Last week I was talking with a prospect about launching a comprehensive inbound marketing effort to build the lead generation volume that would be needed to meet some very aggressive growth targets. The conversation went very well and they wanted to let me know about some of their other plans.
What they told me was not a surprise, as I hear it regularly from companies that want to accelerate their growth. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the biggest mistakes that growing companies can make. Their plan was to add 3 – 5 new salespeople over the next 60 days (they currently have 2).
Don’t misunderstand, salespeople are a critical part of a B2B sales and growth effort (unlike some opinions that are floating out there), however, they should not be the first hires (or even the second) when the goal is growth.
The mistake my soon to be client was about to make was allocating resources (money & time) to the bottom of the funnel, before the top or the middle of the funnel was performing adequately. The reality is that this company didn’t have enough leads to keep one salesperson busy full-time, and hiring more salespeople wouldn’t change that.
What it would do, however, is permanently increase their cost structure and put them into a capacity crisis that would make it virtually impossible to be able to build a predictable, sustainable and scalable sales effort. If your goal is sustained growth you must invest in the top of the funnel (lead generation) and the middle (lead management) before you invest in the bottom (salespeople).
Mike Volpe, HubSpot’s CMO, shared a similar insight when talking about building an effective, profitable marketing team. Volpe made two points in his article that apply to whether you’re building a marketing or sales effort:
- The best way to help your sales team is to build brand awareness and create content that generates a lot of leads over time. An increase of twice as many leads means twice as many quality leads
- No matter how small your marketing team is, build your "attract" team first and fastest. The long-term payoff of content is enormous. I promise you'll kick yourself later if you aren't investing in content now, for the same reasons you'd kick yourself for not contributing to your retirement fund until you're 40.
When Is The Right Time to Hire Salespeople
While there is much debate as to when is the right time to hire, the reality is that the answer is quite simple. You hire salespeople when you are generating more sales qualified leads (SQLs) than your current sales team can handle.
Simply put, if your current sales team is not overwhelmed managing SQLs then you need to invest in the ability to create more SQLs before your invest the ability to handle them. You need to invest in:
- The top of the funnel to create more leads.
- The middle of the funnel to nurture and convert those leads.
- Or (and this is the answer most of the time) both.
Three Places to Invest Before You Hire Salespeople
The Strategy & Process to Stand Out And Win
Time and again I see companies that use ineffective sales processes (producing inconsistent results) that think if they just hire “better” salespeople their problem will be solved. Many sales failures are actually caused by the organization, not the salespeople and just hiring new ones won’t solve the problem.
Before you even think about hiring salespeople, make sure you can answer these three questions with an emphatic “Yes!”
- Have we clearly and distinctly defined our buyer personas?
- Have we created a clear challenger message crafted to our personas that communicates the problem we solve, the best solution and why we’re the best?
- Have we communicated all of this throughout the organization?
Create the Content to Win In A ZMOT World
As I’ve shared time and time again, customers have revolutionized the way they gather information, assess their situation, consider options and buy. Yet, most sales organizations have changed only incrementally.
Regardless of your industry, size or how well trained your sales team is; it is incontrovertible that your prospects are taking more and more of the education and purchasing process upon themselves.
If you want to be able to predictably hire salespeople to be successful, you must – MUST – invest in the content that allows you to compete in the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) and create the engagement and lead generation at the top of the funnel that creates scalable growth.
The Sales Development Capability to Turn Leads Into Qualified Leads and Qualified Leads Into SQLs
I don’t care what you call them: hunters, SDRs, rainmakers, etc. The key is to invest in specialized capabilities that focus middle of funnel lead conversion. While there are several people whom I respect that disagree with me, I firmly believe that separating conversion (hunting) from managing the sale and closing is critical if you want to sustain growth.
While people may disagree with this statement, I’ve yet to find anyone who can present that data that backs up specialization. For example, a study conducted by the Kellogg School for Business found that companies that specialize gain a seven-point (that’s points, not percentage) increase in their win rate.
Successfully building a sales development capability requires that you integrate the right technology, with the right process and the right people. You must have the data, the measurements and the approach that turns interest and curiosity into valid sales opportunities.
When these three pieces are in place, the ability to hire successful salespeople becomes far easier and so much more predictable. The failure to do so simply leaves your fortunes to chance.