough to allow you to use your time efficiently by training multiple reps at the same time and small enough for the reps to develop real relationships with the other members of their cohort. These supportive cohort relationships usually continue well after the new hire training process and are very useful for building a strong team culture.
3. Block out at least 2 interruption-free days to train your new hires. The first few days a new rep spends in your office will, in large part, determine the rest of their career there. As a sales manager, it's easy to get busy doing all of the different tasks demanded by your job, but I have learned from experience that when you have a group of new hires starting, it's a good idea to block out at least 2 days in your calendar to spend nearly exclusively on training your new reps and helping them get off to a strong start.
4. Use role-playing to teach and refine sales skills. I highly recommend creating a new hire training process where each of your new reps gets the opportunity to role-play both the role of a salesperson and the role of a customer, with the other new reps on your team watching and learning. This can feel a little intimidating for some new reps, so be sure to create a safe learning environment on your team where people know it's ok to make mistakes and give honest feedback. Playing the role of the customer helps reps put themselves in the customer's shoes and see new and better ways to present their pitch. Role-playing also helps reps bond with one another and become more comfortable putting the pitch into their own words and learning how to move the conversation forward in a realistic sales situation.
If you're new to role-playing, I also highly recommend taking an improv class. It's fun and will teach you valuable skills for creating a safe and creative workspace for your team to practice and improve together.
5. Have a "Pitch Certification" process. Pitch certification is basically a test that new reps will have to pass before they can get their first set of leads to pursue. This test should also be in the form of a role play where you, the sales manager, play the role of a customer with multiple objections to overcome before the sales rep can close the deal. I like to have new reps spend their first 1-2 days in the office studying, training, and preparing for pitch certification. They can schedule a time in your calendar to get pitch certified once they feel ready (usually on their 2nd or 3rd day in the office), knowing that they can only be assigned leads and start their real work after passing your test.
Be sure to only let reps pass who are truly prepared. If someone tries to get pitch certified who clearly isn't ready to go in front of a client, you can fail them for that try and have them schedule a time to try to get certified again after they've studied and prepared a bit more. This process ensures that
1. Reps will have a more successful start to their sales careers with you, which will make a big difference in their level of motivation and personal expectations for the rest of their time with your team.
2. Reps won't burn through valuable leads before they've mastered their pitch.
These tips should help you get a strong start on hiring and training your fledgling sales team. If you would like more guidance about how to build a strong sales team from the ground up, feel free to book a free 30 minute consultation with me here.