How do you build a super salesforce? As the companies on the 2012 PROFIT 200 ranking show, it starts with getting the basics right.
The first step is to get the right people in the door. How much sales experience they need usually depends on the nature of your business, but high-growth companies are always looking for individuals with a winning personality and the right attitude to excel. And once they find those sorts of people, these companies aren't shy about investing the time and resources required to turn good candidates into sales superstars.
For some PROFIT 200 companies, a superb sales process puts their reps in position to deliver again and again, while other companies put more stock in building ongoing relationships with customers. In either case, the key to sales success is supporting your reps as they learn what works and what doesn't.
Finally, it's about creating a company that people believe in—one in which they're well compensated and motivated, and can see a future. It's one thing to have great products and good management skills, but the PROFIT 200 understand that they also need a super salesforce to remain among Canada's growth leaders.
Get the right people in the door
If there's one thing all fast-expanding companies can agree on, it's that hiring the right people is essential to building a super salesforce. Where firms may part company is on who those right people are. In any case, building a super salesforce requires a hiring process that speaks to the specific needs of your company.
Tundra Technical Solutions (No. 86 on the PROFIT 200) hires for two main roles, sales and recruiting, "both of which are sales-focused," says Micah Williams, the firm's vice president of operations. The Toronto-based IT and engineering staffing agency doesn't peg candidates into one or the other, nor does it look for sales skills or industry experience. Instead, says Williams, "It's who do we see leadership capabilities in?"
The bias against people with sales experience stems from Tundra's business model, which is based on developing close partnerships with clients. Sales reps who like to talk a lot don't do well at Tundra. They need to listen and learn the client's needs, Williams explains: "That's what true consulting is about."
To understand those needs, all new hires at Tundra start out as recruiters. Only after 18 months do managers start eyeing them for their sales potential. Their time as recruiters will have given these new sales reps a clear understanding of the business. It also will have taught them how to focus on client requirements, and "they'll have the respect of the recruitment team," says Williams.
A "friendly firing squad," including potential colleagues, faces candidates. "Who better to have there than someone who will be sitting next to them?
Vital Insights Inc. (No. 18) has a team of five people rather than a lone manager to determine whether a candidate will fit in. The HR manager at the Mississauga, Ont.-based provider of customer-feedback software for the automotive sector reviews resumés and invites selected candidates in for a screening interview of 10 to 15 minutes to determine who to send to the five member panel.
Vital Insights crafts its panel interviews to reflect both the company's demanding sales environment and the collaborative atmosphere within its sales team. Each candidate faces a "friendly firing squad" of department managers and potential future colleagues. "Who better to have in the room deciding whether this person will fit in than the person who will be sitting next to them?" asks Sara Pereira, the company's director of people and values. After the interviews, panel members review the candidates and recommend which one to hire.
The process is rigorous, Pereira says, because it's better to be really sure about someone than to discover too late that they're not the right fit. For instance, given that Vital Insights operates in a fast-moving industry, the company's interviewers look for a candidate's ability to deal with change.
Boost their skills
With the right people, a little training goes a long way. Again, while companies may differ about which sales capabilities are the most important to their particular business, most will agree that an investment in training usually gets paid back in results.
Because Tundra is in the staffing business, it's vital that its sales and recruitment staff stay up to date on trends and developments in the company's areas of staffing specialty—primarily IT and engineering. The company keeps the focus on continual learning with what it has dubbed Tundra University: an ongoing series of training sessions and industry updates delivered through lunch-and-learns, white papers, cheat sheets and guest speakers. The company's goal is for all employees to spend about two hours per week on Tundra U activities.
The topics covered can include changes in hiring trends as well as current developments in technology or programming that might affect the skill sets employers will be seeking. "If it's a new methodology in engineering or a new programming tool, we train staff on it," says Williams.