The key to success for any business is sales.
From winning your first clients as a new startup to building out the sales function as you scale then maximising the revenue potential of your large enterprise, a high-performing sales team is worth its weight in gold.
But what are the secrets to building one? Are there common characteristics across sectors? And how should you approach sales training as well as recruitment?
To answer these questions, Furza – which supports organisations in building, scaling and developing sales teams through professional training and coaching – joined forces with BusinessCloud to hold a roundtable at the exclusive 20 Stories restaurant in Manchester.
Sales director Nick Rose joined Sharp UK following Sharp Business Systems’ acquisition of Midshire in August 2017.
“What’s worked for me in the last year or so has been focusing on understanding individuals and understanding that sales people are ultimately people with their own goals and their own aspirations in life,” he said during the discussion. “We spend a lot of time trying to understand the person and not trying to create 10 versions of the same thing.
“We try and empower people to become the very best versions of themselves that they can be. You’ve also got to get the KPIs and commission structures right.”
Steve O’Brien, who departed as CEO of Leeds-based Tieva last month and now runs Twenty2 International Limited said it was “a common theme to choose the right people”.
“Make sure you onboard them efficiently and effectively,” he advised. “Have a clear mission and a clear strategy. Create a winning environment… leadership and development are very important.
“All sales teams need high energy. That’s aligned to an easy, clear compensation plan.”
Understanding the type of personality which would benefit your business is key for Ben Audley, chief revenue officer at Summize.
The Manchester-based contract lifecycle management disrupter his summer reported triple-digit percentage revenue growth for the third consecutive year.
“Set out clear criteria on the type of personality that you’re looking for,” said Audley. “Understand what their goals and motivations are and make sure you can show them a business that will allow them to achieve those goals. Have a clear commission plan and structure that aligns with those goals.”
Recruit on attitude
Andrew Avanessian, CEO at fast-growing Manchester-headquartered software provider AppLearn, said “it depends on the stage of your business”.
“If you’re a startup, you may need people who are a bit more comfortable with a bit of uncertainty but willing to roll their sleeves up and figure things out. It also depends on the role within that sales team.
“Ultimately it comes down to people and it comes down to their attitude.”
Patience Tucker became global sales director at Manchester’s wi-Q Technologies in 2020 then was named CEO the following year.
The cloud-based mobile ordering solution for digital guest engagement was seventh on our FinTech 50 ranking last year.
“Culture, strategy execution,” she stated matter-of-factly. “For me, how to build a sales team is about having the right people in your organisation that are able to execute your business strategy.
“If you can get the right people in the skillset can be taught, especially within sales. This is about someone who is determined or prepared to work hard.”
No magic formula
John Iandolo is chief revenue officer at ProofID, another Manchester business which received £15m private equity investment in 2022, employs 100 people and specialises in identity and access management.
Just last week we reported how the company had acquired a US firm.
“There is no magic formula in sales otherwise I would have written a book on it and been on a desert island by now!” he joked. “The biggest thing for me is employ based on attributes.
“Look for the attributes that are best suited to the values and culture of the business. Have a very good chief people officer as well.”
Stephen Henesy, CEO at utilities management software firm HelpTheMove, agrees that “there is no one golden rule to answering this”.
“Every business and every role is different,” he explained. “The way to answer this question is to understand who the high-performing sales people are in the team and understanding the attributes they bring.
“Then build that into your hiring process going forward but also instil that within the team and constantly learn before you get the winning formula.”
Hire on potential
James Hornsby is director at Furza, a sales training provider based in Salford which works with the likes of Open ECX, Vypr and Smart Spaces, as well as Hiring Hub.
“Hire on potential, not experience,” he advised. “As soon as that potential means that they feel comfortable and capable in the role, change the role so they’re constantly pushing themselves.
“Also, align what their goals and values are based on what the role is actually going to be. If those match up they’ve got a good chance of staying there and being successful.
“If they don’t match up, you’re going to hire someone who is ambitious but has no opportunity to succeed.”
Heath Groves, CEO at Burnley-based cloud transformation IT consultancy Sundown Solutions, said “recruitment is key”.
“Don’t look to hire ‘you’, and don’t expect ‘you’ from other people,” he added. “Make sure you’re hiring someone who is hungry and willing to put the hard yards in and back that up with a clear, concise, valuable compensation package.”
Amar Baghdadi, sales director at telecoms service provider M247, says “the key thing is understanding where the business is in terms of its context”.
“You need to understand what the go-to-market strategy is. Is it growth? Is it stabilisation? Are you introducing new products and channels?
“Then you need to build a team around those core values and set them up for success. Give them the right training, the right tools, the right systems and ultimately employ the right people.”
Ashleigh Cocker, head of business development at Furza, summed up the roundtable.
“A common theme throughout the discussion was the importance of hiring individuals based on their attitude, motivations, and cultural fit. At Furza, we specialise in identifying high-potential sales development representative (SDRs) rather than looking for experience.
“We’ve found that with the right foundation, training, and coaching, less experienced SDRs often outperform their experienced counterparts and achieve results more rapidly.”