Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Not only do customers wish to utilize a variety of channels within the buyer-seller relationship, they frequently use multiple channels to complete even a single, specific transaction. A frequently cited example of this may be found within the airline industry. Customers may contact an airline customer care center or consult with a travel agent for trip planning counsel, hence consuming valuable time and resources, only to turn around and purchase the actual ticket from the lowest price point channel, such as a discounted Internet travel site. This can be costly to any organization as the purchaser is using up considerable resources not dedicated to their actual point of purchase.

Nunes and Cespedes (2003) refer to this behavior as “value poaching.” Given that channel choices are expanding, there is almost an infinite set of paths that a customer can take through a set of channels to complete a transaction. Therefore, organizations need to create enticements that draw customers through profitable paths. This is much different than shifting customers to low cost channels. Rather, this involves adding value to elements of the channel structure to encourage customer use for specific activities. It does not assume that some customers can be confined to specific channels.

Given that adding new channels rarely means taking old ones away, there needs to be careful planning and consideration to provide order for both customers and sales organizations in a state of ever-increasing complexity. This includes a supportive data infrastructure, skilled managers, guidelines for conflict resolution, and a customer-focused usage strategy. Organizations that are successful at this are those that are managing the use of channels to meet not only their individual expectations but also to fulfill the promise of a multichannel structure.

Chapter 3: Examining the Deployment of Sales Resources

“We’ve changed the organization twice in the past 18 months. We’ve increased the level of expertise in the direct sales force and we’ve added a whole new organization focused on large accounts. We’ve evolved from a ‘sell whatever you can’ model to a more strategic view of market and territory management.”
—Sales Director


As noted in Chapter 2, a direct sales force remains and will continue to remain a critical channel for selling organizations. This includes the use of field, or face-to-face, sales professionals as well as inside sales representatives. Strategies to best leverage the investment in a direct sales force varied by company. In fact, there was no single deployment strategy that dominated. What was consistent was that almost every organization we talked to was in the midst of restructuring their sales force and, furthermore, the constant changes in customer expectations, solution sets, and channel strategies render it very unlikely that any sales force deployment strategy could be considered permanent.

Common Structures

There are probably an infinite number of combinations to describe sales force deployment strategies. At the core, however, our study found four common strategies behind sales force allocation—product line, customer characteristics, geographic location, and sales activities. Each is described in detail below. Keep in mind, however, that deployments are rarely accomplished using only one method. It is most common to employ a matrix strategy; for example, deploy resources by potential in some tiers, others by geography, and others against highly technical product segments.

Product Line

Deploying a sales force by product line is one of the most traditional ways to go about allocating resources. It is beneficial in supplying high levels of product expertise to buying organizations. As organizations merge and extend solution sets into numerous lines, however, it becomes less common as a primary strategy. As a result of these mergers and investments, some of the sales organizations we studied found themselves in situations where they were deploying multiple sales representatives into the same customer account, each selling a different set of products. This created inefficiencies from both the selling and the buying perspectives. Customers were unable to form consistent experiences with brands, and business customers in particular were unable to satisfy the needs of centralized procurement departments. From the sales side, it created costly redundancies, fragmented the collection of customer information, and increased the cost of sales.

Another consideration is the sales strategy or approach being targeted by the selling organization. A sales force deployed against products, for example, would not be a good fit within an organization that is using bundling or other solutionsbased approaches to the market. There are still many situations, however, where this strategy can work particularly well. For example, it is beneficial in cases where the product sales and implementation may be highly technical or a great deal of product detail is involved in the buying process. Office Depot, for instance, supplements its main account representatives with salespeople who specialize in furniture sales. This product line requires interior design and other implementation factors not required with office supply purchases and therefore merits an additional contact point with the customer account. Another good example is Intier Automotive Inc., a Canadian supplier of interior and closure systems, that reports that it is moving to a more product-oriented deployment system to best represent the highly technical nature of its product line. This is also favored by its account base, which includes enormous organizations (the Big Three U.S. automakers, Toyota, BMW, Honda, etc.) divided into many specialized divisions. Given the technical detail needed in the purchasing process, there is less benefit to centralize purchasing with a single relationship manager across various divisions.

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Moving Hewlett Packard from a Product-Oriented to a Customer-Oriented Sales Organization

As part of the new HP (post Compaq merger), a reorganization was undertaken to better deploy sales resources against customer segments. Under this new segmentation scheme, product divisions were assigned responsibility for selling into specific customer segments. For example, the Enterprise Systems Group (ESG), which focuses on system integration, outsourcing, and other elements of enterprisewide information technology (IT) infrastructure, was assigned as the primary interface to the corporate, enterprise, and commercial account bases. The Personal Systems Group (PSG) was assigned to manage vendor and distributor relationships and the Imaging and Printing Group (IPG) was accountable for the consumer side of the business. As a result of this restructuring, HP notes that “success is no longer owning a product line” and the sales force is able to “rally around the passion for the customer.”

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Customer Characteristics

Deploying sales resources against specific customer segments that exhibit common characteristics can be useful in creating specialization within the sales force and supporting organizational initiatives around customer centricity. Within our study, examples of this kind of deployment strategy used customer potential, industry, and buying preferences as a basis.

One common example of this can be found in the creation of sales teams to serve global or key accounts that are thought to have unique needs, have a greater desire for partnering, and are strategically important to the selling organization. This kind of global account strategy was once only used for a few top accounts within a selling organization. Today, however, many organizations in our study are beginning to deploy it within larger portions of their customer base. Typically, this can be beneficial for customers in that they are better able to receive coordinated service across a wide range of geographies instead of having to negotiate separate sales cycles in each region. From the seller side, this can be a valuable strategy for elevating influence and earning Trusted Business Advisor status within a high-potential account. Although this can be a resource-intensive strategy, as many of these key accounts will require access to product, finance, technical, and implementation specialists, it has the potential to yield high rewards.

This allocation by potential can extend beyond global accounts throughout the customer base. For example, global or key accounts may merit specialized sales teams; lesser potential accounts might be assigned individual account executives. Those with yet even less potential might most efficiently be handled through inside sales representatives or through other channels. This clearly has advantages for the selling organization in that lower potential customers can be served with lower cost of sale resources. The key is to ensure that this distinction is not perceived by customers as a lack of organizational commitment. Particularly as organizations change, care must be taken to ensure that customers do not feel slighted as their contact person changes. (“Hey, I used to get a face-to-face sales rep, now I only get a phone call!”) Ensuring that the sales process and approach used within these different groups is aligned where appropriate can alleviate this problem.

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Global Account Teams at Mar riott International

At part of a companywide “sales transformation” process, Marriott International created a Global Sales Organization (GSO) to serve the specific needs of very large business accounts. The largest of these accounts are considered to be “alliance accounts,” which have specific needs associated with their high volume, distribution of product use (event planning, commercial travel, etc.), and business complexity. Furthermore, the buying process in these accounts occurs centrally and is based on a partnering model rather than standard procurement. In response, Marriott created global teams for these accounts in order to build and maintain strategic relationships at the highest levels of the organization and truly partner with a customer to best meet its business goals.

This kind of deployment requires sales resources that are capable of using advanced account management processes coupled with a consultative selling approach. Global account team members must be well-versed in business and financial topics, industry challenges, and opportunities, as well as in working in a global environment. For example, Marriott sales teams are able to provide value to alliance accounts by conducting research, surveying travelers, and analyzing travel spending, as well as by advising travel and event planners—well beyond traditional sales activities.

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Aligning Sales Resources to Customer Types at TD Waterhouse

TD Waterhouse offers customers the best mix of products, price, and service based on their investment needs. For purely self-directed investors, the company offers a comprehensive online platform with premier research capabilities and a robust product lineup. For investors who require a bit more guidance, they have a dedicated branch network and TD Waterhouse Investment Centers. Finally, for those investors who prefer more of a “full service” experience and an advice-driven approach, TD Waterhouse has a network of independent advisors available. The company therefore deploys its sales resources and creates its channels to meet the unique needs of each of its customer segments.

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Another example of segmentation based on customer characteristics is the pursuit of a vertical strategy. Although this is a resource-intensive strategy often executed within a separate business unit, vertical strategy offers many advantages by being able to link solutions to specific business issues that will resonate with members of an industry and can give organizations an advantage over generalist competitors. Vertically structured sales teams often have dedicated personnel who market, sell to, and support industry clients utilizing a customized marketing effort and solution set. Sales resources deployed against vertical structures are usually deeply embedded in the industry having worked in it prior.

Regardless of the specific method used, deploying sales resources by customer type usually involves advanced selling capabilities to reap the benefits. For example, salespeople acting as a single point of contact for the selling organization must be able to sell all product sets to the customer. Those managing global accounts must be able to influence the actions of virtual team members; those leading key account teams will need high levels of financial and business acumen. (More on “reskilling” the sales force is found in Chapter 6.)

Geographic Location

Segmenting sales teams by geography allows for extensive coverage, increased face time, and local responsiveness to customer issues. This strategy works best in situations where the sales force is tasked with selling a relatively homogenous product set to a broad customer base. Local presence can be particularly important as businesses cross international boundaries. Local resources will be much more in tune to cultural nuances and business etiquette. On the downside, as sales resources are widely dispersed across geographies, it becomes more difficult to identify and share best practices across sales teams.

As organizations have looked to ways to reduce the infrastructure expenditures required to serve a broad geographic deployment, they have frequently migrated to home office locations for their sales forces. This can be very effective but requires a good deal of planning and support. Key considerations include selection, management processes, and technological infrastructure. Some of the issues associated with home offices, include the following:

  • Not all individuals will thrive when isolated from team members. At the same time, the lone-wolf salesperson may not be a good choice given a lack of direct oversight. Therefore, organizations prefer to hire and develop salespeople who are self-directed and often look for people who have previously worked in a remote environment.

  • Managers will be more challenged to provide coaching to remote team members and will have to create opportunities, such as team meetings, client visits, and the like, where they can observe, coach, and develop a salesperson. It will take extra managerial effort to be diligent around communication and performance management.

  • Individuals in a home office environment will need hassle-free, fast, and secure access to e-mail, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and other company systems in order to work efficiently.

Furthermore, organizations need to consider the cultural implications of a home-based sales force. There must be a more proactive onboarding process so that the salesperson has a real feel for what it means to sell for the organization. If they do not feel like an integrated part of the organization, they will be more likely to use inconsistent processes and deliver uncoordinated messages to customers, and may be unable to leverage organizational strengths (such as reputation and values) as differentiators in competitive selling situations.

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Local Attention from Yellow Book USA

Yellow Book USA creates yellow pages directories that focus on specific geographies (e.g., Tampa, Florida, has a yellow pages directory; Long Island, New York, is covered by several directories). Yellow Book deploys a direct sales force to engage prospects to ensure adequate coverage of the directory’s footprint. As Yellow Book feels its competitive advantage lies with its sales force, they want to get these people in front of as many customers as possible. Therefore, they deploy a large premise-based sales force to cover the directory markets and “swing every door.”

This deployment strategy has been particularly beneficial in the small business segment where Yellow Book has been able to differentiate itself. While competitors largely employ telesales reps for account acquisition, Yellow Book is able to make a case to prospects that an in-person visit results in more personalized and value-added services. The message delivered is that “every account counts and we would never take one for granted, no matter how small.”

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Sales Activities

Some organizations are returning to a method of deploying sales resources based on their activity or role in the sales cycle. The most common method is called “hunters/farmers.” This involves targeting a set of sales resources, “hunters,” at prospecting and account acquisition activities and another set, “farmers,” at account maintenance. This particular method has been tried off and on over the years, resurfacing in recent times as economic pressures have put a spotlight on the need for new business acquisition.

Organizations that are pursuing this route are working to make changes throughout the selling organization to support the shift. For example, from the human capital perspective, it requires a detailed skills assessment and the creation of job profiles, as well as revising performance management and other systems. Each type of resource must have clear direction on their role and responsibilities. Hunter resources will have to be sure to acquire quality business (rather than closing questionable deals that someone else will have to manage). On the other hand, farmer resources must be sure to continue to look for new opportunities in an account instead of functioning simply as order takers. As explained by one newly appointed hunter, “We are hunters for this company; we win new customers. We’re not responsible for protecting a base. After two to three months, new customers are transferred to an inbound rep for retention. We were selected for this because we are aggressive, self-motivated team players.” From an operational perspective, it involves a reengineering of processes (and often technological infrastructure) to support handoffs between sales resources and create a seamless customer experience, such that customers would not experience a decline in the level or quality of relationship as they are transitioned between sales resources.