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How to Develop a Great Sales Team

Let’s face it, selling is hard. 

Not only is it hard, finding good sales people is almost impossible as well.

I teach a class at Niagara College from time to time and I always ask the business students about what type of career they’re considering after they graduate. Whenever I mention sales, you can hear crickets.

Selling as a career is no one’s first choice.

But, as a small business owner, you don’t have a choice. As the old saying goes “Nothing happens until someone sells something”. You need to know how to sell.

This blog post is designed to help you build a sales team that can sell.

I believe there are five main steps in developing a great sales team:

  1. Hiring right
  2. Essential skills
  3. The right activity
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice
  5. Educate the market


Obviously hiring the right person is important - garbage in, garbage out right? But hiring the right person is more than just reviewing resumes and conducting interviews.

It starts with having a strong understanding of who your customers are. The better you understand them, the easier it is to find the right type of people that would be able to connect with them. You need to know what’s important to your customers, how they buy and what kind of information they need.

It’s also incredibly important to have clear and realistic expectations of each sales person. It can take a new sales rep up to 10 months to fully develop their territory. Are you prepared to give this person the time to make mistakes, learn new skills and learn the nuance of selling? 

Essential Skills

I believe there are two skills that are critical to every sales person. These skills take time to learn and master, but they are by far the most important, the problem is there’s not a lot of time spent on these skills in most small businesses.

Asking Questions

I’m not talking about rapid fire repetitious questions, or questions that just identify problems. I’m talking about the ability to ask questions in a way that helps the customer find their own path to the solution. When that happens they are not being sold, they are participating in their own journey to the answer.


This is one of the hardest skills to teach. The main reason is that humans listen from their past. We start off listening to the person, but as soon as they say something that we’ve had experience with in the past, we stop listening and start formulating a response because “we know” what solution the customer needs.

Teach your people to not walk into a meeting with their own agenda, rather teach them to listen for the customers. Author Josiane Feigon states that only 13% of customers believe a sales person can understand their needs. The reason is they stop listening and start trying to sell.

The Right Activities

I don’t believe that sales is a numbers game, but it is built around the right activities. Discipline is the key word. Find the right mix of activities (phone calls, emails, visits, etc) and make sure these numbers are met everyday.  

Too many sales people, both new and old, give up too soon. Success in selling is sometimes just about persistence and patients.  

According the the website 80% of sales require at least five follow-up calls after the first meeting, however, 44% of sales people give up after one. Plus it can take between 8-12 contacts to reach a prospect to set up that first meeting.

Develop the right set of activities and stay disciplined to make them effective.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Malcome Gladwell states in his book Outliers, the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, is a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

I know you don’t have 10,000 hours to invest in your sales training, but you do need to make training part of your sales teams week. Every week your team should gather for a short session where a specific skill is worked on.

Most of us only remember about 10% of what is told to us, so a great way to ensure the new skills stick is to give each of your sales people the opportunity to teach a skill.

Start by giving each rep a skill to work on and one week to prepare to teach it to the rest of the team. This exercise will help your rep learn how to make better presentations and the rest of your team will hear a different voice than yours which can help new messages sink in.

Educating the Market

The last step is to allow each of your sales people to become known for something. Hopefully something that is important to your customers and difficult for your competitors to copy.

Never before has the market place been so noisy and hard to distinguish. Help you people stand out by allowing them to educate their customers beyond product knowledge.  

The more you and your sales people become a resource to your customers the harder you are to replace for a lower price.