How-and Why-You Should Build a Sales Farm Team

By: Phil Stern  |  July 22, 2020

Do you know who your next account executive is? If you had unplanned attrition today, how long would it take you to fill the open role? Who are your up-and-comers?

Developing a “farm team” within your sales organization is important to establish confidence in the long-term potential of your team. A “farm team” isn’t just a group of junior reps who will duke it out over the next open position. Rather, a farm team is a strategy—an approach to developing reps within your org so they acquire the skills they will need at the next level, long before they get their shot. Deploying this strategy also sends a clear message that you are dedicated to developing people and will co-invest in their careers.

Plus, developing a farm team can result in tangible benefits for your business, including:

  • Improved employee morale
  • Improved employee retention
  • Increased employee referrals
  • Reduced time for open roles
  • Reduced recruiting and hiring costs
  • Shorter ramp times for new account executives
  • Increased long-term success for account executives

Put another way, when junior reps feel invested in and feel they have a clear career path in your organization, they are more likely to have higher morale, which generally leads to higher employee retention, which generally inspires more employee referrals, which means you’ll have less trouble filling open roles, which means you’ll reduce your recruiting and hiring costs. Promoting from your internal teams also shortens ramp times as these new AEs already know your customers, product, systems and approach to selling. They taste success sooner and see increased long-term results as their confidence continues to build.

That is a strong list of really positive outcomes.

To provide additional context, it helps to go back in time to when you were a rep in one of your first roles in sales. Did you feel your company invested in your success and career development? When new roles opened up, did your leaders look to existing team members first to fill the open roles? How did hiring and internal promotions feel at prior companies? Was it motivational? Did it lead to resentment or attrition?

If you’re like me, you’ve seen this play out a few different ways. To me, both the well-done and the poorly-done processes stand out. I’m here to challenge you: Be a strong career launching pad for your people. Stand out for the right reasons.

Here are some practical tips for building a killer farm team:

  1. Partner with your People team. Make this an official program. Work through the implications for leveling and compensation with your People team and have a documented approach that can be easily communicated to your reps. No People team? No problem. Partner with a peer leader in your business to develop the program.
  2. Define your paths. Will you draw your new salespeople from your customer success teams? Start them on an SDR/MDR team? Do you have a clear path for up-and-coming leaders? Depending on the size of your org and plans for employee growth, the approach you choose will be unique to your business. And though you’d like for everyone you hire onto your teams to pursue a long-term career in sales, that just won’t be the case. Consider working cross-functionally with leaders of other departments to create paths for your team members to grow outside of sales if that’s what they desire.
  3. Define your levels within each role. Do you have more than one level in each role? What happens when you have a high performer but no upcoming AE spots? Create room in each role for your team members to grow in their careers, receive more frequent, incremental promotions and maintain their motivation to keep working hard for you.
  4. Build the programs that develop the reps. It’s not enough to have a structure and clearly defined paths; you must also invest in reps at each step of the way and help them develop the skills they’ll need at the next level.
  5. Kick off an internal mentor program. Pair up-and-coming junior reps with some of your top-performing AEs. A mentor program has benefits on both sides—the junior reps get exposure to, and coaching from, one of your team members with a proven successful system, and your AEs get exposure to leadership.
  6. Create individual development plans for each of your reps and leaders. Not everyone on your team will follow a single path through your org. And not everyone has the same interests or motivations. Creating individual development plans for each team member allows you to document the unique goals and skills each team member would like to develop.

And here are three steps to get started:

First: Take inventory. Do you have the program you want in place? Is it documented? Simple to communicate? Easily understood on the sales floor? If not, take inventory and document what you have.

Second: Write down your desired end state for a successful farm team for your business. Share this with peer leaders in your business, with your CEO and with your people team.

Third: Get to work building.

Developing a farm team can inspire loyalty among your sales rep as well as confidence in your team’s ability to grow with the business. It requires time and thoughtful effort by a sales leader to build the structure and provide individualized feedback, but when that next position opens and you’re able to fill it without skipping a beat, you will be glad you built the team.

Phil is a Operating Principal at Mainsail Partners. He leads the firm’s Center of Excellence for Sales and is responsible for helping Mainsail’s portfolio companies optimize their growth strategies and deploy sales practices.
More by Phil Stern
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