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How To Scale A High-Growth Sales Team: Three Pillars For Success

Calendar icon 11th March 2021

Hiring great salespeople is hard. Yes, there is a fair amount of objectivity when judging a candidate’s suitability – sales cycles, deal sizes, vertical expertise – but there is also a significant level of subjectivity. Will this person fit our culture? Is this person coachable? Would we be happy for this person to be the face of our brand in front of customers? Perhaps it is no wonder, therefore, that many businesses struggle to successfully scale their sales team.

But there are those that can, those that have and those who are currently doing so. So exactly how are they managing to do this? Before we look at the ways in which businesses are successfully scaling their sales teams, it is important that we first understand more about these types of candidates.

According to research in the recent ‘SaaS Account Executive Report’ from The Bridge Group, the average tenure of a SaaS sales rep sits at 2.5 years. Ramp times for those reps sits at an average of 4.3 months. Which means, by rough calculation, that the average time a rep is ‘productive’ in their role is around 24 months. (It is important to highlight here that The Bridge Group’s research shows that high-growth companies have 25% lower average time at productivity, meaning reps are only productive for somewhere between 18-21 months.) This leads to the first key pillar of how to scale a high-growth sales team…

Keep hold of the hires you make.

Whether you are making your first or your twenty-first hire into your sales team, you must always hire with the intention to retain that talent. Nothing can slow the growth of a team more substantially than having to replace old hires. Scaling a team takes a lot of time and energy: you must do everything in your power to ensure that your time and energy is being spent on growth and not repair. To do this, ensure that your reps are set up for success. This means making sure you have them covered for everything from the right tools and training all the way through to culture and motivation. You may now be thinking that ‘culture’ and ‘motivation’ seems subjective – rightly so. Which is where we come to the second pillar of how to scale a high-growth sales team…

There is no one-size-fits-all.

This one is so important we will say it again: there is no one-size-fits-all. There is a common hiring fallacy, particularly within sales, that plagues businesses worldwide. It involves the premise that multiplying the top performer with identical copies (or as close as possible) will multiply the team’s output and results. This is true from start-up founders making their first sales hire all the way through to multi-national corporates with hundreds of sales reps. In most cases, this strategy is simply not effective. The theory does not prove correct in practice. Even in the exceptional cases where it might work, it certainly is not scalable.

The best sales leaders understand this. They understand that teams need balance. At the most basic level, your customers aren’t the same as each other, so why should your reps be? Start with understanding the strengths of your current team, then identify the gaps in your arsenal. This could be anything from industry experience to seniority; or understanding the competitive landscape to vertical experience. Try not to think just about what experience you need to boost your revenues; think about how that experience could benefit the team and its dynamics. One of the easiest ways for your team to scale and develop is by your reps organically developing each other. Which leads nicely to the third pillar of how to scale a high-growth sales team…

Hiring plans mean nothing without adequate development plans.

We have already established that rep tenures are relatively short and their time at productivity is even shorter. We have also already established that attrition is the greatest enemy to scaling a team. What does this mean? It is of paramount importance to invest in the development of existing and new team members to increase tenures, their time at productivity and the revenue they generate for the business.

Once again, there is no one-size-fits-all. You are hiring reps from varied backgrounds, with differing yet complimentary skillsets. Similarly, you can expect your reps to have different goals, motivations and aspirations. One rep may wish to manage a team; one may wish to own a vertical. One may have no grander desire than to hit their number every year, clocking in and clocking out, and repeating it the following year. “But we want everyone in our team to be extremely motivated. We don’t hire people like that.” Why not? If you hire a team of five reps who all want to be country manager within 3 years, at least four of them will be disappointed. What happens then?

To scale a high-growth sales team, you need to hire new reps with a genuine interest in helping them realise their development goals. These should be achievable and realistic – which means they cannot all be the same. Of course, as a hiring manager, you are central to forming these development plans, so you still have a strong influence on how the individual goals fit amongst the team. If this is orchestrated well, then a team of reps who are striving towards their own personal goals will inherently reach their collective goals.

Zeren works across the Venture Capital, Growth & Private Equity and Corporate sectors identifying the highest calibre Managers, Directors and Leaders for the most innovative, disruptive, and ambitious businesses in the world.