Five things I learned in my first year as a Sales Manager

 Sonya and her SDR team at the 2017 STA holiday party Sonya and her SDR team at the 2017 STA holiday party

by Sonya Meloff

In 2017, I embarked on a journey to build a sales team for Sales Talent Agency. Prior to that, we’d never had one, as I had been the only “dedicated” sales person.  This worked well for many years but by the end of 2016, having grown to approximately 60 people, we recognized the need to build a proper sales department to ensure consistent growth.  We also realized that if we could get it right, we had a huge opportunity in front of us.

Though I’d always been a strong individual contributor, I’d never been a sales manager before and it quickly became my job to figure out how.   For a second, yes, I was terrified. But then instantly excited!

We decided to run with an SDR model to see if we could replicate in a service business what we’d seen software companies do so successfully.  That is, we’d break up the sales process in to fragmented segments, hire and train high-potential/low-experience talent, and train them on how to master the earliest and toughest part of the sales process: finding the right opportunities and booking high quality meetings for the senior leaders to carry forward. We also ramped up our marketing efforts to drive inbound opportunities, but that is for another article.

We first test-piloted the idea of an SDR team in the summer of 2016 with a university intern. With a bit of trial and error, we proved quickly that the model worked and pushed forward to build a full-time sales team. By the end of 2017, our team had grown to five full-time sales people and it proved to be a year of tremendous learning and great results.  We hit 107% on an aggressive target, brought on more than 100 new clients, and solidified our team as a critical part of STA’s future growth strategy.

Five key things I learned in my first year as a sales manager:

1. Hire the right people

5 years ago, we developed our DNA/PRO™ methodology for analyzing sales talent for our clients. The most critical of these are the first 3: Drive (are they ambitious, with the work ethic and resiliency to meet their goals?); Nature (are they emotionally intelligent and able to connect easily and authentically with customers?); Acumen (are they bright, curious and able to become a business expert?). Using this methodology we hired 3 high-potential sales rookies who have all excelled (all met their 2017 targets) and have since been promoted. Never have we been more convinced of this methodology than after using it for our own hiring.

2. Pick 3 KPI’s

Starting from scratch, we needed to figure out the basics of what we would measure: how many companies was it reasonable to contact on a daily basis, how many calls should the sales people be making in a day, how were they going to find who to call, do emails work better and how many emails to send, and how many conversations could be had, and meetings booked?

We set and revised daily activity targets and recognized what we could only measure that which we could control – specifically, who we were calling (did we identify the right contact), how often we called them, and what exactly were we saying.  

There is no doubt that the right activity leads to the right results and, with the help of a strong internal Salesforce partner, we set up dashboards and reports to help measure everything.

3. Training must be ongoing

Beyond our training manual with the basics on both sales and product training, I quickly realized that training for sales is an ongoing thing, often in real-time after or before calls are made, emails written, etc.  

I set aside weekly 1-on-1 meetings with each rep to review deals in play,  opportunities stalled, and to complete a thorough pipeline review.  This allowed for pin-pointed and effective knowledge transfer and ensured effective pipeline management.

As a team, we also met daily to review achievements based on the previous day’s goals. This has since been modified to a Monday and Friday meeting only.

4.  Tech for Sales has arrived and it’s great!

We discovered and tested great tools like Lusha, Pitchbook, ZoomInfo, Boomerang, ConnectAndSell, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Calendly, Vidyard and others which helped us get sales insights on our prospects quickly and saved time with tough tasks such as finding key contact info (aka mobile numbers!) for prospects.  Time is money, and we continue to trial and explore new tools that can help drive efficiencies for our team.

5. Celebrate the small wins and have fun as a team

Working in sales can feel like getting beat up a daily basis.  Putting aside the slamming down of the phone, the crass replies to emails, there are prospects that will commit to a meeting, then not show up, never to be heard from again. If that’s not ego-bruising, I don’t know what is!  But with every no, it’s one step closer to a yes, and along the way we enjoyed celebrating the small wins, including: finding an important number, having a good conversation, getting a referral, etc.  We reviewed and celebrated these small wins daily.

We also celebrated big wins – hitting targets and team promotions – and most importantly we had fun along the way. We learned to laugh at ourselves and had fun laughing at and with each other.  Most importantly, we learned that sales is a team sport and nobody can do it on their own.

Because we help companies hire salespeople for a living, our standard is to be the salespeople our clients want to hire.  We set a high standard for each other and, as a team, held each other accountable.  This included work activities and personal goals, and basic expectations around showing up on time, using proper grammar, and being accountable to do what we say we are going to do.  We set a bar to not be late for meetings, to always be prepared and not miss targets,  while recognizing that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. By stating our expectations clearly, it set the tone for how we wanted our team to be perceived, both internally and externally, and ultimately I think helped us achieve strong results.

The profession of sales is one of constant growth and learning and this couldn’t have been more true for my first year as a sales manager. Our theme as a sales team for 2018 is: Always Be Growing.  The definition of growing is to become greater over a period of time and I’m looking forward to continued growth for me, my team and everyone on it.

For the love of Sales!