Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

The clearest conclusion from our observations on sales structure is that change in this area is constant; it’s likely your sales force will be segmented and redeployed on an ongoing basis. Therefore, the key is to create flexibility to support shifts in deployment. At the same time, recognize that churning salespeople can alienate the customer base and can dismantle a sales culture. As such, change management considerations should be integrated into the restructuring activity and structures should be designed in support of organizational agility.

Tips for guiding restructuring activity include:

  • Acknowledge the difficulty of change and prepare your salespeople and your customers to navigate it (early and ongoing communication is critical).

  • Explain the benefits to customers (perhaps they will be getting a more local or more specialized resource).

  • Explain the benefits to salespeople (better targeting means more face time and more revenues, less travel time, more support).

  • Be able to clearly explain the impact on performance evaluation (as the saying goes, people do what is “inspected” not what is “expected”).

  • Build a plan to ensure that the next salesperson has a warm transition (this may call for an in-person introduction by the current salesperson) and just as importantly has access to all of the relevant data.

  • Build consistency into operations across the sales structure so that if a person changes sales teams, processes and systems do not have to be relearned. This will reduce ramp-up time.

  • Put specific territory guidelines in place to minimize conflict among the various parts of the structure.

  • Create formal mechanisms for uncovering best practices and replicating them across different parts of the sales force. Some structures will lend themselves to this kind of communication and some will not. The key is to make it happen anyway.

  • Give salespeople a greater sense of the organization. If their only relationship to an organization is with a particular selling team, then they will become disenfranchised as they are moved to different parts of the sales organization.

In addition to ensuring a smooth transition, special care should be taken to make sure that no matter what their position in the new structure, all sales professionals feel part of the bigger team. Too often, organizations continue to structure themselves in ways that discourage this, building silos only to tear them down again in a self-defeating cycle.

Chapter 4: Leveraging Technologies For Sales Success


“You need a very, very clear vision of the desired output of the sales technology system and have to start there. What are you going to get out of it? What do the salespeople get? How will it help customers? Once you have defined the output, it becomes much easier to train the sales force on the input.”
—Sales Manager

At least since the mid-1980s organizations have been trying to figure out how to best leverage technologies to improve the sales process, create better relationships with customers, and ultimately grow revenue. With incredible advances in computer and software technologies taking place almost overnight, companies didn’t have long to figure out how to best leverage the tools available to them. Nearly two decades later many organizations still have not figured it out, yet this comes as little surprise when one considers the rapid growth in the size and complexity of data requirements as well as the business process and human-related challenges of implementing enterprisewide technologies. Today, however, given ever growing market challenges, organizations have no choice but to optimize sales technologies. As the organizations in our study demonstrate, technology strategies to manage customer relationships and automate sales activities are critical requirements to compete.

Since the term was first used sometime in the mid-1990s, customer relationship management, or CRM, has been defined as relating to almost every element of business that even remotely touches a customer. The term has been mentioned in thousands of articles and books, and has been heralded and criticized by technology experts, salespeople, and executives alike. As a subset of CRM, the concept of sales force automation (SFA) has been discussed just as often and sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably with the term CRM. As part of the broader sales technology movement of the past two decades, applications relating to sales activities and customer data have evolved over the years from simple contact management to complex software integrating product, customer, and supplier data.

By the mid-1990s, it became clear that few organizations could compete without adopting some level of software- and hardware-enabled sales automation or CRM system. Indeed, a technology system that maximizes the relationship with the customer is critical for remaining competitive and providing the level of sales and service that customers have come to expect. This comes with new requirements in terms of skills, daily sales activities, organizational communication and support, and the like. As one organization’s representative remarked, “In the past, you only needed to know how to use a copy machine. Today you need to manage e-mail, electronic calendars, to-do lists, databases, and more.”

This chapter focuses on the strategies companies have adopted around the development and implementation of CRM and SFA systems, and it reviews the challenges and successes experienced by the organizations we studied. Although the organizations in this study were at different stages of CRM implementation at the time of the interviews, many of them share common challenges, strategies, and keys to success regardless of their size, industry, or technological sophistication.

While most organizations we studied were in the later stages of CRM implementation, no company, not even the most high-tech ones, considered their system implementation to be complete. This suggests that there may be no end state for CRM, but rather with more market challenges and rapid advances in technology, the best CRM strategy will be one that is flexible and constantly adapting to new environments. The organizations studied that were in earlier stages of CRM implementation shared with us the valuable lessons they were learning along the way. In addition, several organizations recently experiencing mergers or acquisitions were confronted with yet another set of technology challenges, including data compatibility issues and the integration of legacy systems. Across all cases, our interview findings suggest that implementing sales technology is difficult and time-consuming, but not impossible if organizations account for the critical business and human requirements for success. This chapter highlights the strategies leading sales organizations have pursued in an effort to finally get it right.