Article

How to build a sales team: A comprehensive guide

Create a strong sales team for your business to drive revenue and accelerate growth.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published April 13, 2022
Last updated April 13, 2022

No one teaches us strong sales practices when we’re little. Adults simply hand out boxes of chocolate bars to elementary school students and tell them that the one who sells the most will win a prize. That’s all they say. Then they send the students out into the world and wonder why seven-year-old Jimmy couldn’t meet his quota.

It must be his work ethic, right?

Wrong. The truth is, Jimmy was set up for failure when he was given a product with no guidance on how to talk to people, how to persuade them, or even how to find buyers. With his singular tactic of “cuteness” long past its expiration date, it’s no wonder adult Jimmy is struggling on his sales team.

Many companies still function like a school’s chocolate bar fundraiser. They rush to hire a bunch of salespeople—regardless of experience—and throw them into the ring, expecting them to work their way to the top.

Though this method is prevalent, it’s not the best approach. Instead, carefully crafting and training a sales team is the most effective way to get results.

In this piece, we’ll teach you how to build a sales team—the right way—and set it up for success.

Typical sales team structure

sales team

There are three common ways to structure a sales team:

  1. The Island

    With this structure, potential customers work with one sales rep for the entirety of their journey through the sales funnel. That means each sales rep is responsible for generating and qualifying the lead, communicating with the lead, nurturing the lead, and eventually closing the deal.

  2. Pros: It fosters a more personal connection with individual prospects and maximizes seller output.

    Cons: It puts a lot of pressure on the sales rep to continuously generate new work while also staying on top of mid-funnel prospects. It doesn’t scale well when your business expands.

  3. The Assembly Line

    With this method, every stage of the sales journey is divided among different specialized teams. Just like in a traditional assembly line, one team hands off prospects to the next team once they’ve completed a certain phase.

  4. Pros: It moves prospects through the funnel more quickly and allows for more specialized attention.

    Cons: It can create bottlenecks if too many prospects get stuck in one stage. There are also risks of customer miscommunication, as multiple people are working on each sale.

  5. The Pod

    This model combines the first two structures and is generally favored by larger businesses looking to scale. Teams of specialists guide prospects through the entire customer journey, which essentially creates groups of islands with their own internal assembly lines.

  6. Pros: It ensures a smoother handoff and encourages collaboration while enabling sales leaders to make fast adjustments based on monthly needs.

    Cons: It can reduce motivation because it eliminates competition and makes it easier for weaker performers to hide behind their stronger teammates. This can lead to friction in teams, which affects sales performance.

    Depending on your particular business and sales process, a certain structure might work better than others for your company. However, each model involves similar sales roles, so you’ll likely hire the same types of people.

Essential sales team roles

Most sales teams are comprised of the same five sales roles:

  • Sales manager: The sales manager supervises the entire sales team and is responsible for hiring and training new members. They’re also in charge of creating sales goals, motivating the team, evaluating sales analytics, and fixing any performance issues (human or software).
  • Assistant sales manager: Smaller companies may not need an assistant sales manager, but for larger organizations with huge sales teams, the assistant manager is a necessary liaison between the sales manager and the sales department. Some businesses may employ multiple assistant sales managers who all report back to a sales manager or executive.
  • Account executives or sales representatives: Sales representatives (also known as account executives) are the core of a sales team. They work directly with prospects and convert them into paying customers. Sales reps can work in the office, virtually, in the field, or in any combination of the three.
  • Customer service representatives: Customer service reps (sometimes called customer success representatives) work to retain customers once they’ve made an initial purchase. Their responsibilities range from addressing customer concerns to reaching out with new sales opportunities for existing clients.
  • Sales specialists or product experts: Sales specialists are a must for companies that sell complex products. These experts answer technical questions and solve any product-specific issues that pop up during a sale. They can also train sales reps on the more detailed aspects of their products.

As with your choice of team structure, the number of sales roles you use and the number of people you hire per role will vary based on your company size and your products or services. In general, however, these five positions are the foundation for any great sales team.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the free full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

Sales team responsibilities

Unsurprisingly, your team’s fundamental job is to generate sales. But there are various activities that go into making those sales happen. Having a detailed understanding of what your sales team does empowers you to structure your team appropriately and hire the necessary people with the right qualifications. Let’s take a look at short-term and long-term sales team responsibilities.

Short-term sales team activities

Short-term sales activities are those that your sales team needs to address on a daily basis. They may contribute to the completion of larger goals, but they can simply be administrative tasks as well. Some common short-term activities include:

  • Generating and qualifying leads
  • Initial outreach to prospects
  • Follow-up outreach to prospects
  • Closing sales and registering transactions
  • Maintaining client records
  • Answering client questions via phone, email, and chat
  • Giving sales presentations to potential and repeat customers

Most short-term sales activities are geared toward individual and team sales rather than overall company growth. This is important to remember when looking at sales goals. Every day may not result in a monumental win, but if your employees are on top of their tasks, then they as a team are a success.

Long-term sales team goals

Long-term sales goals and activities are primarily about hitting KPIs and supporting company growth, product development, and marketing strategies. It’s true that every individual sale adds up, but without long-term goals and activities, it’s easy for your team and your company to lose focus. Some great long-term activities include:

  • Tracking and meeting sales quotas and KPIs
  • Coordinating sales strategy with marketing programs for higher success rates
  • Developing a strong customer experience
  • Understanding and promoting company values and programming
  • Gathering customer feedback

The key to accomplishing these long-term activities is to find a balance with the necessary short-term activities. Your sales team can’t devote their entire day to gathering client feedback or developing sales strategy, but they can use knowledge from their customer conversations to inform strategy during an end-of-month sales meeting.

How to hire a sales team

sales team

Now that you understand the roles and responsibilities of a sales team, how do you go about hiring one? The two main things to keep in mind are your goals and what you’re looking for in your new hires. Once you determine these two things, you’re ready to set up interviews and build your team.

Know your goals

There’s no point in publishing a job posting if you haven’t pre-structured your team, your compensation plan, and your onboarding process. You need to know what slots you're looking to fill before you try to fill them. We discussed structure earlier, so let’s take a closer look at compensation and onboarding.

Create a compensation structure

Most sales teams work on a compensation plan of either low base salary and commission or higher base salary and bonuses.

There are pros and cons to both. Commission models foster a high-urgency sense of competition, which can boost sales. Bonus models, on the other hand, give sales reps a sense of security that can lead to more motivation and creativity.

If you’re a smaller company, you might need to start out with a commission plan simply because you can’t afford to pay everyone a higher salary. That being said, your compensation plan also has to align with how your customers purchase your goods or services. If you set your team up with a commission plan but sell a product that people only purchase once or infrequently, you’re setting them up for failure.

Build your onboarding process

You must determine how your onboarding process is going to work, too. If you need to hit the ground running and won’t have time for extended training sessions, be clear about that in your job postings. Fresh sales reps might not have the experience you need to get the ball rolling right away, especially because it takes an average of three months for a sales rep to get settled.

Onboarding also affects the order in which you hire. If you’re selling complex software, for example, you need to hire your sales specialists first so that they can familiarize themselves with the products and train reps when they arrive. Forming a strategic hiring plan makes your life infinitely easier down the line.

Qualities of a great salesperson

Once you have a clear template, you need to know who you want to hire. Different sales roles will have different requirements, but in general, these are the top personality qualities for any sales team hire:

  • Preparation: Great salespeople are informed and ready to go.
  • Conviction: Great salespeople are confident in their abilities and show it.
  • Trust: Great salespeople trust the rest of their team and their tools.
  • Empathy: Great salespeople can truly empathize with their clients.
  • Kindness: Great salespeople are kind and upbeat, no matter what life throws at them.

Sales skills and experience will vary, but if you can build a team of people who share these traits, you’ll be well set up for success.

Sales team secrets and best practices

sales team

BuiltIn talked to 34 sales managers about what makes a sales team succeed. They agreed that the best practices for building a successful sales team are:

  • Creating a collaborative culture
  • Focusing on strong hiring practices
  • Implementing constant feedback
  • Focusing on more than the quota
  • Building trust in the team and company
  • Maintaining a practical onboarding process

These are all fantastic reminders of what qualities to look for in your sales team. And there’s something else they have in common—none of them are about profit.

At the end of the day, sales is a game of psychology. You need to be able to get inside the minds of your buyers, and you also need to get into the minds of your sales team. Salespeople work long hours with tough deadlines and a lot of rejection. It takes a strong individual to be able to thrive in that environment. The ones who succeed usually do so because they know their team and their company have their backs.

No matter who you choose to hire, everyone will come to the table with different skill sets. A great sales leader is one who knows how to put those skills together to create an unstoppable sales team.

Give your team the tools they need to succeed

Creating a successful sales team doesn’t stop after onboarding. In order to excel, your sales team needs intuitive communication and outreach tools that keep them ahead of the competition. Zendesk Sell is the best way to start your team off on the right foot.

Our comprehensive sales CRM combines fast communication with top-of-the-line lead generation software, so your team won’t miss a beat. With Zendesk, your sales team can maximize sales productivity, increase pipeline visibility, and feel empowered to bring their A-game every day.

Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today, and support your new sales team all the way to the finish line.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the free full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

7 secrets of sales leadership

Read the free full list of sales leader secrets to find out how these managers are getting the most from their teams.

Learn more