How To Build Your First Sales Team

Amy Looper - Headshot

Amy Looper

November 10, 2021

Building your first sales team is equal parts exciting and stressful. It’s a sign that your business is starting to scale and taking on tons of new customers. But you might be wondering if you’re hiring the right sales representatives to do the job.

Over the past two decades, I’ve been the #1 sales rep for multiple high-growth organizations and built sales teams at most of them. I’ve since founded Relativity Sells, a consulting firm focused on founder-led sales advisory and customer-centric sales enablement.

Here’s what I learned about securing the best representatives and building your very first sales team along the way:

👉 Want to personalize this framework to your business? Get in touch with my team. We’re here to help you scale!

When should you start building your sales team?

Not every start-up should build their first sales team right when they start growing. In fact, if you start building your sales team at the wrong time, it can lead to massive turnover. All because you end up setting your sales representatives up with systems that don’t work.

And this turnover can get expensive – especially in sales. On average, it costs about 200% of a sales rep’s salary to replace them when they leave. That is roughly $150k per representative on average. 

And since turnover in sales is 3x higher than in other departments, making sure your business is actually ready for a sales team can make or break your business.

So, here are the two things you need to make sure of before hiring your first sales rep:

1. You have a product or service people want

Even the best sales reps in the world can’t sell a product or service that people don’t want. So, it’s important to make sure that there’s actually demand for your product or service. Meaning, you’re able to generate consistent and sustainable sales as opposed to one-off instances. 

That way, it’s much less work for your sales reps to convince people to actually become customers. And they’ll feel more confident to succeed in their role. 

In fact, 75% of salespeople who turnover leave because they think their company’s product or service doesn’t fit the market.

How you determine if your product or service is in demand really depends on the industry you’re in. 

But a quick rule of thumb I like to use is this: if you have at least 10 customers who’ve bought your product or service multiple times, there’s likely a market for what you’re selling. That’s because repeat customers show that people will not only buy what you offer but do it again and again. Meaning, your business is likely sustainable.

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2. You have a repeatable sales process

When you’re hiring sales reps, you want them to be clones of your most successful salesperson (which is likely you at the start). 

But if closing your sales is based on how passionate you are as a founder, that’ll be tough for your new hires to replicate. Especially since you’ll likely always be the most excited person about your company.

So, before you bring on sales reps, make sure your sales process can be easily recreated. Meaning, any person with sales experience can produce the same (if not very similar) results as you do when they follow your documented sales playbook. AKA a centralized place where all of your sales processes are documented and easy to access.

🔥 Tip: When you have a repeatable sales process in place, document it in Trainual. That way, your new sales reps can be assigned the documentation to learn the process as soon as they start. Try for free.

What sales role should you hire first?

When you’re sure your company is ready to build its sales team, it’s time to decide which sales role to hire first. And what role you go with really depends on how involved you’d like to stay in the sales process. 

For example, if you still want to focus on sourcing clients, the roles you hire for will be different than if you wanted to focus on the post-sales experience. So, getting clear on where you’ll stay in the sales process is always the first step.

So, take a minute to figure out what that looks like for you. When you have it, use the below list to match up which role will help make that happen:

Business development representative

Want someone who will focus more on building your sales pipeline? Hire a business development representative first! 

A business development representative focuses primarily on finding new leads through cold calling, emailing, referrals, and networking. AKA they’re responsible for bringing in new business opportunities.

Usually, this is the most entry-level sales position you can hire for and requires the least amount of previous experience. 

And it’ll be your best bet if you want to groom your first sales hire into someone who can head up your sales team as your company matures. 

Account executive

Looking for someone to close existing leads and build relationships with customers after the sale is made? Chances are good you’re looking for an account executive. 

An account executive is a 50/50 role where 50% of this person’s time is spent finalizing new deals. And the other 50% is spent setting new customers up for success. 

This could mean consulting new customers on how to make the most out of your product or service. Or working to meet all their post-sale requests.

Either way, the goal of an account executive is simple: make you more money. Closing new leads on a sale is an obvious way they do that. But when they transition immediately into the customer success 50%, their role becomes upselling, securing long-term contracts, or getting the customer to buy more. 

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Typically, you’ll want a slightly more experienced candidate for an account executive position. That way, they’ll have at least part of the two skill sets needed (sales and customer experience) to both close sales and nurture the relationship.

Customer success manager

Prefer to hire someone who focuses solely on the post-sale experience? Then, you’re looking for a customer success manager. 

A customer success manager makes sure your current customers (or anyone trying your product or service) get the best results with your company. And unlike account executives, they focus 100% on setting new customers up for success. 

Admittedly, this role is better for a product-based company (whereas account executives tend to be better for a service-based company). 

That’s because products generally take less effort to “close the deal” than a service does. Meaning, you’d want someone to be more involved with building relationships and upselling than trying to make the initial sale.

What kind of people should you hire on your sales team?

When you know what sales role you’re hiring first, it’s time to start sourcing candidates for the interview process. And that starts by knowing exactly the type of person you want to hire. 

If you don’t, you’ll most likely end up making a bad hire. And that could mean offboarding the person almost immediately and wasting even more time finding their replacement.

With the average sales position taking 6.2 months to fill, it literally pays to get it right the first time.

So, here are the qualities you absolutely want in your sales team (no matter their role):

  • They’re excited about your company. Plainly put, enthusiasm is contagious. And when your salespeople are jazzed about what you have to offer, your leads and customers will too. 
  • They have grit. Meaning, this person can bounce back from failure and difficulty quickly. Because 60% of customers say “no” 4 times before saying “yes.” So, you need someone who a little rejection won’t discourage.
  • They’re trustworthy. It’s no secret that sales can get sleazy. So, make sure that you can trust your sales team to create deals that benefit the customer just as much as they do the company. And that they’ll actually follow through on their side of the deal. 
  • They’re empathetic, active listeners. Sales is all about providing people with a solution to their problems. That means the best sales reps are the ones who can really understand the customers’ pain points and what they need. And that starts by being more focused on helping the customer than closing the deal.
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How to vet sales skills in the interview process

Okay, so we know what role we’re hiring for and the kind of people we want to fill it. But how the heck do you make sure that they actually have these qualities in your interview process

After all, you can’t just take their word that they have the right qualities. Especially because the best salespeople will be great at selling themselves! So it’s up to you to ask the right questions and confirm your top candidate can actually walk the walk.

Here’s how to quickly check for all four of the qualities I mentioned above: 

  • To gauge how excited they are about what they’d be selling, ask: “what is driving you to work for our company?” Ideally, their answers will mention how much they love your product or service and how it helps your customers. If it doesn’t, that’s a red flag. 
  • For grit, ask: “how do you handle hours of rejection” or “how do you reconcile with failure?” The ideal candidates’ answers will focus on themselves. Meaning, they take ownership of their results and don’t blame external factors. If they’re pointing the finger at other departments for the failure or mention external sources, consider passing.
  • To check trustworthiness, don’t actually ask about it. After all, who would admit that they’re untrustworthy? Instead, ask their references (people they worked closely with in the past). Specifically, probe for examples of when the candidate followed through on something they said they would do or about a time the team really relied on the person. The more detailed the references’ answers, the more likely they’re true.
  • For empathetic, active listening, ask the candidate to describe when they dealt with a dissatisfied customer. Look for if their answer mentions asking questions or finding the best solution – not just trying to close the sale. But be wary if the person talks about how they dive straight into a pitch when they get the initial complaint.

How to onboard your new sales team members

When you find your new sales team member, it’s time for them to go through your onboarding process

Ideally, this process is ready to go before your new hire signs their employment contract. But if this is your first hire ever, here’s (bare minimum) how you can get your new sales team set up to hit the ground running ASAP:

👉 Not sure where to start? Check out Trainual’s guide to employee onboarding.

Document what your sales team needs to know

There are three things you need to make sure all your new sales team members know: the why, the what, and the how. 

And it starts with documenting that knowledge, so it’s easy to pass it on to your new hires. This means, in everyday language, break down: 

  • Why your company started and what it aims to achieve. This will likely include your company story, values, and upcoming goals
  • What exactly your product or service is. This includes a breakdown of the top features, deals, discounts, and talking points.
  • How to sell your product. Meaning, the step-by-step standard operating procedures for getting leads, sealing the deal, and nurturing customers. 

Not every role will need all the same information. For example, a BDR will need to have documentation of your best cold email script. And your Account Executive may need documentation on how to handle client requests. 

But it’s best practice to have it all documented and ready to go – regardless of what role you hire for. That way, they have a resource for getting their responsibilities done and have step-by-step directions if they’re delegated something outside their role’s scope.

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Put your documentation in a centralized place

Documenting these processes is half of it. You also need to make sure that your new sales representatives can find this documentation when they need it! 

And the easiest way to do that is by housing it in an onboarding software like Trainual. That way, it’s in one searchable place and easily accessible when your team needs it.

When vetting onboarding software, make sure the one you pick lets you track who’s gone through your documentation. That way, you can hold everyone accountable for your best practices. And as a result, ensure consistent results.

The other thing you’ll want to look for from your onboarding software is that it empowers fun and engaging content. Meaning, adding GIFs, videos, and pictures related to the content to keep your people entertained and informed.

That’s because onboarding and training have a bad rep for being boring. And since you want to get your sales team engaged and excited, making your documentation fun should be a top priority. 

No matter what, you want to make sure that your new sales team hires have all the resources they need to succeed. And when you have everything documented and easily accessible, they’ll never be left in the dark on the best way to close the sale. Meaning, they’ll bring in more revenue for you, and you can finally build the sales engine you envisioned since day one.

Author: Amy Looper, Founder of Relativity Sells

Amy is the founder of Relativity Sells. After spending two decades in sales leadership and enterprise SAAS sales, she’s now a Revenue Growth Specialist working with tech startups to accelerate revenue and maximize sales effectiveness.

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