7 Strategic Ways to Build a Strong Sales Team For SMEs

Sales productivity is the rate at which members of the sales team acquire revenue for the business. High sales productivity is often a combination of several factors:

  • Saleability of the Product
  • The sales strategies used to sell the product
  • Sales team management
  • Individual sales team member’s ability to sell

A strong sales team is one that hits quota and generates significant revenue for the business. However, building a strong sales team is often a process that combines hard work and luck.

1. Establishing the Right Mindset as SME Executives

Everyone in charge of their own business should sell. That includes freelancers, consultants, entrepreneurs, traditional business executives and managing partners (and the like).

If you delegate a hundred percent on the sales process to your co-founder, you’re both missing on certain opportunities. You are probably in different networking circles, have studied in different schools and universities, attend different events. Whenever each of you is selling, there’s a higher impact on the brand increasing the chance of closing a deal.

Who would ever be more familiar with the business and more motivated to close new deals than the founders?

Sure, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend 100% of your time on sales. There are various activities you need to deal with on day-to-day on the technical spectrum of things.

But you have to be alert for possible sales opportunities. Try to attend industry events and meet sales prospects. Tap into your network and ask for leads. Consider offering consulting services to prospects that could lead to a larger deal with your business.

build a strong sales team
image from www.dilbert.com

Selling is not all about cold calls and emails. You may have to engage in that but there are other, less direct, ways to connect with prospects, increase brand awareness, and talk to potential customers and decision-makers.

In terms of improving your sales skills, talk to your co-founder first if you have one. Ask them to give you some tips. Listen to some of their sales calls. Attend to some of their scheduled meetings. Go to a conference or two together before you attend your very first event alone and do some fieldwork yourself.

Being a non-sales-savvy co-founder doesn’t mean that you need to pick up the phone and prospect continuously for months. There are other ways to sell and market your business and still earn leads. But you need to step out and strengthen up your leadership position.

2. Hiring the Right People

Careful recruitment of the first member or two. This is far more crucial than many believe it is.

My first go-to place when hiring is my existing staff members. I ask for recommendations, referrals, connections that we can reach out to. Also, when we post job openings, we ask them to share with their network.

The second instance is the alumni groups. We know of several universities, academies, high schools with outstanding marketing programs that would be of use to us. Also, it helps with the bonding exercise – especially when people can share relevant stories with former teachers or challenging classes.

I tap into my own network for recommendations. Sometimes, I have former students of mine with 2–3 years of experience already who are eager to work with us. Or fellow co-founders that receive applications that aren’t a great fit for their own company. Or a friend knows a friend who is currently on the lookout.

We post job applications on our own website. Since we sponsor industry events and are active on social media, that helps out our existing followers.

We boost our posts as well, through retargeting or narrowing down an audience with specific interests, which tends to work out well at times.

3. Bringing Non-Sales People On Board

A different perspective can help your sales team be more high-performance and may be able to fill in the gaps to build that perfect selling approach. Others can help in opening opportunities or finding platforms to boost your sales team performance.

  • A business developer can structure your business and plan your growth concept – identifying your market, customer persona, and how to grow further.
  • Growth hackers specialize in finding innovative and creative approaches for scaling your business, often through low-cost channels (online, guerrilla marketing, etc)
  • A PR team can boost your popularity through different online and offline magazines, traditional media, and others, which can lead to interviews, conference talks, and others that would boost your reputation
  • You can reach out to business consultants and mentors that could charge you a retainer fee (or if you’re lucky and have a brilliant idea, coach you for free) and help you with refining your business model for success

Tap into your existing community, grow your network, share helpful insight online, and at events. You can start gradually or work along with the pre-sales or customer support folks, spend more time on sales together with your co-founder, and take smaller steps until you get confident.

Avoiding sales activities would limit your opportunities – keep up and start selling.

4. Improving The Sales and Marketing Funnel

Continuously improving the sales and marketing funnel, growing the MVP to a more mature product, reinvesting in some advertising, brand awareness, conference talks, other areas that would bring business and valuable feedback. Building somewhat predictable sales and marketing funnels in order to establish some recurring revenue.

There are certain intermediate steps such as forming strategic partnerships, looking for external investments if needed, upgrading equipment, building a proper website and digital presence (depending on the type of business, may be among the first steps).

The main areas are validating the concept, finding a great niche that’s underserved, investing a ton of time and hustle in order to build an MVP, landing the first customers, iterating on improving the product, landing some testimonials and reviews, closing more deals, and scaling your business forward.

You may enrich your understanding of the environment with a large volume of strategies and stories by successful entrepreneurs. Think of podcasts, books, biographies, “Ask me anything” sessions or whatever you can access. Conference talks may be a good addition as well.

Consider hiring a sales coach or a business development consultant who can help out as well. Join new communities. Learn more about PR and how you can leverage that from a technical standpoint (such as innovating in your technical product by implementing machine learning in a curious way or solving a major business problem). Apply as a speaker – first in meetups, then for a conference.

Common sense is your global perception of the world. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems. While you may study the basics of starting a company, dealing with finances, sales, marketing, contracts – there’s the pure principle of solving a problem.

5. Reinforcing Your Sales Team’s Strength

To reinforce the strength of your sales team, you should first look into the performance of your product or service and how it can be improved. This will give your sales team a good starting point for increasing sales productivity.

A HubSpot research indicates that more than half of prospects want to see how the product works on the first call. Hence, it is crucial that salespeople have a deep understanding and appreciation of the product or service they are offering in order to be the most effective.

This should be established by studying the market and what your competitors have to offer. If you talk to prospects and identify a missing piece, it would be a potential key selling benefit.

One who can pinpoint a problem, the process of solving it, the right audience, and the appropriate pricing. This would simplify your marketing and sales process onward.

6. Training On the Right Follow-up

The right follow-up is very important when doing sales. With the right training on how to do a follow-up, your sales team will become more effective.

Assuming that we’ve exchanged at least a couple of emails and they went silent, we are quite comfortable following up multiple times because:

  1. They have explicitly conveyed interest in talking to us.
  2. It is a business relationship opportunity that could be mutually beneficial.
  3. We understand they are dealing with a number of bids and regular reminders can help.
  4. Due to the limited time, some concerns may not be disclosed unless we mention the right pain point and start a real conversation.

A Sample Sales Follow-Up Workflow

The context, durations, and actual email content will vary, but here’s a sample process describing what we would do after sending the RFP in case we don’t hear a response. I’ll use John as a sample persona who reached out.

  • “Hey John, making sure the original attachment didn’t end up in your spam folder. Hit me up when you get this email and we can talk through some of the points your team considers important.” (3 days later).
  • “Hi John, touching base again — I’m sure you guys are pretty busy going through a pile of proposals at a time. Want to hop on a quick 15-min call and go through the main action items so that you’re aware of what makes our implementation plan unique?” (4 days later).
  • “Hey John, our marketing team has upgraded a popular content piece/case study that generated 10,000 visitors already discussing a similar scenario you are dealing with. I thought this may be of use during the decision-making process – (link)” (1 week later).
  • “Hi John, assuming you’re swamped now, who’s the best person to Cc here and talk through the biggest challenges your team is struggling with now that the application can solve? Thanks in advance.” (1 week later).
  • “Hey again, I know the RFP selection process should have been completed already. Is anything dragging you due to realigning priorities internally? Happy to talk through other process or automation struggles the team is dealing with and share some tips on how we handle these over a quick call, let me know if Thursday morning is open.” (1 week later).

We may keep reaching out every 2–4 weeks until we get a reply. We usually get a response during the first 3–5 emails, 7 at most, and we’ve reignited business discussions multiple times due to cancelling original requirements or pushing a project for the next quarter.

Whenever there’s anything noteworthy on our end, we shoot follow-ups as well — a relevant case study, a new blog post, a press release for a new tool/service, or a guest post of ours in reputable media.

What Do We Expect from Follow-Ups?

  1. Get an acknowledgement that the proposal is reviewed. In this case, we invite them to a discussion regarding particular features or business problems we may solve in a better manner.
  2. Figure out if there’s a change of plans. Then we reschedule or discuss additions that could be beneficial in the future.
  3. Dig for a problem. Could be price, lacking information (team members, a capabilities presentation, something else) and discuss this separately.
  4. Understand if the process is moving forward and how many proposals are shortlisted. Asking for the main criteria the top proposals are selected by and looking for an opportunity to shine.
  5. Confirm if a different agency is selected. Offer a complimentary code review or a business/marketing assessment of the platform before going live or after launch, which sometimes yields other opportunities.
Mario Peshev

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7. Furthering Product Development

There are different ways to approach further product development:

  • the industry
  • the type of offering (product or service)
  • the audience (B2B or B2C)
  • the initial setup costs
  • other variables.

Basically, I’ll go through the following high-end checklist:

  • Market research
  • Competitor research
  • Product-market fit for my idea (be it a product or service)
  • Defining the unique selling benefits
  • Creating the right buyer personas that would be targeted
  • Preliminary research

This will give you a clear picture of how to improve your product to increase sales. Professional vendors invest in different activities to improve the quality of a product or a service – leading to higher demand and an actual business model.

This will improve your product. The more you learn about the business needs first-hand, the easier would it be the plan the technical architecture and adjust your roadmap with viable priorities that solve real-world problems.

Take Action

Once you have everything sorted, get to work. Armed with the brightest idea won’t get you anywhere without building an MVP (minimum viable product) and closing a few leads who are ready to pay hard-earned cash for your solution.

Building a strong sales team, however, is not enough for you to hit your business goals. It is only a part of a whole system designed to get results and achieve success.

If you want to learn more about other entrepreneurship tips, check out my compilation of helpful tips and hacks for successful entrepreneurship– the book, 126 Steps to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur is already available on Amazon. Check it out today for more useful insights.

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