02 Nov 2017

5 Sales Force Expansion Mistakes

Dramatically increasing the size of your company’s sales force in a short period of time can prove to be a painful process. Fortunately, many of the issues you’ll face are knowable and avoidable. Based on our observations, we see 5 common sales force expansions mistakes that most companies make.

5 Sales Force Expansion Mistakes.

  1. Underestimating the Project.

The biggest mistake we see companies commit is underestimating the time required and the level of disruption a major sales force expansion causes. The level of chaos that will ensue is determined by the size of the expansion, how well the plan has been thought through and the available resources. Here are some examples of how processes and results break down during an expansion.

Most expansion plans start with a realignment of the Regional Sales Managers’ teams to reduce the number of sales reps that report to each RSM. Concurrently, current sales reps are promoted into a new RSM role or new RSMs are brought into the company from the outside. In most of the expansions that we’ve experienced, the new RSMs are tasked with hiring the same number of new sales reps as the experienced RSMs. In point 2 below, we’ll come back to how this creates problems.

Once the expansion begins and interviewing starts, most companies immediately experience several bottlenecks. Their interview processes aren’t staffed sufficiently to handle a massive increase in candidates in their interview process. Typical sticking points are HR and executive team availability for interviewing.

  1. Overwhelmed Managers.

Concurrently trying to hire 2-4 sales reps in 2-4 different geographies is a major undertaking for an experienced Regional Sales Manager. With few exceptions, most RSMs do not relish the interview and hiring process. They have a sales number that they need to hit today. Juggling the tasks of interviewing while managing their current team is a daunting and stressful proposition. Often, the expansion becomes priority #2.

To make matters worse, every major sales force expansion we’ve participated in included freshly minted Sales Managers. Asking a new manager to learn their core job (managing their team) during a major hiring push is a big ask. In our observations, new managers end up performing poorly at both tasks during sales force expansions. They find themselves in a constant state of overwhelm which leads to poor decision making and ultimately, poor hiring choices. To put this simply…

High emotion equals low intelligence.

  1. Consistent Processes and Standards.

We have witnessed multiple expansions fail to meet hiring goals until the CEO gets involved. Once he or she does, hires start happening. What typically occurs to help expedite hiring is the lowering of hiring standards and the skipping or shortchanging of interview steps. The company starts hitting its hiring deadlines but the quality of the hires slips. We share several tips to ensure consistent vetting standards in the 5 Rules for an Effective Hiring Process. Even if quality doesn’t slip, there’s a new problem to contend with once this wave of new hires start.

  1. Setting New Hires up to Lose.

Sometimes the costliest problems begin once a RSM has found their new sales hires. Asking a Sales Manager to properly train, manage and develop 2 new sales reps located in different cities at the same time is logistically problematic. Up that number to 3 new sales reps and the task becomes close to impossible. Again, they still have other reps to manage. Unfortunately, much of these new hires’ training consists of sinking or swimming.

  1. Death by Papercut.

Companies that avoid the major missteps above are usually still disappointed with the sales results of their expansion. They fall victim to the proverbial death by papercut. At each step, the quality suffers a little. The hiring standards slip, the training isn’t up to the usual standards, etc. Any issue in isolation could be dealt with. When combined, their impact can be significant.

Our experience has shown us that most companies go through an unplanned, phase 2 of their sales force expansion. Phase 2 happens once they go back and replace the bad and/or mis-handled sales hires. Fortunately, there is hope.

The Remedy.

Just as we’ve witnesses multiple sales force expansions go wrong, we’ve seen a few that went well. In every example, these companies recruited and brought on new sales hires in waves or stages. They carefully thought through bottlenecks, RSMs capacity for training and developed an expansion plan that didn’t rely on luck to work. It might not be as exciting as a “Shock and Awe” method of growing but it’s effective.

We’ll close with a central Sales Talent philosophy.

If it’s not repeatable and scalable, it’s not a process.


Chris Carlson

President and founder of Sales Talent Inc, a B2B sales recruiting firm. Based near Seattle, WA we place sales reps, sales engineers and sales leaders across North America.