The Keys to Cultivating a Successful Sales Team

Johnstone Supply regional sales manager Darrell Sterling highlights the pillars to forming and improving an effective sales team.

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It is hard to just write an article about a topic that could easily be a very long “how-to” book. So here, I will summarize the main points and key pillars that will help you to develop that competitive, driven, goal-oriented, industrial B2B sales team.


The first and possibly the most important things that you need to do is recruit well. How do you do that? It is fairly simple look for a PHD. No, not that PHD, but someone who is Poor, Hungry and Driven. The candidate obviously doesn’t need to be poor, but must act like he is. I want driven people, who have personal goals that they want for themselves. I try to hire people who have a burning desire for something that they want badly: a big home, early retirement, fancy car, etc. The key here is they have something that motivates and drives them — they act hungry and driven.

The experience level is not as important as having the basics of selling figured out. I have interviewed many salespeople who have been selling for years but they are basically clueless. Selling is selling whether it is a million-dollar piece of equipment, pencils or women’s shoes. If you ask someone to sell you a product and they launch into features and benefits — as most seem to do — end the interview. The person is clueless. I cannot sell to you without first knowing what your needs are. If your candidate does not go into a needs analysis, trying to understand what the customer is actually looking for in a given product, then that person is all wrong for your organization because they do not have a proven, winning sales process.

The person who understands this concept and has proven that they have at least learned the basics of selling is the recruit I am interested in. I don’t care if you can recite the brochure for the product. Do you understand how to find out what is most important to your customer? It’s not about experience, it’s about sales knowledge.

The recruit must realize that you need to know what your customer’s wants and needs are so they can see if your products are a good match for that customer’s real needs.

Team-building begins by hiring a staff of folks who understand the concepts of what it takes to sell.

You can teach someone about your industry and products, but if someone has been selling for years and has never learned the basic rules of sales, they are not for you. I don’t care how well they know the products of our industry. I will take a good salesperson over a non-salesperson who has lots of experience in our industry.


You should have your onboarding process already built out. You need to have a proven training program developed before you even think about hiring someone. You need to have a step-by-step process on how you are going to take your new recruit and teach them everything they need to know to be an instant success. Your goal should be to have your recruit primed and ready to make a big splash. It is what you should expect. You need to make sure that your new hire knows that your expectations are that they hit the ground running.

I have a calendar already made up of what the new hire will be doing every day for their first month. At the end of every week I meet with my new employee to discuss how the week of training went. Depending on what was learned, I might have short quiz to make sure they have grasped what was taught. I have open discussions with my new salesperson to see if they like the training thus far and to see if they are ready for what is planned for the next week. We could decide together that more review is necessary before moving on to the next phase. If that happens, then I tweak the weekly and monthly schedule, update it and give the new schedule back to my new team member.

People learn at different speeds, and you need to be flexible with your training and in constant communication with your new hire to make sure that they are grasping what they are learning and to make sure that they are still liking what they signed up for. You want to know if your new hire is truly learning the ins and outs of the job and that they are still enthusiastic about the job that they were hired to do. What do they like and what don’t they like?

You need to learn and know about the person you hired. It is hard to motivate people when you have no clue what it is that motivate or drives them. It is important for your subordinate to learn and know about you. I believe it is vitally important to be as transparent as possible with a new hire. I want them to get to know me. Like a marriage, both parties need to be happy for the partnership to work.


Team integration should be part of your onboarding or training program. Your new hire should be running sales calls not only with you, but with every member of your sales team. You want to create a cohesive sales team that shares best practices and procedures. You want to nurture a competitive environment. You can do this by holding weekly sales meeting reporting on everyone’s sales number and weekly goals.

If your team’s numbers are reviewed weekly in front of each other, no one wants to be on the bottom of the sales list and the battle for the top spot will ensue. Salespeople are very competitive by nature, so it will not take long before they are trying to outdo one another in sales and when the weekly meeting rolls around, they are all striving to be at or near the top. You also can continue to stoke the fire by offering sales contests about who brings in the most e-commerce sales for the month or who brings in the most sales from new customers, etc.


Goal-oriented salespeople is something that you want to create within your team. The goal might not just mean to grow sales or profits. You might decide you want to grow your e-commerce business, or that you want to make sure your staff is providing extra value to your customer base, so they become sticky. You might want your sales team to conduct on-site training for your top customers. A quarterly goal review program should be taking place so that you are always measuring and communicating your team’s performance in all areas. You want the team to know that more is required than just moving the sales needle — you want to control where you grow and how you plan to keep these customers for the long-term.


You can encourage team bonding a thousand different ways, but the end result that you are looking to achieve out of this exercise is for all of your sales team to really get to know one another so that an atmosphere of trust and respect can blossom. I am connected with my team on Facebook. It is a great way to really get to know one another. You will understand what’s of interest to your folks and what drive and motivates them. You can all go to dinner or have fun nights. The key is to always keep things at a minimum semi-professional. You do not want to become a drinking buddy or promote bad behavior. You just want cohesiveness.

Please understand it is not necessary to be good friends with your staff. The key is they respect you and know that you are truly out for their best interest.

Darrell SterlingDarrell SterlingA sales team that gets along will communicate more effectively with one another and support each other. Success breeds success. The tighter your team is the easier it becomes to spread success.


Good Luck!

Darrell Sterling is a regional sales manager for Johnstone Supply, an HVAC supplies distributor in Central New York. He can be reached at or 585-441-0335.

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