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How to Build a Strong Small Business Sales Team

How to Build a Strong Small Business Sales Team

The people you hire for your sales team should be natural customer advocates who can guide your prospects to the finish line. Here are three ways to make sure you're choosing the right people.

Sometimes the best way to win over a customer is to tell them no. Sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me.

One of my biggest sales pitches ever was to a large bank in Latin America. There was a huge investment on the line, so it was nerve-wracking when my team kept saying no to a lot of the bank’s requests. But we knew we were giving them the best advice possible by focusing on what we knew we could successfully deliver.

We won the deal and replaced a major competitor. Months later, the CEO told me that we positioned ourselves as partners because we told them “no” so many times. That’s how they knew they could trust us to put their needs ahead of our own.

Customers are more empowered than ever; build your sales team around that

Exercising “customer-centric selling” is the key to your success. 

With so much information at their fingertips, today’s customers are 57% into their purchase decision before they even engage with your sales team. That means they’re not looking for a sales pitch. What they need is a reliable, trustworthy, expert who can clarify inconsistencies in their research, calm their fears, confirm their decisions, and give them the best possible buying experience. They’re looking for value, not pitches.

The people you hire for your sales team should be natural customer advocates who can expertly guide your prospects to the finish line. Here are three ways to make sure you choose the right people.

Look for empathy over knowledge

Product knowledge and sales processes are critical, but these can be learned. On the flip side, soft skills are practically impossible to teach.

Being customer-centric is all about building relationships. So when growing your sales team, look for candidates who are naturally adept at communication, teamwork, empathy, and other social skills. Equally important is an instinctive aptitude for helping customers choose and implement the best products or services. This part of the job requires critical thinkers with soft skills like creativity, organization, collaboration, and adaptability. For other key attributes to consider, I like Forbes’ list of 10 vital skills for the workplace of the future.

Of course, you’ll also want to get a feel for a candidate’s hard skills, like prospecting or handling customer objections. But even when you ask about this type of experience, use it as an opportunity to learn how the person applies their soft skills to real-world situations.

Test for self-awareness

My first two questions are ones you should always ask (along with an essential follow-up). The third question is one your candidate should always ask.

Never wrap up a first interview without asking Question 1: “What are you most proud of?” And Question 2: “Tell me about a time you failed?” The critical follow-up for both questions is, “What did you learn?

The answers will reveal whether a candidate has the most important soft skill of all, which is self-awareness. If they’re self-aware, you can be confident they’ll constantly want to learn and grow and improve in their role. You’ll also find out if they run a disciplined process, if they collaborate well, and if they’re resourceful in leveraging all their available resources.

The one question your candidate should always ask you is some variation of, “What else do I need to do in order to convince you I’m the right person for the job?” Even in a customer-centric world, you still need your team to close the deal. And if they don’t do it with you, they probably won’t do it with customers.

Hire for the long term

One of the most frustrating things for a sales manager is pouring time and money into onboarding and training a new salesperson, only to have them leave right when they should finally become productive.

Fortunately, we have good insight into why that happens. A whopping 89% of new hires who leave in the first 18 months fail not because of their technical skills – but because of their attitudes or personalities. In other words, their personal values aren’t a good match for the values of your company. 

How do you avoid this trap? First, you need to clearly define, document, and communicate throughout your company what your core values are. For example, at Salesforce, our values are Trust, Customer Success, Innovation, and Equality. Then make sure everyone involved in the hiring process is measuring every candidate against the same yardstick.

And that brings us right back to where we started. When formalizing your core values, make sure customer-centricity is always front and center. Looking for more best practices on building a stellar sales team for your small business? Check out this Trailhead module on finding the best sales talent for your company.

Salesforce Essentials helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can grow faster than ever. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.


Enrique Ortegon SVP, Salesforce Sales North America

Enrique Ortegon is SVP of SMB Sales North America at Salesforce.

More by Enrique

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