Is it time for your company to add a sales team?

Sift Media
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Your business is growing and you have less time on your hands. It might be worthwhile to employ your own dedicated sales team. Louise Druce from our sister site, takes a look at how to choose the right candidates.

The size of your operation and budget will dictate how many sales employees you need. A quick tour around the online recruitment sites should give you an indication of a reasonable salary expectation in your location and sector. Sales staff are frequently paid on a commission and, because of the high staff turnover in the industry, often receive other perks.

Costs and to some extent specialist skills needed will also dictate whether you choose to recruit via an agency or advertise yourself. Alternatively, you may decide to outsource the whole operation. Some of the pros and cons of using an employment agency are highlighted in the box.


One of the biggest advantages in outsourcing the whole sales operation is that the company will take care of everything, from recruitment and employment contracts to motivating and rewarding staff and retention. The latter part is the key area, according to Liz Jackson, managing director of UK-based B2B telemarketers Great Guns Marketing. "It's what drives people and could double, triple or even quadruple the results you get", she says.

Advantages of using an employment agency

  • Saves time
  • Try people out beforehand
  • Agencies take care of pay and taxes
  • Can replace unsuitable candidates
  • Preserves company anonymity
  • Can advertise on your behalf

Disadvantages of using an employment agency

  • Lost time if no candidates
  • Fees can be expensive
  • More fees changing temp to perm
  • Long-working temps regarded as staff

"Most people within this industry complain about the high turnover and the difficulties maintaining sales staff. Unless it's a core part of their business, most companies find it to be a thorn in the side."

As well as commission-based targets, some of motivational extras in the Great Guns Marketing offices are fresh fruit delivered every day, a Nintendo Wii, a masseuse, hotel breaks for people who earn the most commission, psychological testing to help staff improve performance, and an on-site, on-the-job trainer. They also work on different accounts so the job doesn't become stagnant.

On the clients' side, each telemarketer is matched to the business according to their skills and the company receives regular updates on their progress, both through a daily report and a weekly look at whether there are more or different opportunities to be exploited. The company also has a CRM system that clients can access to receive more in-depth data and there is an open door policy so clients can see the telemarketers in action for themselves.

"We act as a consultant on the project to make sure we are not missing anything", says Jackson. "The client gets transparency and feedback without the motivating and managing."

In-house hunting

That's not to say there aren't advantages to keeping employment in-house. Staff are more submerged in the company culture and ethics, and you have more direct control over output and productivity. Other plus points, according to Tom Dunkerley, head of sales at publisher Sift Media, include team spirit (something "not to be underestimated"), improved understanding of the product or service, and the ability to create excitement around it.

Dunkerley also cites a greater ability to measure overall performance and identify training requirements so career plans can be built around them.

Sift Media uses three main approaches to recruitment: via a specialist consultancy that works on a managed service contract, the Web site, and via direct referral from other staff in the company who may know talented sales people. Dunkerley believes this approach has helped weed out time-wasters and ensures people have the right skills. "The consultancy adds real value to the business and are an ambassador to Sift", Dunkerley adds. "You have to make sure they are building good relationships with other consultants in the area, something that is worth screening regularly."

The qualities you should look for in sales staff are highlighted in the box below. You can also find more specific sales interview questions here.

On the question of salary, Dunkerley believes there should be some parity, which comes from having a structure. Sift Media has bands and increments that are clearly defined so individuals are clear about what they will get. "Stepping outside these bands can be dangerous and effect morale", he cautions. "Reward excellence and be fair to all."

Moving targets

The SMART approach is a good guideline for setting targets: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely, as lots of other factors need to be taken into consideration such as markets, sectors, competitors, figures from the previous year and predictions for the coming year (both individually and at a company level).

Sift Media recently implemented a new commission structure that attributes 50 percent each to company and individual targets. "It's transformed the way we work", says Dunkerley. But he adds that you shouldn't be afraid to experiment a little. "If it's not working, change it quickly", he says.

Keeping staff motivated is a challenge but it can be achieved through good management and reward and recognition schemes. "Employees need support from their managers alongside clear and effective feedback on their performance", says Simon Jones, chief executive at UK-based Investors in People. "This support is vital when it comes to mapping out career paths and identifying relevant training and development. Without it, employees are likely to drift and depart rather than stay engaged with their organisation's objectives."

John Sylvester, executive director of UK-based people performance experts P&MM Motivation, also points out that in such a competitive employment market, it is simply no longer good enough to expect employees to be grateful for having a job. "Engagement is all about employees believing in the business and its future, proactively driving it forward, generating success, feeling personally rewarded by doing this and benefiting from the opportunities that are created by their efforts."

Just reward

Cost is the biggest issue when it comes to including an attractive benefits package to lure people in. The good news is not all sales staff are motivated purely by money. "We recently ran a motivation metrics test on our sales team and it showed 85 percent of the primary drivers were non-monetary based. Prestige, security, reputation, and status were more important", said Dunkerley. "Understanding the individual drivers for each person helps plan their KPIs and ensure you know what makes them tick."

Good qualities in sales staff

  • Enthusiastic not desperate
  • Self-motivated not self-interested
  • Confident not over-bearing
  • Assertive not aggressive
  • Quick-thinker not a liar
  • Persuasive not arrogant
  • Articulate not jargon speaker
  • Knowledgeable not a bluffer
  • Resilient not stubborn

Malcolm Bond, a reward consultant at employment specialists PES, agrees. "By introducing an element of flexibility with, for example, childcare vouchers or extra holiday days, the positive impact on staff satisfaction and retention can help save money overall", he says "While smaller and medium-sized businesses may not always be able to compete with larger companies in terms of salary and expensive benefits, by offering choice and a little bit of imagination, less cash-rich organizations can become 'employers of choice.' People will often choose the correct work-life balance over a little extra cash."

The only way to gauge whether or not schemes and targets are working is to monitor performance. This can be done through technology that specifically charts and tracks progress against targets. However, Sift Media has tried to build a more entrepreneurial environment by making people responsible for managing their own territory and targets. Support comes via the rest of the team, weekly one-to-one meetings, training and regular reviews.

"We gauge success through monitoring their pipeline, effective changes to their pipeline and, where necessary, delve deeper into why people are doing things in certain ways", says Dunkerley. This might include call to proposal to close ratios, recording calls, or joint sales visits with peers. The idea is to add incentives for the employees. "The idea of running a sales team that has to do X, Y, Z everyday doesn't benefit anyone", he adds. "It's just not empowering."

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