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How to Build a Star Sales Team

Aug 19, 2020 | 9m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • How to hire the right salespeople to advance your business’s most pressing needs
  • What salespeople need from their managers in order to shine
  • What not to do when you’re interviewing for a sales role


Hiring Your Next Sales Star

A lot of us have negative perceptions about sales, and by extension, salespeople. People who are genuinely excited by sales are few and far between. It’s no surprise then, that to mitigate the negative connotations attached to any job title with the word ‘sales’ in it, people have come up with ingenious ways in which to reword their sales positions. Calling a spade a spade – or a salesperson a salesperson – might even do more harm than good.

Yet in reality, all of us are involved in sales in some form, regardless of the role we’re in. We’ve all had to sell a concept to our team, or sell a report to a manager. Negotiating, justifying, educating; these are all moments in which we take on – albeit fleetingly – the role of a salesperson.

Traditionally, when hiring for sales roles, people generally look at current or former salespeople because it’s simply easier to recruit that way. Over time, however, I’ve steered towards working with recruitment partners who can identify other types of talent who might fit the bill. Now, we look at vertical expertise rather than sales knowledge. The truth is that sales skills can be taught, and hiring for sales skills alone limits you from exploring the broader pool of talent who could add valuable insights to your team.

You could also hire for industry. For instance, if you’re hiring for an online salesperson, you look for someone with x years of experience doing just that. While this approach might work in your favour, it is also much more difficult to find talent who will fulfill your criteria, especially if you’re hiring for an area that is very niche. In this case, you could also hire someone who has experience in traditional ad sales and train them on selling online.

Overall, if you’re looking for exemplary salespeople, it’s better to stay away from fixed rules. Go after broader talent. Talk to people in various industries, and this will help you build a holistic view of what kind of talent is out there.

Traits to Look For

It goes without saying that the wrong hire can end up costing your team and company time and resources. How do you make sure that you’re hiring the right people who not only have the technical skills to succeed, but also the soft skills to work well with colleagues and clients? There are a few traits you should look out for.

Empathy is a key factor. Working in sales isn’t easy, and salespeople can often find themselves in environments that are stressful, fast-paced, and pressurising. When you’re juggling a mounting workload with client pitches, someone with high empathy will manage to focus on the clients’ needs despite it all.

Of course, technical knowledge is important. Especially for account managers, you’ll need to understand the numbers to report and interpret analytics accurately. In salespeople, however, drive is a key trait. For client-facing roles, it’s always important to hire people who carry themselves well. You should be able to confidently trust this person to represent your company.

To get a sense of how a potential candidate thinks, I like to ask them to share their end-to-end process of working on a deal: from the first contact to meeting, and eventually closing the deal. Or I might even ask about a deal that ended badly. I’d ask them to walk me through why things went awry, what their learnings were, and how they recovered from it.

The Right Mix

When hiring for sales, you’ll really need to look at the size of the team you’re trying to build, or what kind of book you’re managing. Based on that, you’d have to strike a balance between hiring strategic sellers and technical sellers. How you figure out the percentage of each type of salesperson really depends on the type of business you’re building.

Suppose you’re building a strategic set of books, where only ten accounts drive 80% of the revenue, you’ll need to hire strategic salespeople. These salespeople come with a strong consultative background, with experience in handling large businesses. Their expertise and skill set will poise them perfectly to build relationships within layers of the company and plan ahead for the business. Strategic salespeople are typically more experienced, and have been selling in your industry for quite some time.

If you’re looking at building a new business that’s untouched, where all you’re doing is growing the number of advertisers in your book, for instance, go for salespeople with a lot of drive. These are people who are excited to bring your product to the market: to pitch, to go out there and meet people, who have the “hunter” mentality.

Turn Offs

When interviewing candidates there are certain no-no’s that immediately signal that you should think twice before hiring them. Being late is a big factor. A candidate who is late for an interview – unless they have a really good reason – will naturally rank lower than someone who showed up five minutes early and had the time to gain composure before the interview began.

And while a suit and tie isn’t required, it pays to be dressed appropriately in a properly pressed outfit. Especially for sales roles where first impressions really matter, turning up sloppily dressed indicates that a candidate wouldn’t be the best person to represent the company when meeting clients.

Lastly, come prepared. You’d think this would be an obvious one, but I’ve met numerous candidates who have shown up to interviews thoroughly unprepared. This is especially apparent at the end of the interview when I ask them if they have any questions for me. If they’re asking questions that are very basic, it is clear that they didn’t take the time to think critically about the role and what it entails. A successful candidate is someone who comes prepared with insightful questions that demonstrate that they have a strong grasp of the nuances of the role, company, and industry.

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Tina Pang

Head of Sales, SEA




Be a Better Sales Manager