How to Build a Highly Motivated Sales Team

 How to Hire and Manage Your Sales Team How do you build a sales team? From hiring the right salespeople to training and motivating them, expert Ron Karr tells you how to get the most out of your sales force.


My name is Ron Karr, and I’m a professional speaker, consultant, and author on the subject of impact, the art and science of achieving significance.

Everybody wants to achieve significant increases in revenues, market share, and productivity. We cannot do without having a certain impact on markets, customers, and employees.

What Is My Value Proposition?

The value proposition is an overused term, ok? Your value proposition is the value that you bring to the table.

However, most people use it the wrong way. They use value proposition only on features. The value really is the outcome that you bring as a result of different value attributes whether its customer service, whether it’s sales, whether it’s technical experience, or whether it’s new ideas and new products/services. These attributes produce a certain outcome.

People need to leave with outcomes, not necessarily features. So, value propositions should be built on the outcomes that one can get by working with you.

Related: Constructing Your Value Proposition

How Do I Build My Sales Team?

How do you build a sales team for your startup? That’s the golden question because you’re between a rock and a hard place. You know what you want to do, but you don’t have the money.

So, the first thing to understand is that you are the number one salesperson in the company. No one can sell your product or service better than you because you have the passion, you understand what the product is about. You basically sacrificed yourself to do this, and there’s no one who’s going to give a better story than you.

Related: Entrepreneurs Need to Be Salespeople

Working On Your Business

One of the problems that startups have is that they tend work IN the business meeting and not ON the business. They’re going to do all the selling and they’ll never work on the business itself.

Working on a business, then, is identifying the gaps and problems that you have and what personnel and what processes you need in place to help you grow. If it’s just you doing everything, you will never grow. So initially you may sell by yourself, but eventually, you’re going to want to add a salesperson so you can work on the business.

Related: What Is a Strategy and Why Do I Need One?

What Kind of Sales Person Do You Need?

What kind of salesperson do you add? Obviously, you can find people that are professional salespeople and pay them a salary and commission. That’s an expensive way to go, but if they’re good and they’re buying into your vision, they can probably get you results faster than someone who’s maybe not that good.

Related: Should You Buy Or Build Your Sales Reps?

Another way to do that is by having someone work as a 1099, you know, as a rep selling not just your products but also other people’s products.

You still have to make sure that you stay on top of them. You give them some goals, and make sure they really buy into the vision. More importantly, this is important for any type of salesperson by the way, you need to provide them with the tools to be successful in selling your products and services.

Related: Independent Sales Reps: The Pros and Cons

Benchmark the Job

So what you do when you’re ready to hire somebody? Process. And the first thing you need to do is write down the key characteristics that you want from this individual, but not just the skill sets.

Related: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Hire

What we do is we actually benchmark the job. We use an assessment called a tri-metrics. Here’s what you need to do. You need to benchmark the job you need from them today. Meaning you’re not hiring somebody today to be a startup sales person, you’re hiring someone to produce say $2 million in sales in a year and that’s your number.

So for that person to achieve $2 million a year from now, what are the key accountabilities that have to happen along the way? Key accountabilities meaning, let’s say, that they have to identify five new qualified customers a month. They have to be able to close three deals a month once they get the hopper filled.

Whatever those numbers are, identify what the key accountabilities are because that’s going to lead to the questions that are going to be asked on the interview:

a) can they sell what you need them to sell in the process that you have identified?

b) what are their successes and what are their not successes/failures?

Having a Defined Hiring Process

Make sure you have a defined hiring process. Maybe using a headhunter. Or you use some kind of online opportunities to get some resumes in.

The first point of contact for you to anybody should be a phone interview. If they can’t get you excited by the phone, how are they going to get your customers excited?

Related: An Ex-Google Recruiter’s Guide to Hiring Success

If they pass that, then they go to the first interview where they come in to meet with you. That is a fairly decent long interview. You ask them everything you need to ask them. If they impress you, you should invite them to a second interview. Assess them first and then see where the gaps are and use that information in the second interview.

You should have more than one person to interview them and you should also have your key associates interview with them too because they may see things and hear things you don’t hear.

What Did They Learn?

When you’re doing the actual interview, go deep in the questions.

Just don’t ask somebody “hey, are you proactive?” They’re going to say “of course I am,” but you want to ask them a question like “tell me something. Give me an example of when you’re proactive. Dig deep and tell me exactly what you did and what the results were.” When you’re asking for that kind of detail, it’s hard for someone to make it up and you can tell when they’re giving you a lot of fluff.

Now once you do that, ask the opposite. Ask about the time when they tried something and failed. You know, what happened and what did they learn from it? And here’s the thing, if you happen to have somebody in the interview saying that they never failed at anything, stop the interview and remove them from the list because we’ve all failed. You want people to fail. If they’re not failing, they’re not trying new things.

The question is: what did they learn from it? If they don’t learn from their failures, that’s also not a person that you want.

Related: How to Hire the Best People for Your Business

Red Flags

Never, ever, ever hire somebody against no other candidates. What often happens for entrepreneurs is that they find somebody, but they haven’t done a real search. All of a sudden, it’s the only person they have and because they really want to hire somebody, they don’t see the red flags. They hire that person and it doesn’t work out.

Related: Q&As: Hard Answers to Tough Hiring Questions

My rule of thumb to all companies, including entrepreneurs if you can do it, sometimes you just can’t do it, is to try and have three best candidates in the final round. Three people of an equal skill set, motivation and so forth and experience and then you can find the best candidates. That’s usually when you have your best hire.

Sales Culture Starts and Ends With You

The first thing to understand about culture is that is that culture starts and ends with you, the CEO, the owner.

Your actions dictate what people can do and not do. If you’re not holding yourself accountable to your own promises, why should your sales team hold themselves accountable to your promises?

Related: 5 Principles for Building a Leadership Culture

So what’s the culture you really want? You want accountability? You want fast reaction to your customers? Do you want to exceed customer expectations? Well, you need to truly incarnate that culture and act the way you want your employees to act.

Secondly, in addition to the culture, you need to know what skill sets are necessary to support that culture. Most companies don’t spend enough money on training for their employees. Ideally, you should be able to spend 1% of your revenue on training and development for your employees.

Related: Four Tools You Need to Build a Great Business Culture

What Motivates a Sales Team?

Most people think that salespeople only care about the money. Of course, money is important. But a study was done quite a few years ago that was very enlightening. It was done by Columbia University and they asked number one performers in companies why they left their companies. They found 10 attributes including money. Money was rated number five. Five!

Related: Motivating Today’s Workers: The 3 Things That Really Matter

Number one was lack of recognition. Recognition is the most important thing because if you get real hunters, real salespeople that are charging out there, they need to be patted on the back and they need to be told that they’re doing well.

I remember Buck Rogers who was a famed VP of sales at IBM in the early and the mid 1900s. He would have a national sales meeting at Madison Square Garden and would bring up some of the award winners up to the stage in front of 19,000 other people, their peers, and give them $1000 in cash.

In an interview, they asked him“why do you do that?” He said “do you really think I’m doing it for the money? $1000 dollars is nice to have, but do you really think that’s what’s going to drive them? No, it’s the recognition in front of their peers. That’s what drives them, and then the people who didn’t get that want to be up on the stage the following year.

Related: Streetwise Advice: 6 Ways to Get the Most from Employees

Recognition in Front of Their Peers

So what amazes me is that we just don’t recognize people. If someone gets a great deal, are you congratulating them by sending them a little note? Are you also spreading the news to the rest of the team saying “hey, this person just got that?” A lot of people will think “here this person got this, this person got that, and I got nothing. Then maybe it’s time for me to get my butt in gear.

Related: How to Choose the Right Incentive Plan

Obviously, commission and how you set your compensation also drives behaviors. So it’s not just about salary plus commission. When you do have commission, break it down to fit the key behaviors you need. For example, maybe your salespeople get an extra bonus for new accounts that they bring if that’s an initiative that’s important to you.

You need to identify key behaviors that you want your salespeople to exhibit and the outcomes you want them to achieve and then you need to make sure your bonus and commission drive this behavior.

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About Ron Karr

Ron Karr is an internationally known sales coach and consultant. He has worked with industry leaders from companies such as YPO, Hertz, UPS, Agfa, United Natural Foods, and Marriott Hotels; has been published in more than 250 national magazines and has done numerous radio and television interviews. He is author of the best-selling book, Lead, Sell or Get out of the Way.
His innovative Karr IMPACT! System™ has become the go-to method to staying five steps ahead of the competition, creating value and potential in unexplored situations, and driving IMPACTFUL change. Karr has managed to generate three-quarter of a billion dollars in incremental revenues for his clients, reach 200K+ people worldwide and tap into 36+ years of sales and leadership experience. He has spoken on six continents in 20 countries.