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Building a Sales Team


New sales managers often start out working with an existing sales team. But there are also circumstances – like opening a new branch office – that require a sales manager to build a sales team from scratch. Such a manager must find and hire a team of salespeople who will work together successfully.

When looking for new salespeople, you can either can hire people with good sales skills and a background in selling, or you can hire people who know and understand your industry and teach them how to sell. Of the two, it's easier to teach technology or industry to a good salesperson than to "teach" sales to the technical-minded, but that's not carved in stone: it depends on the individual. With a brand-new team a mix of sales types and technical types often works best.

When it comes to those with a sales background, don't necessarily insist on extensive sales experience. In fact, sometimes a salesperson with a lot of experience can be inflexible, will not easily take advice or direction, and will be impatient with his less experienced teammates. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't hire very experienced people; just make sure that they don't bring these types of issues into your new sales team.

Personality is more crucial to succeed than past training and experience. You want outgoing people who truly enjoy dealing with people. They should enjoy being challenged, be goal-oriented and think that competing for the sale is fun - the kind of person who can get pumped up for cold-calling, who won't get discouraged easily and who will look at tough times as "every 'no' is one step closer to a yes." Technique can be learned; personality cannot. If you do hire salespeople who lack training, you'll need a development plan in place before you hire. This could include recorded training sessions, outside classes, reading materials and/or weekly in-house group sessions on various sales topics and techniques. It MUST include regular one-on-one review and mentoring sessions, accompanied sales calls with feedback and other ways for you to share your knowledge, constructive criticism, expertise and encouragement.

Aim for hiring salespeople with a mix of experience levels. A few experienced salespeople on the team can provide guidance for the more junior members. However, the ultimate responsibility for mentoring and training is yours – those senior sales people will want to focus on their sales success and will resent losing too much sales time to training others. And while junior people will require the most support, even senior salespeople need regular feedback, advice and guidance over time.

Any team will need training in your company's product or service. Before hiring each person be sure they have a sense of the industry they're getting into and what it will require. And right after they join the team, expect to provide them with a good grounding in the company – and make sure they understand the product thoroughly before you put them in contact with customers. Salespeople will also need regular updates and refreshers in the business or technology.

If you choose to recruit industry experts who want to get into sales, be sure they have the personality, goal orientation and people skills that are needed by a successful salesperson. Great technical people usually make horrendous salespeople, just as great salespeople aren't necessarily equipped to get very technical. But if you do find someone with both sets of skills, you have a treasure. Not only will the technical salesperson find it easier to get the respect of her customers, she will also be able to provide a wealth of knowledge to her teammates.

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