As a hiring manager, one of your jobs is to ask the right questions so you can get a reliable assessment of the candidate’s potential.
We reached out to sales and hiring experts to share their favorite sales interview questions, and here are some of the best responses:
1) What is the most courageous thing you’ve done in your life?
“After interviewing hundreds and hundreds of different people over the years I have refined my questions to only a handful. I want to find out more about the character of a person more than anything. This question tells me about 75% of what I need to know about a person.”
2) Talk about a time you had to put aside your ego, and do something that didn’t directly benefit you, but a co-worker or your company?
“Talk about a time you had to put aside your ego, and do something that didn’t directly benefit you, but a co-worker or your company? Most salespeople are great at selling themselves and communicating their successes. It’s more difficult for them to put that aside when necessary, but those are the kinds of people you want on your team.”
3) Please tell me about a time you gave a client bad news.
“A sales person’s values can be the most important thing to test in an interview. This question tests the candidate’s values and helps determine if they are customer centric or if they make excuses to protect themselves (or their commission).”
4) What hobbies do you invest time and money into?
“What hobbies do you invest time and money into?Explanation: This question not only helps to gauge the cultural fit of a potential sales candidate, it also opens up a discussion of values and time/money management. Keep a keen eye for employees (especially sales staff) that are mindful of their hobbies and understand the value of time. This will likely carry over into their professional work.”
5) Would you show us, right now, how comfortable you are on the phone?
“Would you show us, right now, how comfortable you are on the phone? Then arrange for them to place a pitch call with someone in another office or even have them pitch a low-level prospect in front of you. If they embrace the request and execute the call well, they have demonstrated their ability to handle the unexpected by showing poise under pressure, which is critical for sales success.”
6) What do you want to know about our company, our product, our culture or this role?
“Question to ask: What do you want to know about our company, our product, our culture or this role? Reasoning: In my experience, people who are very interested in joining a company have done their homework. They typically have several detailed questions, and those questions reveal lot of things those people find important in their job. It also demonstrates their willingness to do their research and know their prospect — in this case, the hiring manager considering offering them a position.”
7) If you started your own business tomorrow, what would it be?
“Many salespeople get into the profession because they are enthusiastic entrepreneurs by nature. By asking potential talents about a fictional business, you will learn more about their future goals and motivators. You will also get a taste of how they pitch business ideas.”
8) If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
“I really like this question because it usually catches the candidate off guard, but not in a way that will stress them out. This is a way to show the candidate that they can give a real human response without any fear of getting the answer wrong. It breaks the tension of an interview, and puts everyone at ease.”
9) Tell me about a deal you failed to close. What did you learn from that experience?
“A dedicated sales person will always take it hard when they don’t close an important sales, but a really good salesperson will reflect on that and learn from it and apply that wisdom to future sales.”
“It’s an intelligence question and it’s unacceptable for sales candidates to not know the answer since they are dealing with money. That being said, it’s incredibly surprising how many people get it wrong! Or, how many get it right, but aren’t quite sure they have it right. I want a salesperson who answers the question confidently and is almost offended that it was asked in the first place.”
“To measure an potential sales persons dedication and desire for improvement, one of the questions I ask is what is the last self help book you read? Or podcast you listened to? Or seminar you attended? High performing sales people are always looking to get better, they study the best and look to pick up new techniques and tips.
13) What’s The Easiest Way To Get To Know A Potential Client On The Phone?
“This question gives me insight into a few aspects of a candidate’s typical attitude towards sales and what type of closer they are (if they dismiss the idea of getting to know someone versus a straight sale, for example) but it also lets me know how confident they are in their ability to progress in a phone call. If they think the journey in getting to know someone is an arduous path, I might question their ability to succeed in sales versus an individual who has a plan for client engagement.”
“Really helps you understand both personality as well as organizational traits. E.g. Someone who was on debate team tells me that they are very prepared, take a lot of initiative and willing to do extra work. Debaters need to spend upwards of 30 hours a week prepping. If someone only talks of athletic achievements, they could be good salespeople but for other positions, I want to see if they rounded our their HS years with other activities.”
– Winston Lourd, Cofounder and Chief Evangelist, Venga
15) Who else are you interviewing with? Have any offered a position? + If we did not select you what would you do next?
“As an interviewer you want to see if they are really looking into the industry or a job. On what are they basing the choice? You are looking to see if this is their real search. They should say they will go to your competitor because they want to be in the that business.”
16) What does customer service look like to you and how do you demonstrate it?
This is more of a ideological question. Ideally, you want to see the sales candidate display the following skills throughout the interview:a) listening skills B)empathy towards the customer c)motivation/drive d)problem solving and these questions can help uncover whether the candidate will posses this in order to demonstrate they have the right sales skills.”
“The most successful salespeople are extremely competitive. They want to win and go to great lengths to do so. If their eyes light up and they launch right into their kicking ass story, you’ve found your candidate. If they take more than a few seconds to answer, keep looking for a kick ass sales person elsewhere.”
One of the core attributes hiring managers at growing companies look for in new sales hires is “intellectual curiosity”. It usually tops the list alongside things like coachability, social awareness, and discipline which are also highly sought after in a seller. In my opinion it is the most important trait though, for a couple core reasons.
First of all, growing startups aren’t always rainbows and butterflies. When things get tough, a seller’s intellectual curiosity and passion to learn keeps him or her going, and sheds positivity on everyone from customers, to team members, to yourself internally. Secondly, and more importantly, I’m a firm believer that your job as a seller at an early company is to be a hunter-gatherer of knowledge, not just customers, for your organization. Think about it – you’re the first person to talk to customers about their problems, you tell the story of the product and company more times in a week than anyone, you affect most major operational metrics within the business, and eventually, you have the best sense of who’s a good seller to hire and who’s not. That means you’re an extension of your engineering/product, marketing, ops/finance, and recruiting, and should probably learn more about their worlds.
If you don’t choose to learn about these things, engage with those team members, and help them out, then in that case, you’re just a number. That’s great when products are perfect, teams are fully built, all graphs are up and to the right, and everyone outside of your team has god-like respect for you. If that’s the case, give me a call! If that happens to not be the case though, below are some of my suggestions as you seek to learn, grow, and contribute beyond just your number this year:
1. Learn to Code
So you had a bad product demo due to lack of insert-shiny-feature-here and you now want to tell your engineers how to do their job? First of all, don’t do that. Secondly, if you want to have a technical conversation with your engineers, well start to learn their language! Codecademy (full disclosure, a portfolio company at Bowery Capital where I work) is an amazing place to start to learn how to code, and be conversant on your product’s inner workings. As a result, you’ll be able to help your customers implement your product faster (if it’s technical), you’ll communicate more effectively with your engineering and product team, and you’ll have more respect for what they do and vice versa.
2. Get a Grip On Finance & Ops
Take on a project or sit with sales ops and finance to learn the basic frameworks of how they plan things. Why? Well first of all, you’ll be able to forecast your own performance more effectively and hit your goals. Secondly, they’ll come to you to hear about what’s happening on the frontlines with selling the product, and how that affects the plan they’re putting in place and adjusting. Also, I’d make a good bet that when you go to negotiate next year what your quota or OTE is, you’ll be a bit more respected in the conversation as a result of your newfound knowledge. Check out this post for your first lesson on sales ops frameworks.
3) Assist with Recruiting & Employee Training
You know what a good seller for your organization looks like. Your Head of Talent knows how to build a team with the right input. Trade your knowledge here and learn together. If you want to be a great manager, VP, or C-suite leader someday, that’s a lot harder without the hands-on experience of learning what it takes to source great team members, and construct an A+ group of people. My suggestion: in addition to volunteering to interview people, also volunteer to lead one onboarding session for new employees and/or be a mentor (with accountability) to them. You’ll start to learn if you really want to be a manager someday, and save yourself a lot of lessons down the line.
4) Explore Content Marketing
Ask your marketing team to teach you about content marketing, and start to write articles on LinkedIn or contribute to your company blog. There are so many benefits to this: you’ll be more respected by yours buyers, you’ll help marketing who will feed more leads your way as a result, and you’ll build a personal brand for yourself that lasts well beyond your current job or title. It’s also a tangible exercise in creativity and self-reflection, which is a good way to break up the repetitiveness of sales!
If you’re a startup leader reading this, I’ll conclude with one final tip to shift your culture to one that balances numbers-based achievement with goals around learning. When you set goals or OKRs for the year, force your sellers to come up with an additional learning goal outside of their quota. You can reinforce it by letting them know they’re not eligible to get a major promotion, to be a manager, or to be a strategic contributor in meetings with other teams if they don’t show strides towards these, because these goals lay the foundation for those things your sellers want. Remember, the best leaders aren’t the best leaders solely because they were ranked #1 on their team, always hit 100%, and then got promoted. They’re the best leaders because they learned how to build and inspire teams, realistically manage the operations around those, and gain respect and support from other internal teams by helping them out too. That starts with setting learning goals, so get to it.
We recently evaluated the major US tech markets for Sales Development talent as we are considering where to expand our service coverage in coming years. SDRs are the foundation of modern sales organizations and for us, a leading indicator of where the sales talent market is headed.
Most modern sales teams are using LinkedIn for prospecting and social selling so it seemed reasonable to base our analysis on LinkedIn data. While not perfect, it should give us a relative sense of current state. In this article, we’ll run you through some interesting insights we found.
Originally, the most common job title for this role was Sales Development Representative (SDR). Over the years, several other variants has popped up like Business Development Representative (BDR), Account Development Representative (ADR), etc. For the purpose of this article we’ll refer to it as XDR’s since the first word of the title can be interchangeable.
The role of an XDR is to identify, connect, and qualify leads for the sales team. In some organizations, XDRs will connect the prospective buyer to a sales person on their as soon as there is any indicator of buyer interest (ex. a positive email response) while at other organizations, XDRs will conduct a discovery call to qualify the prospect before setting up a meeting with the sales person.
XDRs tend to be recent college graduates who wants to become a sales person and is willing to put in the hard work (often times performing repetitive tasks) to learn the top of the sales funnel and get a chance to rise to a more lucrative position of closing deals. As such, XDRs are kind of like sales people in training and is a great entry point into tech sales.
While titles don’t mean much at startups, it does help clarify the role to prospective customers and candidates you’re looking to attract. We thought it’d be helpful to take a quick look at what companies are doing.
On LinkedIn, there is currently over 75,000 people with a variant of the modern sales development title. BDR (Business Development Representative) has actually become the most popular title accounting for approximately 56% of total with SDR second at 32% (see table below). The less popular variants of ADR and MDR accounted for 7% and 5% respectively. There is a long tail of other variants (startups can get overly creative with titles) but we left those out below for simplicity.
Title on LinkedIn
US Share of World
Title Share of XDR
Business Development Representative
Sales Development Representative
Account Development Representative
Market Development Representative
XDR Titles for Top 3 US Markets
Within geographies, we found there were some interesting differences in which version of XDR title was prevalent. Looking just at the top three major markets, the SDR title is more popular in San Francisco but actually less popular than BDR in Boston and NYC.
San Francisco Bay Area
Greater Boston Area
Greater New York City Area
Anecdotally, some sales leaders tell us they prefer BDR over SDR as it sounds more consultative in certain industries. While there are arguments to be made around industry norms and ultimately what you’re trying to optimize for, it probably is worth you checking your local market data to ensure your job titles are SEO friendly for potential applicants.
XDR Market Breakdown & Turnover
In looking at the top XDR markets in the US, it was clear that the lionshare of talent was concentrated within a few not-surprising cities (SF, NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc.) but we’re particularly interested in tracking future trends given the growth of many emerging tech hubs in the US.
We also looked at turnover data on LinkedIn. While the % change jos in last 90 days includes both promotions and employee turnover, it’s a great proxy on the speed in which you need you figure out your XDR career ladder (or someone else will!).
The average of the top 5 markets was 17% turnover in last 90 days or 68% annualized in XDR’s on LinkedIn who changed jobs (internal or external). This is a very crude number as it doesn’t account for seasonality or corner cases but it certainly doesn’t feel far from the reality in our experience building XDR teams for startups.
XDR Employee Estimates
% Changed jobs in last 90 days
San Francisco Bay Area
Greater Boston Area
Greater New York City Area
Greater Chicago Area
Austin, Texas Area
Greater Seattle Area
Greater Los Angelos Area
Greater Denver Area
Phoenix, Arizona Area
Greater Salt Lake City Area
As many companies are looking to plan their XDR hiring plans for 2018, it’s important to confront the challenges of attracting and retaining your talent. Putting together the right job description, creating a diligent interview process, and building the right onboarding process and career ladders are just a few things you can do to fight the macro challenges of XDR turnover.
With an average of 250 resumes per opening, hiring managers face a major challenge: how to narrow down the list of candidates? In order to efficiently hire new sales talent, managers must learn how to quickly identify the best talent from resumes alone.
Here are ten things to look for to find great sales talent for your organization:
1. Format, style, and grammar
Sure, it’s basic, but the way candidates format their resumes reveals their professionalism. Highly capable sales candidates have resumes that are clearly organized, utilize standard resume format, and are free of spelling and grammatical errors. The summary at the top of the resume should be concise yet informative, demonstrating the candidate’s ability to synthesize information effectively. When you see a put-together resume, you can infer that the candidate pays attention to detail and cares about how they present to the professional world.
2. Longevity and loyalty
You want to hire candidates who contribute to your organization for years to come. Look closely at the candidate’s job history, which is the one part of a resume that can’t be faked. The best candidates usually have spent extensive time with past companies. Some short stints are justifiable, especially for younger candidates who are still figuring out what they want to do. But if a candidate consistently spends less than two years at a company, that’s a red flag. In some cases, it may be helpful to call the former employer so you can deduce the reason for the candidate’s departure. When it comes to voluntary departures after short stints, you need to figure out whether the candidate is willing to work through challenges with their employer or simply pursues an easier option by leaving.
3. Career progression
The best sales talent is always on an upward trajectory. These candidates may receive promotions within their company, or they get hired at a better position elsewhere. Candidates that have a track record of progression are likely to do the same at your company. You should be wary of candidates that remain stagnant within their current role or simply make lateral moves between companies.
4. Sales numbers
There are a lot of resume tricks out there, but sales numbers don’t lie. Top sales candidates will proudly broadcast their sales numbers on their resumes, including contextual information such as sales quotas and goals. Ideally, the resume should also provide a sense of the candidate’s performance relative to peers. Were they among the top performers at their organization? Candidates who are cagey about sales numbers (or who refuse to provide them altogether) may be trying to hide a less-than-stellar record.
5. Relevancy in previous products and sales process
If a candidate piques your interest but you’re not familiar with their prior companies, do some quick research. Many fantastic candidates come from under-the-radar companies. These candidates may well have experience with selling a product that is similar to yours in terms of either the product or sales process. Consider what kinds of customers and stakeholders they were reaching in the position. Even if it’s not the exact same type of product or service, there could be commonalities that will be useful at your company.
6. Candidate’s familiarity with sales concepts and industry jargon
The best sales candidates know the industry lingo and can speak it fluently without trying too hard. Look for signs that the candidate understands basic terms such as ACV and QBRs and can use them correctly within the context of the resume. Even candidates new to sales should be able to use terminology if they’re truly among the top sales talent. That’s a good sign that the candidate is reading books and blogs about sales, attending conferences, and otherwise taking steps to become a genuine sales expert.
7. Modest claims and verbiage
Although a resume that lacks specific details can indicate a candidate that’s short on substance, you should also be wary of candidates who use hyperbolic language to refer to themselves (such as “best ever salesperson” or “phenomenally skilled.”) Truly great performers don’t need that kind of verbiage to highlight their accomplishments. What’s more, this language may indicate a candidate who has a big ego and an inflated sense of their own achievements. You want an accomplished candidate who is self-aware enough to recognize the continual need for improvement.
8. Awards and achievements
Successful sales people usually win awards within their own department as well as outside of it. Look for candidates who list awards such as Presidents Club (which is awarded to top performers within an organization) and Salesperson of the Year/ Quarter. Outside awards are even more impressive, indicating that the candidate has gained respect from the general sales community.
9. Intrinsic sales personality traits
Evaluating young candidates without extensive work experience can be tricky, but a careful perusal of the resume can still reveal whether the candidate has the character to succeed in sales. The best entry-level candidates list extracurricular activities that demonstrate drive and the willingness to assume leadership positions. Involvement in competitive team sports, leadership in extracurricular activities, and involvement in student government are all good signs that the candidate has the stuff for sales. This information can also help to contextualize candidates’ GPA and general educational achievements. The best sales performers don’t always have the highest GPAs in college, but there should be something about their record that proves drive.
10. Quality of the candidate’s references
The references candidates choose to list can oftentimes be one of the most revealing parts of the resume. References should be direct supervisors at previous positions. Although some candidates are reluctant to ask their current manager to serve as a reference, they should be able to list a co-worker who can speak to their performance in the position. References that are several degrees disconnected from professionals who can really attest to the candidates’ success should be seen as a red flag. What’s most important isn’t how famous the reference is, but how well they can speak to the candidate’s job performance.
There are few workplace situations more uncomfortable than providing feedback. When employees know they’re about to receive feedback on job performance, they oftentimes clam up. It isn’t any more comfortable from the manager’s side of the desk either. Though it’s necessary, managers frequently dread giving feedback to team members.
HR experts suggest a range of best practices on how to manage feedback productively.
1. How and when to document feedback
Basic questions about feedback include how often to do it and which format to utilize. Most HR experts suggest a light touch when it comes to the formal feedback process, though each company will differ in terms of structure and timetable.
Karen Weeks, VP of People at OrderGroove, suggests that feedback should have at least some structure. Although her company previously utilized a more open system, it is now in the process of adding more structure to the feedback process. Once per quarter, employees’ OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) will be evaluated. Weeks emphasized that the process is intended to provide a holistic perspective on employees: “It’s not about a slap on the wrist or a gold star, but more about, ‘What did you learn? What did you accomplish?’ Then we’ll check in on development goals.”
Weeks also said that OrderGroove plans to focus more on competencies. Managers need to be trained in how to clearly communicate necessary competencies to employees so that everyone understands expectations.
2. Feedback should be helpful, not bureaucratic
Although formal feedback is important, HR experts warn against excessive administration. It isn’t necessary to rate every employee on every skill. Companies should develop a process that fits with their organization. Gordon said, “If process precedes purpose, then that’s the problem. At the end of the day, the purpose of performance feedback is to let employees know how they’re doing.”
3. Understand the value of informal feedback
Some experts recommend doing formalized feedback less frequently. Cindy Gordon, VP of People at PolicyGenius, points to the value of informal feedback as a supplement to formal feedback (which at PolicyGenius occurs twice per year). Managers are encouraged to provide informal feedback when appropriate, including once per quarter in one-on-one meetings. It is expected that managers document the informal feedback they provide.
Gordon explained, “If you’re sitting down and know you’re going to have a performance discussion you may be hyper-focused on what you think someone’s going to tell you. So we try to set a norm where you have the discussion and then follow up with email. It becomes an automatic reflex.”
4. Train your managers to give good feedback
Teaching managers how to give effective feedback is critical. One effective way to do this is through modeling. Karen Miller, Chief People Officer at Pond5, said she spent a lot of time trying to teach managers about the feedback model. But they were struggling to provide feedback effectively because they didn’t understand the basics.
Good feedback practices begin at the top. Recently, Miller did an offsite event with the executive team. Part of the agenda was to practice giving and receiving direct feedback. “Doing this as an executive team is good practice,” she said. “It creates an environment where the team gets used to it and then can turn around and do it for other people. They realize they survived it and maybe learned something.”
Other experts agree. Gordon explained that there are ways to practice feedback in a low-risk environment, such as team reflections where everyone reflects on the team’s performance. Through practice, feedback naturally becomes part of company culture.
5. When to use anonymous vs. direct feedback
One of the most contentious questions in the HR world is whether anonymous feedback is acceptable and, if so, when.
Some leaders take the strong position that anonymous feedback should be avoided. Although Gordon acknowledged that anonymous feedback can be more helpful than no feedback at all, she prefers direct feedback. “Anonymous feedback doesn’t breed trust. It can actually breed paranoia,” she explained. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I’m hearing this about you,’ I’d automatically raise my antenna and wonder who else is talking about me. It doesn’t help to foster discussion.”
6. Normalize a culture of direct feedback
The reason people gravitate towards anonymous feedback, Gordon said, is because they’re uncomfortable giving direct feedback. But while giving direct feedback is certainly uncomfortable, people need to accept it. They should understand they are helping someone else’s development process.
While other leaders agreed on the value of direct feedback, sometimes getting people to a point where they’re comfortable giving direct feedback can be a process. Miller and Weeks both utilize anonymous feedback for 360 reviews. According to Miller, direct feedback requires an evolution of culture. But she also said, “Ultimately the goal is to get to a place where you’re comfortable giving direct feedback.”
Weeks said that giving upwards direct feedback can be difficult for many people. “Many people aren’t comfortable criticizing their own managers,” she said.
HR leaders should push towards direct feedback, even if the transition can’t happen right away.
7. Linking performance management to compensation
Another sticky issue is how to incorporate performance management into employee compensation. Experts propose a variety of methods for performance-based compensation.
For Gordon, it’s important not to have the compensation and performance management conversations at the same time. She said, “We carry that out through the structure of programs, but we also have processes in place behind that. First we have the performance conversation, using skill development rubrics so that people actually know how they’re being evaluated.”
Then, the company utilizes data from databases and networks to determine appropriate compensation in conjunction with performance reviews.
Miller strongly asserted the need to tie performance evaluation to compensation. “If I’m not relying on information about who the best performers are, then I’m relying on who people like and who is nice,” she said.
She calls the system used at Pond5 “executive team validation.” The executive team meets together and goes through every employee, trying to develop a consensus on performance evaluation. She said, “It’s not formulaic, but we use information.”
8. Choose evaluation methods appropriate to your company
Weeks pointed out that companies of different sizes need different ways to determine appropriate compensation. When she worked at a larger company, they used ratings as a starting point for adjusting employees’ compensation. However, the organization also gave different departments the option to set their own compensation methods. The engineering team has different preferences than sales or marketing, which should be accommodated.
Now that Weeks is at OrderGroove, a smaller company, she implements a system that is less formula-driven. “We sit down and figure it out together,” she explained.
While compensation should relate to performance, there is no one-size-fits-all method for how to do this effectively.
9. Some tools for documenting feedback and determining compensation
There are a number of HR tools available that can help to document performance feedback and determine compensation. Here are some of the tools leaders recommend for feedback:
Reflektive: This performance management tool ties into Slack, providing a way for managers to document feedback.
GoogleDocs and Word: In terms of simple tools that enable employees to give and receive feedback, these are great choices for smaller companies.
Impraise: A software tool to provide feedback to employees. Although ratings are included as part of the tool, they are not the focus.
Slack: For providing informal feedback, Slack is a useful tool that your employees are probably already using for other purposes.
Leaders also recommend using database tools for information on average salaries:
Salary.com for small businesses: Offers data about average salaries for small businesses and early-stage startups.
Advanced-HR: There are two options within Advanced-HR, including a paid and free option. The free option allows users access to salary data in return for imputing organizational data.
10. Use survey tools to collect feedback
Simple survey tools like SurveyMonkey can also be useful for collecting feedback on employee performance—and the performance management process itself. Ask employees about their feelings on the feedback process itself. Weeks recently conducted a short survey for both managers and employees asking about the relevance of feedback. “We learned that people thought the feedback was rich, but didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.
As a result, Weeks is modifying the performance management performance. Gordon said that by asking employees about the feedback process, her team learned that the performance management software program being utilized wasn’t working for employees.
Through surveys, HR leaders can learn what is and isn’t working for employees. Of course, employees oftentimes vary widely in their personal preferences. Some employees want more performance evaluation, others less. That too is useful information that should be communicated to employees. Miller said, “One of the most helpful things about surveys is being able to explain the results to people. You say, ‘Half of you thought it was too dark in here and half of you thought it was too light.’ It helps open up people’s perspectives and helps them realize others may see the world differently.”
Landing on the optimal performance management process is an ongoing struggle for HR leaders. But with these tools and best practices, you can implement a system that works for your company and employees.
Meeting individually with your team members is essential for guiding their professional development. Yet many sales representatives report that they receive little value from their one-on-one meetings.
There’s a reason for this: many sales leaders simply don’t know how to run coaching meetings effectively. Oftentimes, the meeting will be too unstructured to provide real value. Other-times the meeting can turn into the sales VP talking at a representative with little reciprocal dialogue.
To provide your team members with real value, you need to understand best practices for planning, executing, and following up on one-on-one meetings. Here’s a guide to get you started:
Priming meetings for success
1. Schedule regular meetings and stick to the schedule.
One-on-one meetings are most effective when they happen on a regular basis, allowing both parties to follow up on the conversation. Determine whether you want to have meetings weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Create a schedule that everyone can consult easily so you can avoid back-and-forth email chains about scheduling.
Then, you need to follow through. Once a meeting is on the schedule, it should be treated just as important as a meeting with a client. Although emergencies happen, cancelling meetings on a regular basis sends the message that you don’t really value your team members or their time. Similarly, establish a cultural expectation that team members attend all meetings as a scheduling priority.
2. Establish a cultural norm that the meetings will be about growth, not simply job evaluation.
Many sales representatives come to dread one-on-one meetings because they believe that the meeting is little more than a report card on job performance. To counter this perception, you need to demonstrate to your team that the meetings are to help them grow professionally. Establish separate meetings for performance evaluation, or devote only one meeting per quarter for evaluation. Otherwise, meetings should be focused on how you can help team members grow in their roles.
To ease team members’ nerves, it’s oftentimes helpful to begin on a positive note. Plan to begin the meeting by discussing a recent win. When people feel as though their accomplishments are recognized, they will be more open to frank discussion about their difficulties.
3. Use a planned structure for the meeting.
Some sales managers like to keep things casual. Perhaps they’ll begin with open-ended questions like “tell me how things are going” and see how things go from there. This is often mistake that will hinder the meeting’s potential.
Your employees like having a general idea of what to expect when they walk into a meeting. Establish a typical meeting structure and stick to it to the best of your ability. For example, you might structure a 45-minute meeting like this:
First 10 minutes: Overview of recent deals and other relevant information.
Second 10 minutes: In-depth discussion of important business items, such as a deal in progress.
Following 15 minutes: Discussion of long-term career goals and professional development.
Last 5 minutes: Recap meeting and go over the next steps.
While you may find yourself deviating a little from the structure on occasion, having a structure in place will facilitate smooth, productive meetings.
4. Plan to coach during the meeting.
Ideally, the one-on-one meeting should be an opportunity for managers to provide individualized coaching for team members. Most sales representatives—especially those with high drive—want coaching. In fact, more than 60% of sales reps say that they are more likely to leave their job if their manager is a poor coach. As a sales manager, you need to seize any opportunity to provide quality coaching. When done correctly, the one-on-one meeting can be a great opportunity to provide coaching that is tailored towards their needs.
While you may not be able to delve into in-depth sales coaching during the meeting, you should go into every meeting with one point you want to impart. You may decide on a single take-home point for all team members or, if your team is small, devise a unique coaching agenda for each sales representative.
If you can show sales representatives that one-on-one meetings offer coaching, they will come to see meetings as a valuable part of professional growth.
5. Prepare discussion points for each meeting.
Managers should go into every meeting with a basic list of bullet points that you’d like to cover. Coming in with a plan will help you to run a productive meeting that really touches on the most relevant and pressing issues.
More importantly, preparing for individual meetings shows that you are invested in team members as individuals. When you can talk intelligently about specific deals and situations, you can establish yourself as a credible coach and partner. Preparation also helps you lead by example. Sales representatives who see that you prepare for the meetings will start preparing questions and discussion points of their own.
To prepare your discussion points, review recent deals, KPIs, and your notes from previous meetings.
Conducting an effective meeting
6. Be fully present during the meeting.
Few things are more irritating to an employee than sitting down to meet with a supervisor only to find that the manager is pretty much checked out. If you’re going to hold one-on-one meetings, commit to being fully engaged with the meeting. Turn your phone off and mute any notifications from your computer.
Besides eliminating distractions, you need to go into every meeting with a clear focus. Don’t think of meetings as just another hoop to jump through. Try to look at it from your employee’s point of view: this is a rare opportunity for them to receive undivided attention from their supervisor. Get yourself into a headspace where you can be really excited about helping this person to improve their skills.
7. Ask open-ended questions that delve into team members’ genuine experiences.
Although questions that are too open-ended lead to general and unproductive conversations, you shouldn’t try to exert too much control over how the conversation progresses. The questions you ask should be specific enough to spark a discussion, but still give sales representatives room to elaborate on the issues that concern them most.
If you really want your team members to speak honestly, ask questions that allow them to air concerns that might otherwise remain unspoken. For example, you might ask questions like these:
What’s the most challenging part of this job?
Which part of the sales process do you think could work better?
What are your favorite/least favorite parts about what you do?
What problems with our product have you noticed?
By asking open-ended questions, you can develop a deeper understanding of what your team needs from you and help them to resolve problems constructively. Communicate to team members that these meetings are designed to help everyone improve, managers included. No one receives value out of an “everything’s great” meeting.
8. Give sales representatives the opportunity to voice their own questions and concerns.
During every meeting, you should create opportunities for your sales representatives to ask questions. Encourage your team members to come in with questions, and establish a cultural norm of “no question is a stupid question.”
If a team member wants to take a meeting in a different direction based on a situation they’re dealing with, be open to the change. The fundamental purpose of one-on-one meetings is to provide sales representatives with the guidance they need, not to follow an exact formula. You might even encourage your team to email you ahead of time with questions or concerns they’d like to discuss during the meeting.
9. Express appreciation for team members’ contributions.
Sales representatives are more receptive to constructive feedback if their successes are recognized. Even if you’ve already congratulated the team member on a recent triumph, it never hurts to provide additional positive reinforcement during your one-on-one.
10. Discuss long-term career development.
The day-to-day grind of sales can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to lose sight of your team members’ long-term goals. To be proactive about long-term career development, build time for this topic into your meeting schedule.
You should learn about your team members’ goals in their first few months at your company. Keep in mind, however, that their goals might shift as they gain work experience. Continue to ask questions about career plans and take the conversation from there. By asking direct questions about long-term career development during your meetings, the topic remains at the forefront of their minds.
11. End the meeting with an action plan, including next steps.
In a good meeting you’ll constructively discuss issues—but a great conversation is useless without a clearly defined action plan. During the last five minutes of your meeting, make sure you discuss what needs to happen next. What follow-up actions does the team member need to take? What actions are you responsible for completing? How will you measure your success?
By ending with a plan, you ensure that the work you do in one-on-one meetings carries through and set yourself up for the next meeting.
Making meetings stick afterwards
12. Follow up with an email summarizing the meeting, including the plan of action.
Within one or two days after a meeting, send an email to your sales representative that summarizes all issues discussed during the meeting and what comes next. This will help the team member remember everything that happened during the meeting and follow through on the next steps. It also creates a handy cheat sheet for future meetings. Create special email folders for follow-up emails from each team member.
13. Get ready to resume the conversation during the next one-on-one meeting.
Once you’ve established regular meetings, they shouldn’t be treated as isolated events. Keep track of your records so that you can better integrate your meetings. If you discussed lead generation in detail during one meeting, the topic needs to be at least touched upon in the next meeting.
Over time, you can develop a sense of how team members internalize information discussed during meetings and what form of coaching works best for them. Use this knowledge to set the agenda for future meetings.
By following these best practices, you can make sure that one-on-one meetings aren’t just another item on the to-do list. When done well, one-on-ones can form the backbone of a strong management and coaching strategy.
One of the most alarming trends we’ve seen in the past few years are the short tenures of VP of Sales at early stage VC backed startups. Recent trends show that average tenures have decreased from 26 months to 19 months from 2010 until 2017 with an average decline of 7% in the last 3 years.
Anecdotally, we believe the true mean for the cohort of early stage startups is likely even shorter than 19 months.
With the anticipated tightening of of early stage VC funding, budgets should be further restricted on big ticket executive hiring. And the opportunity cost of mis-hiring or pre-maturely hiring a VP of Sales can be even more damaging at the formation stages of a sales team.
While there are certainly cases where startups successfully hired and retained a VP of Sales for many years, this is far from the norm. In this article, we’ll breakdown what we’re seeing from the trenches and provide some thoughts on how to navigate this important inflection point for early stage startup founders.
Let’s set the stage…here’s what we’re seeing time and time again:
With the first institutional round of funding (sometimes even before that), founders look to hire a VP of Sales (ie. Head of Sales) to take over revenue responsibilities.
The appeal of this approach is understandable. Founders build companies to create amazing products and services, not to make cold calls and stress about revenue targets. Sales is hard and often times intimidating for product-first founders so it’s understandable that they would spend your first big check on a rockstar VP of Sales who has done it before.
The stakes are extremely high in this hire.
First, startups go through a long, arduous process of executive hiring — a process that can take 6-9 months before seeing real returns. It takes 3-6 months to hire followed by a 3 month ramp. The entire team invests countless hours interviewing candidates, and is led to believe this person can help your achieve the revenue goal needed to get that next round of funding. And not to mention, you’ll end up paying an exorbitant amount to hire this person (including the fee paid to the executive search firm).
So why is hiring a successful VP of Sales so difficult for startups?
1) You probably don’t know what you want.
Or at least to the level of precision you should for this risky of a hire. Most inexperienced founders pursue what they perceive as the “safe bet”. The board may intro you a “rockstar” who was a BigCo SaaS veteran of 7 years. But the role itself is so broad if you look at what a VP of Sales is tasked to do at a startup.
Your ideal customer profile, product usage case, and revenue strategy could change very quickly so the success of this hire is both a bet on the candidate and a bet on you knowing what want.
For example, you could hire a VP of Sales who comes with 5+ years of scaling high velocity inside sales organizations with the immediate goal of them hiring 4 AE’s selling into SMB’s. But 6 months later, you could realize that your ACV is too low and your burning too much cash vs. new bookings and you really need to take the product upmarket and hire someone who can build an enterprise field sales organization.
2) Their compensation level increases burn, and comes with high expectations and opportunity cost.
Most VP of Sales are looking for ballpark $250-$350K OTE in NYC with 0.5-3.0% equity. This can represent a significant piece of the round you just raised and comes with high expectations for internal hires that have worked tirelessly at much lower compensation levels.
If they’re not selling, then hiring a VP of Sales is almost like hiring a new co-founder at likely the highest earnings level in the company. The opportunity cost could be 2 FTE engineers, or 2-4 sales hires who represent 2-4x the velocity of sales activities (ie. at-bat’s). These at-bats may become painfully more important to you after a few months vs. the strategic thinking of your VP of sales.
3) BigCo experience doesn’t hustle, and Startup experience doesn’t scale.
It takes a unique individual to have longevity as a VP of Sales at a startup. The skills required to succeed at different stages are so different that rarely can you find someone who has been successful leading a sales team through different growth periods. We’ll call the two common mis-hires profiles “BigCo VP” and “startup sales leader” (individual contributor).
The BigCo VP tends to struggle with adjusting to the fast tempo of a startup. They tend to be more used to receiving clear directives as middle management in a larger organization, sales resources, and established processes that were created by others around them. They could adjust to the workload in the short term but could become frustrated and burn out when they run into major hurdles.
On the other hand, the startup sales leader tend to lack the BigCo analytical problem solving and operational process design skills. Most of their experience has been implementing things fast that work reasonably well and lack the muscle memory of high rigor thinking you typically see in the Creator vs. Refiner dynamics in a larger corporation. The startup concept of do things that don’t scale at first also breaks down quickly when startup sales leaders are forced to design for large teams and create complex change management plans.
The experience differences between a head of sales at ARR: $0-1m, $1-10m, $10-30m,$30-100m+ are real. It’s hard to find someone who can break through the tiers similar to founder-CEOs who are able to take companies public.
So what are some alternative things you can do?
Hire more sales reps and run sales yourself.
You’re going to have to keep selling for now — and it’s not a bad thing. Your sales and product feedback loop will be faster, and you’ll develop the empathy and credibility with your sales team to inspire and motivate them through challenging times. In startup sales, it’s often better during the early stages to hire for immediate results to get to the next milestone: revenue, demos, meetings set, cold calls made, and optimize for learning instead of building playbooks that quickly become obsolete as your environment changes. All that comes later after you’ve proven a repeatable model with supporting evidence that it can truly scale.
There’s nothing more motivating for your sales reps to being in the trenches with the passionate co-founder. You can hire someone who may know more about sales but it’s unlikely you’ll hire someone who knows and cares more about your product than you will.
Promote from within.
Figure out first if what you’re lacking is something that needs to be exported from the outside world or just that you need someone to focus on strategy vs. tactics. If it’s the latter, look around you to see if anyone on the current team can step up into the role. The challenge isn’t the promoting part but also offering this person outside training, and mentorship in the new role. In general, early stage startups should re-evaluate current organizational design and the skills of their existing employees before jumping to conclusion of needing to upgrade through hiring an outside gun.
Hire a strategic consultant or part-time VP of Sales.
A more popular approach we’ve seen in the last few years is going with an independent consultant or advisory firm that specializes in different parts of the revenue funnel or industry/sales strategy. Even if you pay a lot more per hour, it’s worth getting a subject matter expert who can crank out the exact project you need and has broader perspective from having implemented the strategy in different environments.
But if you still plan on hiring a VP of Sales, here are some thoughts:1. SCOPING:
Sit down as an executive team and determine what you need in the next few quarters. Use this free template to prioritize what you’re looking for and try to whittle your wish list down to a few core focus areas and hire the best candidate who can achieve these objectives. Make sure key stakeholders hold the same vision of what this person will be responsible for before you start the search. Most importantly, like any well designed startup experiment, make sure you know how you would measure the success.
Don’t over-scope the role. Even if you are hiring a VP of Sales you think can do it all, make their first 90 days very focused and give them narrow goals they can achieve. Handing over the reins on day 1 does not set them up to succeed and they are more likely to drift from your vision.
Design for their strengths & weaknesses. Don’t chase the unicorn hire but get the A player with strengths that align with core objectives you have for next 12 months. And be okay with potentially hiring another person or part-time consultant who are complementary to their weaknesses. But the caveat here is make sure you minimize redundancy in responsibilities so you don’t get too many cooks in the kitchen.
Check for culture and operational tempo. Sales culture at every startup is different and a lot of times a function of the resources, product industry, customer types, and founder personalities. If your candidate came from a BigCo, make sure you evaluate whether they can move fast, pick up the phone when needed, and sell without logos & case studies. If the culture and tempo doesn’t match, that could be a bigger issue than relevant previous experience.
Run exhaustive reference checks. Besides asking the candidate to supply references, also check your team’s network for potential intros to former colleagues and direct reports. You’re not necessarily looking for positive or negative things, you’re looking for a fit with your culture and your needs today.
Date first and hire slow. It’s tempting, but don’t simply jump in to a hiring decision without trying to work with them through a few working sessions to discuss real problems your business is facing. Test different perspectives: invite them out for drinks or dinner, have them spend time with their future direct reports, have them see your product and ask them tough questions, sometimes the sames ones over and over to check for consistency in answers and behavior. The caveat here is that it is a very competitive talent market, so once you feel like you know the bet you’re making, don’t drag out the process just for the sake of it.
Don’t overpay on cash. If you’re stretching the budget to make it work, it’s probably not a good idea and also the individual probably isn’t ready to be a true head of sales at a startup. The equity piece should be a real incentive to them and you should be willing to provide that in exchange for cash for someone who you are expecting to drastically impact the business.
Set expectations in absolute terms. Despite how strong this candidate may be to your status quo, make sure you set the bar in absolute terms. Applauding a new executive that makes you “not suck” does not build confidence with the rest of the team. If you need to benchmark excellence, network and learn from top sales leaders that you can’t recruit today.
Try a stepwise integration approach. Sometimes, if you have a candidate with strong alignment with immediate needs but may not be a turn-key executive hire, you may be better off bringing them with reduced responsibilities and title (ex. Director of Sales Development to focus only on top of funnel). This will focus them, alleviate pressure from your existing sales team members, and not have to demote them if they can’t do one thing well. Some startups also bring VP of Sales on as consultants first to give both parties a more extended trial period. Regardless of what approach you take, make sure you are having upfront conversations about concerns and how you are thinking about these trial periods.
Take ownership for their failures. If they end up failing, it’s probably your fault more than theirs. Don’t just try to replace with another hire without examining the root cause. So re-think the environmental factors you’ve put them in that is causing their challenges: product-market fit, culture / operational tempo, autonomy, poorly defined role, bad onboarding and try to avoid the same mistake.
Hiring a VP of Sales early could very well be the right approach for your startup but the decision should be a carefully deliberated and in our opinion, a last resort after ruling out easier interim solutions to achieve your goals.
If you decide to hire, I recommend you read the chapter titled “Preparing To Fire An Executive” in the book The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s almost inevitable that startup founders will have to part ways with an executive at some point so knowing the pitfalls is a good first step.
Using baseball as a metaphor, Kurlan outlines what new salespeople really need to know about qualifying process and the sales process. Kurlan’s guidelines help BDRs learn how to identify the most likely prospects and devote resources towards them. Even non-baseball fans can receive value from this detailed breakdown of the different stages in the sales process. Kurlan explains how to receive buy-in from prospects at every stage of the game.
In this accessible, entertaining guidebook, Greshes lays out the basics of what new sales representatives need to know. The first half of the book provides a step-by-step guide for BDRs to plan for future success, discussing topics such as the right attitude for success and how to self-motivate. Then, Greshes delves into how the best salespeople succeed by selling value—not just a product or service.
By keeping the pipeline full, BDRs can set themselves up for success. Yet prospecting remains one of the dreaded BDR tasks. Blount provides a wealth of information of how to prospect successfully using both new and old methods. This book offers concrete rules on a range of prospecting-related topics, including how to keep the pipeline full, social selling, email prospecting, and cold calling.
Hopkins’ classic, bestselling book has been updated for the modern era. It now includes information on how to sell successfully through email and other online resources. Additionally, Hopkins explains classic sales techniques that are always helpful for sales success. This book will help BDRs of all experience levels get into the mindset of a successful salesperson. Hopkins offers systemized processes for vital tasks such as qualification, handling objections, and closing the deal.
BDRs spend much of their time cold calling prospects, yet even many experienced salespeople fear the sound of a ringtone. Sobczak explains how to make smart cold calls so that sales representatives can hear a “yes” more frequently. The book provides a step-by-step guide to prospecting, preparing for a call, formulating a value proposition, and following through with a successful call.
Dixon, Adamson, and colleagues at the Corporate Executive Board studied thousands of sales representatives to discover the key to sales success. Their findings upended conventional wisdom about customer success. According to Dixon and Adamson, sales isn’t just about building relationships; the most successful salespeople are able to challenge customers, not just cater to their every whim. This book presents a guide for identifying challengers within your organization, empowering them to succeed, and teaching all sales reps to become challengers.
Account executives are essentially chief customer officers who are charged with satisfying the needs of existing customers. However, many organizations have siloes in place that inhibit great customer experiences. In this updated guide for executives in customer-facing positions, Bliss lays out a five-competency model for promoting customer happiness. By attending to customers’ needs, Bliss argues, executives can create a model for long-term growth.
While Carnegie’s classic book isn’t specific to sales, it is a must-read for everyone who manages client accounts. This text lays out clear, easy-to-follow rules for essential skills: getting other people to like you, handling a diverse range of personalities, and convincing people to come around to your point of view. These skills are highly transferable to a range of sales situations and are particularly useful for cultivating strong client relationships.
Rackman, founder and former CEO of Huthwaite corporation, outlines the SPIN approach to selling high-value B2B products and services in this classic text. The SPIN approach helps account executives tackle this essential question: how to increase the account values of major accounts? According to Rackman, the same techniques that work for smaller sales just don’t cut it for larger accounts. By implementing the simple SPIN principles, drawn from Rackman’s experiences at Huthwaite and IBM, AEs can expand business with major accounts.
by David Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford
Trust is essential for client success, especially for companies that sell services. In this book, Maister, Green, and Galford break down what trust really means with their “Trust Equation.” The equation includes both rational and emotional factors that build trustworthiness. Working from there, the authors show how account executives can take actionable steps to become trusted advisors to their customers—and keep clients’ business and loyalty.
Every deal has roadblocks, and large enterprise deals have more than most. In this new book, Sanders demonstrates a process for getting past major roadblocks by mobilizing the entire team’s talents and energy. In particular, people outside of sales can add a lot of value to the dealmaking process. The seven-step process outlined here has worked for companies such as Yahoo!, Regus, and CareerBuilder.
Konrath offers a comprehensive guide to landing major accounts in B2B sales. She discusses major mistakes companies make in enterprise sales and how to better understand the decision-making processes behind large deals. The book walks salespeople through the entire process of identifying the best process, finding the right people to contact at large companies, landing meetings with decision-makers, and articulating a value proposition that sells.
Many account executives have wondered: What do top-level executives really want from salespeople? Read and Bistritz talked with executives across more than 500 organizations and derived simple principles for how to effectively reach C-Suite buyers. Contrary to popular belief, these decision-makers actually welcome sales pitches—provided they are approached correctly. The authors guide salespeople through the process of a successful enterprise sale.
In this guide to enterprise sales, the authors use whale hunting as a metaphor. Although landing a major account can appear to be an insurmountable task, Searcy and Weaver Smith break it down into a nine-step process. The book focuses on how sales leaders can transform the sales force to be more oriented towards enterprise sales, focusing on larger strategy over nuts and bolts.
Learning how to coach effectively is a skill that every sales manager must develop. Rosen offers a comprehensive guide for sales coaching, drawing from evidence-based strategies. The book’s content includes the six basic principals of masterful coaching, mistakes to avoid, and tips for real-life scenarios managers encounter (such as underperforming sales representatives). Rosen offers a step-by-step guide to effective coaching.
Every sales manager is hungry for success—but defining success can be more complicated than it seems. In this book, Jordan and Vazzana break down what it really means to manage a sales force effectively. They cover exactly which sales metrics managers should track and what processes to implement in order to succeed. While this book is heavy on data and formulas, it breaks down complex concepts into real best practices for managers.
As former CRO of HubSpot, Roberge built a dynamic sales force from the ground up. In this book, Roberge takes the guesswork out of scaling and provides his formula for successfully scaling a sales team. This includes clearly defined formulas for hiring successful salespeople, training them, managing a sales force, and generating a strong volume of leads every month.
Bertuzzi offers a practical guide for sales managers who need to scale their teams quickly, focusing on effective recruiting and team building. Not only does Bertuzzi demonstrate how to strategize and recruit when scaling, she also covers how to build a team that prioritizes retention and team development. Drawing from her thirty years in sales, Bertuzzi argues that building the right team through proven methods is critical for growth.
This book presents a concise, actionable guide to sales management. In the first part, Weinberg reviews 16 common mistakes that sales managers make which end up hurting their teams. Then in part two, he shows how managers can create a successful sales machine. His tips cover a range of sales topics, from how to structure compensation plans to running sales meetings that are actually helpful for your team. Weinberg, a longtime sales consultant, uses real-life anecdotes to illustrate his points.
This book follows Rick Masters, a real estate agent who turned his struggling business around by learning how to better leverage referrals. Masters’ remarkable story reveals much about how personal relationships shape business success. Salespeople can learn from the basic principles of communication and relationship-building outlines by Maher. These ideas are applicable in a range of different selling situations, including B2B sales.
All salespeople need to deliver stellar customer service, regardless of specific role. Here Cockerell lays out 39 rules for providing excellent service, delivered in highly digestible chapters. The rules, such as “treat every customer like a regular” and “don’t try too hard,” are simple yet profound. By remembering the basics, salespeople can better serve customers at every level.
Pitching is oftentimes described as an art form, but to Klaff it’s a simple science that can be hacked using the principles of neuroeconomics. Klaff presents his STRONG method for delivering an effective pitch, which he himself has used to raise more than $400 million in funding. The method can be applied to a variety of pitching situations.
Pink, a noted linguist, argues that selling is a fundamental part of the human condition. Yet not everyone knows how to sell effectively. Using a range of example, Pink illustrates how salespeople and non-salespeople alike sell on a daily basis. This book will help salespeople add tools to the arsenal and rethink the way they sell to prospects.
Most startups fail not because they lack original ideas, but because they can’t acquire new users at a healthy rate. So, how do you find users? The authors break down how to effectively acquire new users, drawing on interviews from successful startup founders such as Paul English (Kayak) and Dharmesh Shah (HubSpot). By following these tips, startups can find their users and lay the foundation for long-term success.
Closing a deal often requires many steps. And throughout your sales process there are a ton of factors that can impact the success or failure of a sale. You definitely don’t want to lose a deal because you didn’t provide your reps with great marketing collateral.
When it comes to content assets for sales, there are a lot to choose from regardless of your budget. Not sure where to start? These are seven sales weapons you’ll definitely want to include in your arsenal.
1. Industry-specific white papers
White papers are a great way to show extensive knowledge as an industry leader to prospective customers. It’s your chance to provide a high-quality, in-depth, focused discussion that educates your audience on topics related to your product.
Use white papers to demonstrate your expertise in your field and create your brand personality. Include data that shows industry trends with images and graphics. Feature key industry influencers to help support your point. This will also broaden your audience, as featured sources often share with their audience.
Be detailed, but also stay concise; you don’t want people to get bored and quit reading. Break down the topic so that your target stakeholders will understand it.
Make sure white papers are easy to find on your website. Consider organizing them by topic and even more specific subtopics within them. Each paper should have a unique title to catch people’s attention.
Though ebooks and white papers are read online, you should still focus on creating a great cover design to get their attention. An awesome cover will also help should any of your papers need to be printed for outside/field sales reps or in-person meetings.
2. Insightful blog content
One of the most important things to remember when selling goods or services is it’s not about you and your company. Everything you do needs to be aimed at customers and meeting their needs. That’s where your blog comes in.
Your blog should provide useful material and resources for your audience. Create a blog and use it to build your credibility, establish yourself as a thought leader within your industry. Include in-depth analysis that answers your audience’s questions in a way others aren’t currently doing. Instead of filling your site with self-promotion and product reviews, include resources that will make life easier for your prospects. In addition, use infographics and custom images to break up the text and highlight key points.
Let your personality shine through your writing so your audience can get to know you. Be honest and authentic. People want to work with someone they feel connected to. Let your blog help build that connection and establish trust.
Enterprise stakeholders often require months of reading your content and marketing collateral before trusting your product, so figure out ways to include insightful blog posts in your lead nurturing efforts.
Not all customers will get information about your business online. Especially if you rely on an outside sales process, you can use printed material such as brochures to improve meetings with prospects.
Brochures can outline all the key points as to why customers need your products or services and refer them to your website if additional information is needed.
You may also consider working with other businesses so you can leave a stack of your brochures at their establishments. This will get your brand in front of a broader audience. It will also build goodwill with the other businesses when you return the favor for them.
When customers request more information through your website, consider sending them a marketing kit in a branded binder full of goodies such as brochures, flyers, testimonials and a personal letter thanking them for their interest. Your sales representatives should keep these binders and brochures on hand when they are in the field.
4. Company one-pagers
In any sales process, being able to concisely describe your business to prospects is essential. And that’s essentially what a company one-pager does. One pagers provide the quick and dirty facts of your business for people who are interested in your product. It also doubles as a quick reference guide for your sales reps.
Because this is often the initial exposure of your product to a potential customer, it’s extra important to make sure it looks great. In addition to your company name and logo, it should include the most important facts about your products or services. This information should entice people to want to learn more.
As indicated in the name, it can only be one page, so it’s important to be clear and concise. If you don’t have someone in-house, try working with an outsourced designer to make sure you can include all of the facts and images without looking sloppy or crammed.
5. Business cards
Contrary to what some think, business cards still matter and can be a very effective tool. They are one of the first impressions of your business that potential customers receive. With important details (including contact information and website URL), business cards are small, but they are mighty. You might even try including a QR code to connect people to your website or social media.
Make your business card stand out by using a unique type of stock, make it an interesting shape or give it an extra purpose. You could make it a magnet or something useful to your niche (such as a dental floss holder if you’re a dentist). By giving it an additional purpose, you increase your card’s shelf life.
No business card lives forever, so show off your environmentally friendly side. Consider producing your cards from biodegradable material, so that when the inevitable does happen, it will be Earth friendly.
6. Case studies
When prospects are trying to estimate the ROI of of your product, showing them a few well-documented use cases is often necessary to move to the next stage of the sale. Case studies are a fantastic way to show the buyer that companies just like them are currently benefiting from your product.
Start by choosing a few of your clients who are brand advocates and that also represent your target audience well. You’ll most likely need to work with them on approving the content and getting information from them. Interviewing your client is an easy way to get the necessary content for the case study.
If you have multiple lead types or buyer personas, you will eventually want case studies that address all potential use cases. For example, a B2C eCommerce company that’s considering your product might not benefit much from reading a case study about a B2B Enterprise software company.
7. Client testimonial sheets
Prospective customers can really benefit from hearing from someone like them — someone who isn’t being paid to tell them they need your product or service. That’s where client testimonial sheets can be beneficial. These people are putting their names on the line with no payout to say you have a good product or service and others should try it.
Many companies also supplement traditional testimonial PDFs with video testimonials from clients. Unless you have a skilled videographer on your team, it’s usually best to hire a professional. An amateur looking testimonial will reflect badly on your brand.
Overall, client testimonials should be used as proof that your product or service is as good as you say it is. It’s one more thing to boost your credibility with your prospective customer.
The right marketing collateral can supercharge your sales process, but sales reps don’t usually have the time to create them. You should be leveraging your marketing team to help get the job done. If you’re starting from zero, decide which documents will have the biggest effect and start there.
Hopefully, these six ideas give you a jumping off point to get some quality marketing collateral into your sales process.
Growing a company is a team effort – but that won’t stop your sales and marketing teams from pointing fingers and blaming each other for your business’s revenue shortcomings.
In my career, I’ve managed sales departments at three companies, and I’ve consistently heard the same complaints at each of them. Salespeople don’t like the number or quality of the leads they’re receiving. They can’t control whether or not there’s been a disaster, or if it’s simply the wrong time to sell to a market.
Basically, turnover is expensive, and it’s hard to find good quality candidates in the first place. That’s why it’s better to get the most from your existing team members than to start from scratch. Here’s how to do it:
How to Motivate Your Salespeople
If you’re searching for information on the subject of motivating salespeople, you’ll find thousands of articles – and nearly all of them are going to give you the same suggestions.
They’ll tell you that you need to offer higher commissions, gamify your sales program or host internal competitions with motivating rewards. But in my experience, those things don’t really move the motivation needle because they’re expected. They’re “pay to play.”
Incorporate them into your sales strategy as a baseline, but use the tactics below as well to really get your team’s best efforts.
1. Get All Teams Involved
First and foremost, one of the best things you can do for your sales team is to increase buy-in and engagement with your company’s mission across all different departments. You have to get everyone together at the table.
In my past roles, growth really started to kick in when I was able to get marketing, sales, customer support and engineering together on the same page. I’m not 100% sure of the psychology behind this impact, but I believe it has something to do with the stronger relationships forged between team members.
Employees – salespeople included – won’t give you their best when they don’t feel supported. No one wants to feel isolated or undervalued in the workplace. Make sales a team function, and everybody comes out ahead.
2. Keep Salespeople in the Loop
Educated salespeople make more sales, but they don’t just need education on your products. They need to know what’s going on in your company as well in order to be effective.
So while you’re building inter-departmental relationships, step up your efforts to keep your salespeople in the loop regarding company changes. Let them know what’s going to happen in the future and what they can expect. Then, you can work together to remove the current and upcoming roadblocks in their way that limit their success.
3. Adjust Quotas Based on Market Needs
This is a big one. A lot of sales executives set quotas and then penalize everyone who doesn’t meet them. But sales quotas (or other objective metrics like them) need to be flexible.
During my time at When I Work, we went from having 3,000-5,000 new trial sign-ups a month to more than 15,000 per month after 18 months. We simply couldn’t cover those leads the same way – we had to be smarter.
Looking more closely, we realized that some of the leads we were receiving weren’t really leads at all. They needed to be prequalified and enriched with marketing data before going to a salesperson.
If we hadn’t realized that and we’d held quotas the same, we would have missed major opportunities to refine our lead qualification process. Adjusting based on increased volume would have been a major demotivating factor for our sales team, since the numbers on the paper didn’t accurately reflect the real opportunities in front of them.
4. Motivate Individuals and Teams Together
Before I left Single Grain, we had a team of three salespeople. We’d tried the “pay to play” motivational tactics I described above, but we really saw performance take off when we implemented a simple recognition scheme.
When one of the salespeople hit their quota or exceeded it, we’d take the whole team out for dinner and single out the person who’d met their goals.
That’s it. It sounds too simple to be impactful, but what we found was that making one person look good in front of their friends and peers made everyone want to be “that guy.” They all wanted to be the one who’d be publicly recognized among their peers.
This culture of recognition wound up being incredibly successful because, rather than pit salespeople against each other, the strategy let us motivate the individual, as well as the whole team.
These strategies may or may not work for your unique organization, but I’m confident they’ll do more for you than the tired advice about setting higher quotas or offering performance-based incentives.
Give them a try, and let me know how they work for your company by leaving me a comment here: