Winning the award for top 25 most influential sales thought leaders from AA-ISP in 2015 was a wonderful acknowledgement for the dedication that the Harris Consulting group provides to our clients. We strive to be on the cutting edge of the Sales Training and Process, but also recognize that success is built on fundamentals.
One of the top fundamentals is providing training, support, and growth potential for new sales force hires. In a recent two part article by MindTickle we go through the 2015 Sales Enablement Best Practices.
Over the course of the articles we discuss how to succeed in the day-to-day management and execution of sales hiring and onboarding.
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Richard Harris on Sales Enablement Best Practices (Part 1)
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Richard Harris, sales enablement expert of The Harris Consulting Group. In this two part series, Richard shares his expertise and experience on how to succeed in the day-to-day management and execution of sales hiring and onboarding.
Sales enablement is a critical topic, especially for companies looking to onboard new sales reps and get them to productivity as fast as possible. We turn to Richard to break down the key players to involve in educating and supporting your sales reps on their onboarding journey. Richard also covers helpful details on what you should include in your sales education program.
Read on for Richard’s recommendations on how to develop a sales team that consistently achieves quota.
In sales enablement who should be the point person, who should be involved and who are the right players to help bring a salesperson up to speed?
Richard Harris: That’s a really great question, and it’s a really important one too, because everybody says they want sales training and sales coaching, but nobody knows what that means. Very few people are defining it well.
Defining sales enablement as a subset of sales operations, under your sales department is the best way to encourage sales enablement. Sales enablement should be managed by sales operations reporting to the Vice President of Sales. What that means is that the sales operations person should be the center spoke in the wheel between marketing, product marketing, engineering, sales and customer success.enablement as a subset of sales operations, under your sales department, is the best way to encourage sales enablement. Sales enablement should be managed by sales operations reporting to the Vice President of Sales. What that means is that the sales operations person should be the center spoke in the wheel between marketing, product marketing, engineering, sales and customer success.
That person in sales operations should have different discussions with each of those contacts and ask them one or two very basic questions:
- What do you want the sales team to know and understand when speaking to customers as it relates to you Mr. or Mrs. Product Marketing Manager or Mrs. Product Marketing Manager?
- What do you want the sales person to know, and speak to the customers about, Mr. or Mrs. Head of Engineering or Mrs. Head of Engineering?
Sales operations should gather that information and deliver it in an educational format to the sales reps. While that information is valuable to the sales team, taking that final educational program and disseminating it back to the entire company is also massively valuable to the organization.
It gives everyone perspective on how the different departments want to communicate product benefits to customers. It also lets the whole organization know how the sales team is representing the organization. Of course, like everything else in sales, you should iterate on this process every three to six months.
Tell me about best practices for sales readiness.
Richard Harris: That’s going to depend a lot on the sales cycle. For example, if you’re in the local space, like a Yelp business, your sales cycle is going to be quick. With one to three calls to close, you need to have sales reps who can think on their feet, learn a lot of information quickly and just get on the phone. That’s a really important distinction.
Tweet this: When you are looking at a product with a longer sales cycle, three months, six months, a year or longer, then you need to really be able to make sure that your sales rep understands the buyer personas and the buyers’ journey which includes their buying.
With longer sales cycles, research has shown that the average sale now involves 5+ individuals each with their own personal and professional stake in the game. Being able to match the solution that you offer to each of those buyer personas based on their individual pains, not just the organizational pains is important. It’s much more of a pyramid discussion to win that much larger sale.
Beyond that, what you really need to do is understand that sales readiness is really the culmination of sales training and sales coaching. Sales training teaches your reps things like the buyer’s journey, sales methodology and how to be an active listener. That’s actual training. This is typically done in a classroom setting as a group and with a sales leader within the organization or with an external sales trainer.
Then you have sales coaching. That’s the stuff that happens every single day. That’s what a sales manager’s job is. Their job is to make sure that what was discussed in training is actually being tested and implemented on a regular basis and executed over and over and over again and provide feedback if it is not working. Oftentimes, a company will bring a sales trainer in for a day and they’ll get a fun experience out of it, but then they don’t follow-up. That doesn’t work.
Tweet this: Sales coaching is really where the rubber meets the road.
Here is a real world example. A baseball team has a manager. They control the overall strategy (training) for the team. However, there is hitting coach who works on improving the batters’ swings. There is a pitching coach that focuses on making sure the pitchers healthy and perfecting their techniques.
What should an organization cover to make sure that their reps are sales ready as quickly as possible?
I’d like to step back before answering your question. Your question alone is something I hear all the time. “sales ready as quickly as possible”. Sales training is about 3 things, faster, better, and cheaper. Just based on your question you are eluding to better but what you are really asking about is faster and cheaper. Time and time again people say better, but they always default to faster and cheaper. “Faster and cheaper” are the heroin of sales training. “Better” is the rehab. Everyone goes into rehab with the best intentions but at some point there is a relapse.
Back to your question, sales readiness comes down to two distinct parts with each of those parts having some sub parts. The two highest levels of sales readiness involve sales training and sales coaching.
Let’s talk about sales training first. The first thing you should be doing with your sales rep is make sure that they truly understand the buyer’s journey, how the buyer thinks and their mentality coming into the conversations. Furthermore, you also need to make sure that your sales team understands that there are most likely four to five people involved in any purchase of a product like yours. That means they need to understand the pains of each buyer persona. With training you can ensure that they understand how your product solves the pains of each of the buyer personas, individually and collectively as a whole for the entire organization.
The other part of sales training that’s really important is product training. This is where a lot of people miss the mark. Product training isn’t just about features and benefits. Your sales team needs to make sure that they can explain the product, based on the buyer personas we spoke about, how the benefits of your product or service will actually support them in their individual goals as well as collectively impact the entire organization.
They need to understand how the product works, the use cases and the case studies of your current customers to help tell the story.
Tweet this: Nobody buys features and benefits. What they really buy are stories (aka-use cases).
When prospects hear a story that talks about the exact same pain they’ve experienced and know that it is coming from a third party, and it’s not coming from your sales rep just asking them to trust them, they are more open to choosing your product.
Sales coaching, on the other hand, is what happens on a day to day basis. This is a place where most organizations miss the mark. Sales coaching happens when a sales manager sits with sales reps and listens to sales calls or joins in on the sales call. The sales manager makes sure that the sales rep is following through on all the things they’ve been trained on, like peeling back the layers of the onion to discover real pain, as opposed to just surface pain.
The day to day coaching is most important. This is the piece that really drives and improves performance. To recap, training is something that should happen and should happen with a leader from the organization or with an outside party. Then, it’s the coaching that happens day to day make that makes a real difference.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series where Richard explains the right approach for hiring your sales team from start up phase through growth phase of your business.
Richard Harris on Sales Hiring for Start-Up and Growth Phase Companies (Part 2)
This is the second part of my interview with sales expert Richard Harris of The Harris Consulting Group. Richard has plenty of experience with many start-up and expansion stage SaaS organizations that are struggling to build or scale their sales teams.
In part 2, we dig into those hiring best practices so that you can build a strategic plan to scale your hiring.
Whether you’re in an early stage, expansion stage, or growth stage…, read on for Richard’s recommendations on how to hire a sales team that consistently achieves quota.
You can read the first part of the interview here.
What are the qualities that one should look for in a sales rep?
Let’s break that question down into the type of sales reps you’re looking for. These days, there are typically three different reps that you are hiring. One is a Sales Development Rep (SDR), the other is an Account Executive (AE) and the third might be Customer Success (CS).
Sales Development Rep
For an SDR, you are going to usually have to hire someone who’s early in their career, maybe not have a lot of sales experience and looking to get started. Look for things that make them very competitive. Things in their past that make them show that they’re a self-starter. Look for them to demonstrate that they have the ability to figure some things out on their own and are willing to take direction.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask SDR Candidates. They are strategically vague so you can see how well they think:
- Tell me the one thing you worked really hard to convince someone you respected to change their minds. (Parent, teacher, etc.) (Measures Salesmanship)
- Ask them, “to describe the longest project they ever worked on that failed, what they learned from it, and what they did moving forward. (Measures Warrior Spirit)
- Ask them to describe how they have handled a chaotic moment in their life (Measures management skills)
In an AE, you do have a little bit of a history, and the greatest indicator of future performance is past performance. Dig into their past performance and remember while it may look good on a resume, you need to ask a lot of what, why and how questions.
- Ask them to tell you more about their closed deals.
- Ask them to tell you how they discovered the opportunity, how they uncovered it, how they got to the pain and how they got to real pain versus surface pain.
- Ask them why that particular prospect was the right fit for their organization. Really make sure that they understand how to find and address the right type of prospect for your organization.
- Also, you need to ask about their most painful loss(es). How they handled them, what they learned and changed moving forward.
The third type of sales rep is a customer success rep. This person is typically not traditionally a salesperson and closing shouldn’t be their number one objective. The customer success person’s role is to serve as a link between product marketing, engineering, the SDR lead generation team as well as the AE team and the CEO.
They are the ones who get to talk to customers after they have been with the company for three months, six months, nine months, a year. They are the best ones to find the best use cases to get great case studies. Your customer success reps are a very vital piece of the puzzle. They are reporters. They provide information and extract information from the customer. This information can be used for both the customer’s and the organization’s benefit.
Tweet This: Your customer success reps are a very vital piece of the puzzle. They are reporters.
What we should be looking for in an early stage startup sales hiring strategy?
For the sake of this conversation, let’s define an early stage company as a business that is pre-series A or series A. They’ve got enough early traction to bring in someone in to manage sales. In most cases with an early stage company, the CEO or a co-founder is actually doing most of the selling. They want to be efficient and they are testing messaging and product market fit beyond their initial hypothesis. They want to be in touch with their customers.
With this in mind, I’m not sure that hiring an actual manager or a director of sales at an early stage company makes the most sense. It might make more sense to bring in a sales professional or even an SDR, someone who can help set up the appointments, for a CEO to go on these sales calls. Testing messaging and product market fit are still very, very important at that early stage.
The other factor that one should consider at an early stage company is the background of the founder or CEO. If the CEO or founder is from a sales or business background, they may have a stronger, natural instinct to understand the sales process. On the other hand, if you have a technical founder, for example, someone who’s more on the engineering side, they may need a partner that’s going to help them understand how the sales process works.
At that early stage, it is more important to understand how your buyers are receiving your product as well as the buyers’ journey than it is to define an exact sales process. The process will rise from the discussions in many ways.
Do you start by hiring directors or managers or do you start with a front line sales team or front line sales rep?
It depends on several things actually. Do you have inbound leads yet? If so, how many? How many logos do you have yet? Are you a 1-3 call close or more of enterprise solution? How much outbound prospecting do you need to actually do? Does your founder or CEO have a sales or biz dev background or an engineering background?
Remember you are not necessarily hiring a sales rep, you are actually hiring someone to have selling conversations. You need to collect data around these conversations and begin to define your first sales process hypothesis. To gather this kind of information you need a doer and there are two ways you can approach this:
- Option 1: Hire someone with sales and sales management experience. Be very clear to the hire that you want them to help build the team but for the first 3-6 months they are the lone sales person. It is up to them to focus on building pipeline and growing revenue. Let them know you will not promise the management role to them but if they perform and meet certain requirements they can earn the promotion.
- Option 2: Find a straight-up, nose to the grindstone sales rep. This person usually has a strong track record of success. Does not job hop, and has no desire to be a manager. They just want to sell and that is all.
After a few conversations, you could begin create a sales process hypothesis. You then need to determine whether or not your hypothesis is correct. Which means more selling conversations.
Your sales hiring will evolve as you grow from an early stage start-up and move into an expansion stage start-up to the ultra series D super expansion stage start-up. My last piece of advice, do not let your sales process make you too rigid in your hiring and firing. There is a delicate balancing act between sales process and sales people. If you are ever not sure if it’s the process or the person, ask someone you trust who is outside of your organization for some advice. Let them help you see the forest instead of the trees.
If you’re an expansion stage business, what should you look for in terms of a hiring strategy?
Before you create a hiring strategy you want to make sure look at what information you have about your current sales structure and process. For the sake of this question let’s define the expansion stage.
We see expansion stage meaning something like this:
- Past Series A funding.
- You have at least two-three sales reps.
- You may or may not have a sales leader.
- You have a handful of logos and referenceable customers and case studies.
- You are not yet making data driven decisions.
- All sales reps are doing ok but doing it their own way.
Other things you may or may not have include:
- Starting to define your first sales process,
- You can start to differentiate between the different sales personalities on your sales team (Hunter, Farmer, Nurturer)
- Recognizing your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile)
Based on this information you can then begin to formulate a strategy. Most people will want to start looking for people who have some level of sales experience. Many expansion stage companies are starting to look for people who had anywhere from two to five years of sales experience if you are focusing on mid-market companies. If you’re focusing on enterprise companies, consider reps with five or more years of sales experience. Running parallel to this hiring strategy is when you really need to look at your sales process. It’s time to review whatever sales process you have created and begin making tweaks towards scalable and repeatable..
This also comes back to hiring. It means that you need to find people who are willing to be in an adaptive environment. Start-ups are constantly evolving and changing direction. You want to try to match that constant excitement of change with process and direction so that your sales reps feel confident as they sell your product.
You said that it’s important to hire two sales people so that they motivate each other. Why do you say that?
Nobody likes to be alone especially salespeople. While sales reps’ roles is typically seen as an individual contributor they also do like camaraderie and competition. They like teamwork.
Your reps will develop a strong bond with each other. They will naturally help and support one another, thereby improving the culture of your organization. When they have questions, one rep is going to remember something that the other rep didn’t remember. They will seek advice within their team making your team much more self-reliant and efficient.
Tweet This: Hire two sales people so that they motivate each other.
Additionally, you also don’t know if your newbie salespeople are going to work out. God forbid, you hire one person and in two months, that person doesn’t work out. You have to start all over again. Having two reps enables you to hedge your bets a little bit.
Thank you Richard! We appreciate you sharing your insight! For more sales enablement and hiring knowledge and inspiration from Richard Harris, check out The Harris Consulting Group blog.