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What building sales teams from scratch has taught me

I had the pleasure of remodeling a sales team for the first time almost 8 years ago. Back then, I had the benefit of a VP of sales to guide me along the way. The second time around, I had another VP of sales help me build a sales team from scratch. By the third time, I was the VP of sales.

My father often says, “It is easier to be wiser in retrospect.”. Every time I moved on from one challenge to another, I introspected: and I like to think that I improved each time.

As I am about to complete my third year in Hiver, I have had time to look back on what lessons building sales teams from scratch has taught me. I am sharing this in the hope that maybe a future leader or an existing leader can benefit from my journey so far. Before you ask! I am not done learning and I hope to write a similar article in a few years too!

Your first few hires will make you or break you

Building a team from the ground up is not just about hiring people, it is about building a culture. Sales leaders look for coachability, work ethic, skills but the one thing they forget to look for or overlook is: cultural fit. Your first few hires (quite literally) are culture defining. Imagine building a sales team where your sales individuals ‘don’t like calling’, best of luck getting your next 10 hires on the phone.

Cultural misfits need to make a very quick exit if they are unable to fit in. I have fired some incredibly talented individuals because their work ethic was not a fit or they were simply not a cultural fit.

A single piece of advice I can share is: Do not compromise on cultural fit. If you have the slightest doubt move on. If you have two equally talented individuals and you can only pick one: pick the one that will be a better cultural fit.

You cannot get it right every time

Be it processes or hiring, you will make mistakes and you will fail. The learning here is to fail fast and recover faster. Harping on how some of your plans were thrown in the bin or how that key employee failed to deliver is not going to help you in anyway.

What you learn from your failures is most important. If you do not repeat the same mistakes again, that is gold. No organization has unlimited patience, and neither should you. Learn to cut your losses early and learn from them.

You might have heard this a thousand times before, fail fast. I agree. When you do fail, fail fast.

Lead by example

If you cannot pickup the phone and close that deal or negotiate a complex deal, do not expect your team to do it. Every time I have been tasked with building a team, I have first acted as an IC and then added more team members to the team. If I cannot sell the product, I sure as hell cannot lead a team that can sell it.

Too many leaders overlook this fundamental fact when setting up a team. You must lead by example. The same holds true when the team is setup. If you are not spending a vast majority of your time coaching the team or planning next steps, you will fail.

I firmly believe leading by example makes it easier to earn your team’s respect. It also makes it easier for you to have the ‘just do it because I am telling you to’ kind of conversations easier. Not that you should be having too many of those but it sure makes it easier to have these conversations when you have to.

Diversity is not a catch phrase it is an essential

There is a reason a lot of organizations invest in diversity officers.

At the time of writing this article, my team is multicultural, multi-faith and diverse. This is not an accident, I have made a conscious effort to be as inclusive as possible. I could write a book on how this diversity has helped the team grow and also lean on each other in difficult times.

There are other benefits to running diverse teams but that would be a topic for another blog post I guess. :)


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