Adam Liebman, who grew SinglePlatform's sales team through its early growth and eventual $100MM+ exit to Constant Contact, shared what he has learned about building effective sales culture.
Don’t hire before there’s a firm business model
Until an organization has a working business model and a repeatable process, it is not time to hire. Adam ran SinglePlatform as a one-man show for the first nine months of the business, making cold calls and trying to find a viable company business model.
SinglePlatform originally charged businesses per phone call, but couldn’t get enough traction so they then began charging based on monthly menu views, however that model was futile as well. Adam believes that if he brought on a sales team during the early days of the business, the frequent business model changes and rewritten processes would have prohibited the team’s success.
Don’t hire before there’s a repeatable sales process
If businesses are only making sales because of who their sales people are and not because of the processes that are in place, then the success is not repeatable or scalable. Onboarding necessitates a process - not just successful personalities.
Hire in groups
Rather than hiring one employee at a time, bring on new team members in multiples. When new hires have other people to play off of, engage with, and share with, they have an inherent support team and tend to demonstrate increased productivity.
Don’t hang on to the dead weight
Hiring in groups doesn’t mean that the whole group survives together long term. SinglePlatform (and Constant Contact) had what Adam refers to as a “no asshole policy,” which means that as soon as someone is identified as not fitting in with the company culture, they are let go of immediately. Nothing spreads quite as quickly -- and does as much damage to collective productivity -- as negativity. Dump the dead weight and chances are the team will thank you for it.
Put performance processes in place from day one
Performance needs to be treated with formalized processes and clear expectations. Expectations should be set up-front and regular check-ins should happen throughout the process so that employees can self-monitor and adjust when necessary. Firings should never come as a surprise, because employees should always be aware of their performance reviews as well as critical metrics and benchmarks.
Leave room to be flexible
Constructing processes early on does not rule out the possibility of making revisions. New business owners particularly struggle with setting commission rates and worry about underpaying or overpaying reps, especially when benchmark goals are based more on assumption than fact. Don’t set goals and plans that can only be achieved under optimal conditions and always be sure to leave some wiggle room for adjustment.
Put more resources behind your people
At Salesforce the biggest employee request was a desire for career development. In response, the organization developed a speaker series to provide free training and workshops. Make upper level management accessible to the sales team for mentorship and lunch meetings so that employees feel constantly inspired and engaged.
Don’t wait to promote
When you are willing to go to bat for your team, they are willing to give you 100%. Don’t be afraid that employees will move up and out of the company, instead work to promote people within the organization. Keep a small sales rep to manager ratio so that there is more time for coaching and managing direct reports, which proved to dramatically increase productivity at SinglePlatform.
Adam recalls that his biggest mistake at SinglePlatform was not promoting a second manager until he himself had 34 direct reports beneath him, which was out of a desire to reduce costs and keep the best salesperson on the phone. What he learned, however, was that taking this stellar salesperson away from the phone and into a leadership role boosted performance for the whole team.
Create a place where you want to work
Generally, people spend more time at work than at any other place in their life. Adam insists that work culture is an extension of people, which means that talking about work is OK and even encouraged - if you love where you work! After being acquired by Constant Contact, they were told that the homogenous sales team needed more diversity. Everyone was 20-24, from state school, active in extracurriculars etc. However, SinglePlatform pointed to the results and the positive network effect that was created as a result.
Empower your team
People want to believe they’re coming to the solution on their own and that they’re being successful. Managers should utilize three types of feedback to fit each situation: one person’s opinion (given as an equal), strong suggestion (advice based on “what I would do if I were you”), and mandate (formal command). Qualifying feedback in this way empowers the listener -- who now understands that problem from a more complete perspective -- to arrive at a better solution and feel empowered as a result.
Don’t manage your team, lead them
Motivation happens internally, according to Adam, but what leaders can do is create an environment in which motivated people can succeed. They provided one-on-one coaching to empower employees, access to the CEO, chalkboard walls, and other resources. Leadership is the art of influencing others to complete a mission. It is not pushing them - it is inspiring them. Light a fire inside of your team, not underneath your team.
Celebrate the wins
Go out for team happy hours, email top performers every week, take time to acknowledge success and celebrate achievement at every level.