How to Build a Strong Sales Team for Your SaaS Startup

There are tons of options when building a sales team for your SaaS startup. Should you build sales team all by yourself? Outsource it? Or hire a sales veteran from the get-go?

Figuring out which way to go can be a PIA. 

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, there is a process that’ll help you achieve your sales goals and prepare the framework for building the most effective sales team.

As a team, we developed our startup, Close, into a profitable company without raising a dime of external funding. Today, our company is profitable, thanks to the merit of our sales skills.

If you’d like to learn from our experience, read on for a practical guide on how to build an effective sales team for a SaaS startup.

Understanding the Importance of a Strong Sales Team

A robust sales force is the heart of any SaaS startup. It’s the primary driving force behind your revenue, growth, and overall success. 

Sales professionals, ranging from account executives (AEs) to sales reps, are the ones who turn your product into profit. They form relationships, identify new customers, and convert leads into deals.

But let’s break it down a bit. Some benefits of having a strong sales team are:

  • Efficient work distribution: A sales team allows for the distribution of workload, ensuring that sales tasks are managed efficiently. Each team member can focus on their area of expertise, leading to improved productivity and better results.
  • Scalability and growth: As your business expands, a sales team can adapt and grow to meet increasing demand. That’ll make it easier to scale sales efforts with time.
  • Accountability and goal alignment: Individual members are held accountable for their performance within a sales team. Regular team meetings and goal-setting sessions ensure alignment with overall business objectives and track progress toward targets.

Basically, having a strong sales team is the starting point of having a strong company—which means you can’t afford to get this wrong. 

Before Hiring: Building an Effective Sales Process and Sales Strategy

Before we get into the process of building a sales team, let’s take a quick detour. 

Without a repeatable sales process in place, hiring a sales team amounts to spending money on a team that isn’t sure what works for you. Essentially, you’re paying a lot of people to participate in an experiment, which isn’t a wise spending decision.

According to Nick Persico, our Director of Sales and Marketing at Close, “Everything is a test until you can repeat it and scale it.” 

Instead, set up a repeatable process first, and hire a team when you’re ready to scale it.

Here is a guideline to help you build that process.

Implement a CRM System

A CRM system is crucial for managing your sales reps’ activities, tracking performance indicators, and automating workflow. 

Automation will give your salespeople more time to focus on closing deals rather than administrative tasks.

Since you’re still at an early stage with a small team of probably two or three reps, you need a CRM to make them effective. It can help you automate repetitive tasks, such as a drip campaign, following up, and providing up-to-date information about a lead or a customer.

The data gathered in your CRM will also help scale your sales process.

Build Sales Team - If You Want to Build Sales Team, You Will Need a CRM, like Close

Establish Clear Sales Goals and KPIs

Your sales strategy should clearly define your sales goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). 

KPIs will help you track your sales force’s progress and evaluate the effectiveness of your sales initiatives.

Goals may vary from startup to startup. For example, if you’re still trying to achieve product-market fit, your KPIs should be customer acquisition, churn rate, customer lifetime value, etc.

KPIs like these will tell you whether there’s a market for your business and whether your customers love the product.

If you’re past this stage, product adoption could be your focus. You want more people to adopt your product to reflect the success of onboarding efforts and the product’s appeal to customers.

The KPIs for this could include activation rate, feature adoption, time to value, and so on. The most important thing is to have a clear-cut goal and put KPIs in place to track it.

Map out the Customer Journey and Onboarding Process

To map out the customer journey, highlight the touchpoints and interactions a customer will have with your company, right from the awareness stage to the moment they’re fully onboarded.

This is one of the things you want to scale when your sales teams finally come on board, and that’s why it should be done now and refined later.

Here are the steps to effectively map out the customer journey and onboarding process:

  • Create customer personas: Batch your customers into distinct personas, mapping out their needs, pain points, and behaviors. Knowing these distinct features will help you map out their journey effectively.
  • Map out customer touchpoints: Identify all the touchpoints where customers interact with your brand, both online and offline. These touchpoints include your website, social media channels, customer service interactions, emails, and any other points of contact.
  • Outline customer journey stages: Break down the customer journey into key stages, such as Awareness, Consideration, Decision, and Onboarding. Each stage represents a specific point in the customer’s progression from being a prospect to satisfied customer. Then outline the friction points and the process of moving them from one stage to another.
  • Understand customer actions and emotions: At each stage, outline the customer’s actions and the overarching emotions they experience. For example, in the Consideration stage, the customer may be hesitant due to having researched many options. This hesitation means you should guide them toward a decision by providing helpful content.
  • Design an onboarding process: For the onboarding process, develop a structured plan to guide customers from the point of purchase to successfully using and benefiting from your product or service. This may include welcome emails, tutorials, and personalized assistance.

3 Strategies to Help You Hire the Right Salespeople

Once you have a predictable and scalable sales process in place, it’s time to implement your processes on a large scale. That’s when it’s time to start considering hiring salespeople. Here’s how to go about that:

Define Your Hiring Process

Building a successful sales team starts with hiring, and the process is what’s going to make it fast and effective.

Mark Roberge, the author of the Sales Acceleration Formula, puts it better: “World-class sales hiring is the biggest driver of sales success.” We agree.

Mark joined HubSpot as its first salesperson, and when it was time for him to hire, he followed these three steps, as outlined in his book:

  • Define the characteristics of a successful salesperson: What will a successful sales employee look like to you? You should find this information based on the preceding exercise of managing your sales as a lean team. Make an educated guess. Do you need a relationship builder, a challenger, or an aggressive seller? Knowing what works for your customers will help you understand what a successful salesperson for your company looks like.
  • Find star performers: One thing that stood out to me in Mark’s words is his assertion that top sales performers don’t usually need to apply for a job. Instead, employers go to them. He advises creating an internal recruitment firm that is incentivized to assist you in finding the best employees rather than outsourcing your sales.
  • Ascertain your first ideal hire: Who should be the first sales professional you hire? This step is something you need to be sure of. Depending on your business nature and verticals, this could be anyone from a seasoned sales professional (wrested from a competitor) to an entrepreneur to a sales manager from a different industry.

The most important thing is ensuring your pick fits the bill for your business goals.

Build Sales Team - Define Your Hiring Process

Consider the Role of Sales Representatives and Account Executives

A sales rep brings in new customers, while an account executive (AE) manages the relationship to ensure the customer sticks with your brand.

These are two distinct roles you should quickly consider. And understanding them has several benefits.

First, it helps you align job descriptions and requirements. By understanding these roles, you can create accurate and detailed job descriptions that attract the right candidates with the appropriate skills and experience for each position. 

Misaligned job descriptions may lead to hiring candidates who are not the best fit for the specific role, resulting in lower performance and productivity.

This will also help you tailor your interview process and define success metrics. So, when your leads aren’t converting, you know it all goes back to the reps, and if you’re experiencing high churn rates, you may want to talk to your AEs.

However, different sales roles may require various resources, tools, and support. You’ll need to allocate resources more effectively, ensuring that each sales team member has the support needed to excel in their role.

At the end of the day, this will tell you who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t.

Appoint a Sales Leader

Every sales team needs a sales leader—a sales manager with the skills and experience to guide team members toward sales goals. The leader should have the ability to facilitate sales training, oversee the sales process, and drive sales performance.

They’ll also be responsible for fostering a positive sales culture and boosting the morale and productivity of the sales team.

Ideally, your sales leader should possess the following abilities:

  • Leadership skills
  • Sales experience and expertise
  • Strategic thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Team management and development
  • Data-driven decision-making
  • Adaptability and resilience
  • Collaboration and cross-functional skills 
  • Integrity and ethics

A sales leader’s success hinges on a diverse skill set. Leadership skills empower them to motivate and guide the team effectively; sales experience aids in offering valuable insights and mentoring; strategic thinking helps them align sales plans with overall business objectives; and so on.

My point is: it takes a combination of hard and soft skills for a sales leader to succeed.

Sales Enablement and Onboarding Process for New Hires

With your sales hiring process now properly set up, what remains is to empower the team to deliver on expectations. This all boils down to sales enablement and your onboarding process.

Here are our best tips on providing sales enablement and onboarding reps properly.

Initiate an Effective Onboarding Process

A strong onboarding process is essential to prepare your new hires for their roles. This includes training programs, roleplaying sessions, and even sales coaching. 

These activities will help them understand your sales cycle, your sales funnel, and how to perform effective follow-up, among other things.

But we can narrow down a rep’s onboarding into three phases:

  • Orientation: This takes place right after they’ve accepted your offer. In this stage, you introduce them to your company’s mission, values, and culture. They should also interface with other work colleagues, such as the sales manager, fellow sales reps, and so on.
  • Sales training: this phase takes the longest and is the most intensive. Here, you train them on several sales methodologies, your product messaging, your ICPs, and so on. This training will also cover how to use specific sales tools.
  • Integration: This is the last phase of the onboarding process, and by this time, they’re being gradually integrated into your system. One thing that’ll help at this stage is to pair them with either a coach or a star performer in your sales team.

Equip Your Team with the Right Sales Tools

Your sales teams are only as good as the tools you provide them.

Sales tools, like CRM, prospecting tools, analytics tools, email templates, and more, are fundamental for an effective sales process.

Some tools they’ll need are:

  • Sales intelligence and prospecting tools: Sales intelligence tools, or intent data providers, will help your sales reps prospect quicker and more effectively. Some good examples are LinkedIn Sales Navigator, ZoomInfo, and Sonar.
  • Sales engagement tools: Sales engagement tools allow your reps to take control of how they interact with customers. They can use them to send follow-up emails, organize their daily activities, and reach customers through their preferred channels. Close, a CRM tool, and, a sales engagement platform, are some good tools you can try.
Build Your Sales Team bu Equiping them with Right Sales Tools, like Close

  • CRM solutions: CRM software is indispensable. They help you connect with your customers, keep customer information organized, plan your day, and automate repetitive tasks. Close, for example, has a lot of amazing features like the ability to make sales calls, coaching, email automation, sales forecasting, and more.
  • Management tools: For better collaboration and productivity, you need management tools like Asana and Trello.

Provide Continuous Sales Training and Coaching

Building a high-performing sales team continues beyond hiring. Continuous sales training and coaching are vital to maintaining a high level of sales performance and retaining team members.

To ensure continuous learning, do the following:

  • Invest in sales training programs: Provide regular sales training sessions, workshops, and webinars to enhance the team’s skills and knowledge. Offer training on sales techniques, product knowledge, objection handling, and customer-centric approaches.
  • Encourage self-directed learning: Promote a culture of self-directed learning by encouraging sales reps to seek resources, articles, books, online sales courses, and personal development courses.
  • Leverage sales coaching and mentoring: Pair experienced sales reps or sales leaders with newer team members for mentoring and coaching. This one-on-one support helps transfer knowledge, share best practices, and provide personalized feedback. Our CRM software, Close, has a call coaching feature that you can explore.
Build Sales Team - Close Calling Feature

Maintaining a High-Performing Sales Team

One mistake you could make after building a successful sales team is to let them become outdated in their strategies and techniques. The sales ecosystem changes faster than you blink.

Therefore, your team’s ongoing maintenance is non-negotiable. What does that entail? Quite simply, the following:

Regularly Review and Update Sales Metrics

Sales metrics help evaluate the performance of your sales organization. Regularly review these metrics to identify areas for improvement and keep your team on track.

At the individual level, the metrics you’ll measure include:

  • Activity metrics: Track the number of calls, emails, meetings, and presentations conducted by each sales rep. These activity metrics give insights into their productivity and engagement with prospects.
  • Number of sales or deals closed: Measure the number of sales or deals closed by each sales rep. This is the end goal of all their activities.
  • Sales conversion rate: Calculate the percentage of leads or prospects a sales rep successfully converts into customers. A high conversion rate indicates effective selling techniques and customer engagement.
  • Sales pipeline value: Keep track of the total value of opportunities in the sales pipeline for each sales rep. This metric gives insights into their pipeline management and forecasting accuracy.
  • Lead response time: Measure how long it takes for a sales rep to respond to new leads or inquiries. A prompt response is crucial for engaging prospects and securing their interest.
  • Time to close: Track the average time for a rep to close a deal from the initial interaction with a prospect. If you can reduce the time to close, you’ll improve efficiency and have more revenue.

At the team level, the following metrics are key:

  • Total sales revenue: The total sales revenue generated by the entire sales team over a specific period indicates the team’s overall performance and contribution to the company’s revenue goals.
  • The number of sales or deals closed: Monitor the total number of sales or deals closed by the team to get a comprehensive view of their sales productivity and success in converting leads into customers.
  • Sales pipeline value: Tracking the total value of opportunities in the team’s sales pipeline provides visibility into the potential revenue that can be expected in the future.
  • Sales win rate: Track the team’s sales win rate to know the percentage of opportunities won compared to the total opportunities pursued. This will reflect their effectiveness in closing deals.
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC): How much does it cost your organization to acquire a new customer? You need to know this to determine the efficiency of your sales process and tools. This is also important to calculate your ROI correctly.

Provide Incentives and Recognize Achievements

To keep your sales force motivated, establish a system of incentives. Recognize the hard work of your team members and celebrate when they reach or exceed their sales goals.

You can use a sales leaderboard displayed in a prominent area of the office or on a digital channel to promote healthy competition.

Having a bonus and commission structure in place so that team members can strive to earn more is also a good idea. You can read our guide on designing an incentive program for your sales team to learn more.

Nurture a Positive Company Culture

For the well-being of your sales team, create and nurture a positive culture that aligns with your core values, encourages open communication, and supports employee well-being. This consideration will help reduce stress and burnout. 

Maintaining a positive culture is vital for a successful sales team. A positive environment motivates and engages sales reps, increasing retention rates and collaboration. 

It also fosters resilience, adaptability, and creativity, helping salespeople face challenges with a positive outlook and deliver excellent customer experiences.

Emphasize Upselling and Cross-Selling

Upselling and cross-selling are great strategies to maximize revenue from existing customers. Train your sales team on how to identify opportunities for these strategies and how to execute them effectively.

These strategies are important for your bottom line as well as the well-being of your salespeople. While we aren’t asking you to abandon time-to-time customer acquisition, we agree that retaining an existing customer is five times less expensive than acquiring a new one.

A Strong SaaS Sales Team: Your Ticket to Great Sales Performance

Building a strong sales team for your SaaS startup involves strategic hiring, effective onboarding, continuous training, and maintaining a positive company culture.

But make sure to build a repeatable sales process before hiring a large team. That way, they’ll come in knowing what they need to do and how to get there. 

Just be sure to equip them with the right tools, knowledge, and motivation to succeed.

Ali Faagba
Ali Faagba is a SaaS and B2B content strategist and freelance writer. He works with SaaS companies to increase traffic and user signups.

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