Want to Scale your Sales Team Quickly then Watch Out for these Pitfalls.

I am currently doing a little work helping an early stage tech start-up. Just yesterday, I was talking with the CEO about the financial plan and scaling the sales team to meet the plan goals. During that conversation we covered several different aspects of growing a sales team that directly impact the company’s ability to meet its financial plan, I highlighted some of the pitfalls to be aware of and put forward some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Reflecting on the conversation, I thought it would make an insightful blog post. At some point, just about every company in the world goes through a stage of needing to rapidly scale their sales team and it can be challenging. If you’re leading the sales team in a start-up or indeed any other company that is about to shift into hyper-growth mode then here’s some ideas on how to scale the sale team and what to watch out for.

Time to Hire

When building your financial plan these are two pieces of data that are critical and will need to be factored into the plan. “Time to hire” is the first. Do you understand the time to hire in each of the regions where you are looking to grow your sales team? Each region, and indeed each country, can be radically different. In the UK you should expect your time to hire (the point at which you launch the role to the new starters first day) to be no less than 8 weeks, although 12 weeks would probably be more accurate. The more senior the individual that you are looking to hire generally the longer the time to hire will be. Some countries across Europe are similar to the UK then there are others that take significantly longer (Germany as an example). The shortest time to hire is usually the US, the US operate with shorter notice periods and time to hire can be as low as 4 to 6 weeks. The moral of the story here is to ensure that you understand what your time to hire will be, either use existing data from previous hires or speak to a recruitment partner who can give you insight into the market, and kick-off the hiring process early enough to make sure that the sales person you are hiring joins when you need them and not 3 months later.

Sales Person Ramp Up Time

The second piece of data to be reflected in your plan is sales person “ramp”. The universal truth is that in every company it takes new salespeople time before they become productive, the more complex the role and the organisation, the longer the ramp-up time can be. If you factor in the average length of your companies sales/buying process then you are potentially looking at a significant period of time before you see any return from your investment. As an average “finger in the air” measure, in a complex sales role, I would factor in a period of 6 months where your new sales person will be less productive. Some salespeople will take less time others a little longer. Ideally you will have previous data on how long it takes to ramp new salespeople and can factor this into your sales plan. Again, the message is very clear, start to hire early ahead of the time when you need all salespeople to be fully productive in order to meet your sales goals.

On-boarding Process

In order to give the newly hired salespeople the best possible start in your company and ensure that they are productive as fast as possible you should prepare a rigorous on-boarding process well ahead of the period where you start to hire and grow quickly. You have invested months of time and lots of money to seek out and hire the best candidates that you can find, don’t trip up at this critical stage. Compare the two scenarios :-

  1. Your new hire arrives, excited to be starting their first day. They arrive early, no one is about to greet them. When you arrive, you show them to their desk, tell them that their laptop will take another day or two before it’s ready and introduce them to the team. You don’t have any training program planned other than shadowing the team but then they’re salespeople, they know how to sell anyway !
  2. Your new hire arrives, excited to start their first day. They arrive early giving you chance to grab a coffee with them, it’s your opportunity to explain how excited you are that they joined you. You introduce them to the team, provide their laptop and then introduce them to their on-boarding schedule. You have a full two weeks planned; meeting new colleagues, their individual mentor and training courses that cover the basics of selling for your company. Everything they need to know to be successful all wrapped up into a nice easy package.

Not only is it very easy to see which scenario gives the new salesperson the very best opportunity to be successful quickly, if you were the salesperson who encountered scenario 2. you are going to be far more engaged and happy in your work, both avenues to greater success.

Having a fully baked On-boarding process is not easy to build when you are short of resource and growing your team quickly but it’s an imperative otherwise all of the work that you have put in up to that point will be for nought. Much better to build the process up-front and be all raring to go when you hit the hyper-growth button.