5 mistakes SMB leaders make when scaling sales

January 13, 2021
09:00 AM
Mike Arsenault


Scaling sales is a problem that every leader faces at some point in their company’s lifecycle. On every digital platform, the amount of information on what to do versus what not to do, can be overwhelming. That overwhelming feeling is amplified if you are not someone who gravitates towards sales and sales people.

For the time being I’m not going to cover sales hiring because that is a huge topic. I cover that in a different post called: “The SMB do’s and don’ts of sales hiring”. In this post I want to focus on common challenges SMB leaders face when they decide to scale their sales team. Many of you are here now or hope to be there soon.


A common misconception is that if you put a bunch of salespeople on the phone or in the field that they will sell something. In many cases they may get lucky and sell a few licenses of your product….but in time, committing solely to this old school approach will leave you disappointed. In the meantime you burn through expenses, staff and sales cycles with potential customers.

As a leader your role is to make sure that the sales team scales and ensure that revenue growth happens as quickly and effectively as possible. That being said it is also your responsibility to make sure that anyone you hire is supported in his or her path to success. Avoiding the everso common pitfalls will help you get on track faster and add more value to your future team.

The 5 most common mistakes are:

1. Ignoring the concept of sales culture.
Sales people are emotional creatures that need to feel energized and inspired when they are at work. They gravitate to teams and feed off each others energy to tackle seemingly impossible tasks. Keeping their energy high and the team focused on growth is a lofty job. You cannot ignore that culture plays a big part in keeping this revenue engine moving. Your team will need constant reassurance, support and engagement through the peaks and valleys of your “selling seasons”.

2. Not building a realistic compensation plan.
You can promise someone the world but the minute they realize you cannot deliver they seldom stick around. Many companies try to lure sales people in with promises of a tremendous earning potential if they sell a target number of accounts or bookings. But if those goals are seemingly unattainable or you do not have the infrastructure (marketing support, sales resources etc.) to support these goals, they will soon figure that out and leave.

3. Not investing in marketing and lead generation.
So many leaders assume that if you get a bunch of people cold calling you will grow exponentially. This is false. Cold calling can help you build some traction but it should be one of many tools in your sales toolkit. Sales people need leads, the market needs to be educated and you should never underestimate the impact of brand awareness to salespeople’s efforts.

4. Thinking Sales is a “Set it and Forget it” department
Sales people need to be managed. I’ll say it again “Salespeople need to be managed”. If you’ve never managed salespeople there is a high probability that you underestimate the impact that management has on sales performance. Salespeople by nature are high touch employees and need constant interaction, inspiration and guidance.

5. You are underestimating the work
Building an effective sales team takes a lot of effort and planning. Between sales onboarding, training, sales and marketing alignment, hiring, compensation plans, sales process and forecasting there is a lot of room for error. It is a lot of work. The best sales people can see when a company is just “faking it until they make it” and they may not stay around to find out how the story ends.


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The truth:
Scaling sales is a healthy mixture of science, keen people skills and having a genuine interest in making it work. So here is what I recommend to avoid making the mistakes we see so often:

1. Accept the reality
Get comfortable with the idea of being hands-on with sales. Until you put a leader in place try to engage consistently and help keep things fresh. Similar to when you take a flight, the flight attendants add value consistently throughout the journey. Take the same approach with your sales team. Implement a cadence of support outside of the typical meeting cadence. Use product training to support their skills, leverage company events to showcase small victories and ask always ask for feedback. Sales is a hard job and the best leaders recognize that they need to constantly invest time and energy into their people to keep them growing.

2. Get you marketing game together.
The days of salespeople being fully responsible for generating his or her own leads is long gone.
If you want to support a long term sales strategy invest in generating leads from a variety of channels that make sense for your business. If you can’t find someone leverage a 3rd party outsourced model until you are ready to put a full-time marketing resources in place.

3. “Dig into the data” or “Ask an expert”
Try to leverage data around what is attainable for sales people and build compensation plans on a quarterly basis to start. If you have no data, be flexible and understand that compensation can go well beyond just sales transactions. Leverage MBO’s (Measureable business objectives) tied to financial reward for focus on the right activities (pipeline generation, meetings, demos) until you get the other pieces of your sales puzzle shelled out. In most cases enlist the help of an expert who focuses on compensation plans to get you on the right foot.

4. Be honest with yourself
Make sure that you are ready and willing to undertake the workload to help your sales employees be successful. If you feel like you are not the one look into bringing in some external help. If you need a leader but not ready for a full time VP of sales, consider fractional leadership on a contract basis. Fractional leaders allow you to access senior talent but on a part-time basis to fill in any gaps that you may have.

Scaling can be an incredibly exciting time for any company, and if done correctly can catapult you and your team to the next level. Best of luck during this exciting time and for more insight on ways to impact your revenue growth.

Author: Mike Arsenault

Mike Arsenault is an executive leader and sales growth expert. He works with B2B leaders on transformational change to drive revenue growth, facilitate international expansion and build high performing sales teams. Mike’s work has impacted sales organizations globally by helping them navigate the unique challenges that come with building and scaling growth-focused businesses.


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