Ready to Scale Your Sales Team? Ask This Critical Question First (Part 1 in our Series on Building a Salesforce)


So, you want to hire more salespeople and grow your salesforce. And once you’ve determined you definitely need to do this, your first question becomes: What kind of compensation package should we create to guarantee success? Wrong question. The question requires reframing, the right questions are broader: Are you willing to invest in a sales team to ensure long-term success?

Before hiring additional salespeople, you have to get gut-real: Is hiring, coaching, and nurturing sales talent what you want to do? And moreover, are you good at it?

Most people who get into the promotional products business are good at selling. They are excellent at bringing in new business and growing client relationships and they are dynamic salespeople, which is a different skill set than that of a coach. A sports coach, for example, knows the fundamentals and might have even once mastered the game themselves, but they now spend their time and energy coaching and building a team.Often, instead of coaching, salespeople-owners will hire personalities just like themselves and instead of building an environment or creating a system that sustains and grows sales talent, they recruit hired guns and end up simply doing ride-alongs, hoping to divest themselves of a few accounts or they place unrealistic expectations on new business growth without providing the training, resources, and continual guidance to create sales success. Or, they employ the “hire and hope” strategy, hiring based on resume or experience, and hope it sticks.

But, the first question about making sure this is what you want and can do is a personal one. Some distributors love to sell and prefer selling above anything else, they love working in a smaller organization, they make good money, and moreover, they enjoy their work. Revenue size or company size is not a metric for success. Doing purposeful work you love while making a good living is as strong a metric for success as exists. But, if you are ready to scale your business and are prepared to invest the time to become a sales coach and a sales trainer, then there are three questions you should ask before recruiting more people to your salesforce:

  1. How much time, energy, and talent are you willing to invest? Have you assessed the cost?
  2. What is the current health of the business and do you have sufficient net profit (and cash flow) to sustain the investment over the long term?
  3. What infrastructure (onboarding, training, support) do you have to ensure their sales success?
For the first question about investment consider what an average salesperson’s growth in the industry looks like, it’s similar to this:This pattern of sales growth is an average, but when you look at that trajectory, a couple of things should stand out to you. One:

It takes a few years to begin to learn and earn.

The learning curve in the promotional products business is intense.

Mastering the business is complex as there are two skills to learn, one is the client side of the business, understanding the customers’ purposes and promotional intent, and the second side is the product side, from apparel to hardgoods, and any number of nuances around product specifications like imprinting, production times, and pricing. Bringing in more salespeople to solve problems for customers through selling product with thousands of variables for hundreds of purposes and dozens of clients is an immense and long-term undertaking.

Since the business is complex, what we are striving for are not merely the “right personalities” to grow our business but the healthiest system and culture that will educate and retain reps longer thereby duplicating success more easily.

In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study, they highlighted three attitudes that employers have about three different levels of employees. The loyal attitude is that workers are assets to be retained. The engaged attitude is that employees are assets to be acquired and optimized. But the thriving attitude is that employees are value creators to grow and leverage.

As a sales leader, this last category is unequivocally sales territory: salespeople are value creators and in order to grow and leverage their skill, you should prepare for an intense time investment and strive to build an ecosystem that nurtures them at every level of growth, from dollar one to one million.

Understand that building a sales team will take all the same relentless focus and dedication that it took to build a book of business, even treating your salespeople like customers and doing all you can to help them learn and (eventually) earn.

In our next few installments in this series on Building a Salesforce, we’ll look at the financial commitment required to hire salespeople, including what percentage of overhead you should allow for, plus the expected payout, and we’ll also look at best practices for hiring salespeople, training your team, and the ongoing support required to build the most successful team possible.

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