Sales management for startups: Managing a B2B sales team

Startup entrepreneurs who find themselves managing a business-to-business (B2B) sales team for the first time may encounter many challenges. It is key to understand the sales management process and to have the right tools to bring about your first sales activities.

The sales management process

At its core, sales revenue is a function of a startup’s sales activity level and the quality of those activities. Put simply, sales revenue = activity volume × quality.

From a management perspective, this simple equation establishes the parameters within which you must manage your sales team. You have to ensure a high volume of activity, while at the same time ensuring that the work is performed well.

For instance, insisting that sales associates make 80 cold calls per day may seem like an effective way to signal your expectations regarding levels of activity. However, if during those calls your sales associate lacks a successful calling script, sufficient understanding of your customer’s problems or adequate product knowledge, that effort will likely not be well spent.

Sales management requires a balance between volume and quality of work

Thus, a balance between volume and quality of work is critical to ensuring your team succeeds and that you reach your sales revenue targets. In reality, accomplishing such a balance is complicated by the fact that your sales staff is made up of individuals who each possess a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses.

While one sales associate might perform certain aspects of their work very well, another might struggle with those same tasks, yet excel at other parts of their job. As a sales manager, it is your primary job is to know and develop the skills of your sales team.

Steps to develop skills in your sales team

Step 1: The first step in managing your B2B sales team is to establish individual sales objectives for each associate. Each person must “buy into” their individual objectives so that these can serve as relevant measures against which performance can be viewed over time.

Step 2: The second step is to determine a set of metrics that allows you to understand in detail how well each sales associate performs against their objectives. These metrics will serve as a diagnostic tool for both good and poor work. There are three types of metrics:

  1. Revenue booked
  2. Volume of activity
  3. Quality of work

The table below illustrates some typical performance metrics. As each business is unique, you may need to customize this list as your sales activities develop and require more attention.

Revenue booked Volume of activity Quality of work
Total booking to date Customer interaction per week Product knowledge
Booking last quarter/month First appointments per week Customer understanding
New customers Emails per week Mastery of sales process
Percentage of customer retention Proposals per week Conversion rates
Executive meetings per week Ability to leverage resources

Step 3: The third step is to obtain regular feedback on the metrics from the team. Initially, the effort and information you receive from your sales team on this will likely be limited to participation and accuracy. Over time, however, gathering the metrics will lead the team to focus their energy on what you are measuring. At that point, you should be able to identify both good and flawed practices within your team.

Step 4: The final step is to develop a sales culture. As a sales manager, you are in a prime position to influence the culture of your team, mostly by how you behave as a manager. In short, your behaviour must signal that you endorse excellence and that you hold your team accountable; this will breed the type of culture that serves you best.

The endorsement of excellence is best communicated by allocating most of your time and effort to mentoring those of your sales team who are performing the best, since they most likely have the characteristics to excel. To some, this may sound counterintuitive since sales staff who are underperforming are more likely to ask for help. However, high performing members of your sales team need to and want to be challenged and because they are more valuable to your company than under-performers, they should be your priority.