A decision on how to deploy sales resources should be an output of more macro-level sales strategies. What do we sell? Who do we sell to? What value proposition are we offering to the marketplace? As such, there is no “right” way to deploy a sales force—it depends on what the organization is trying to accomplish. The key then becomes using a mixture of the strategies to create the right balance of effectiveness and efficiency— creating optimal relationships with customers while managing cost of sale appropriately. One common model observed in our study might be described in the following way:
Formal, global account teams are created for each key account. These resources sell the entire breadth of products and services and are often assigned exclusively to one account.
Geographically-managed field resources are given greater numbers of lesser potential accounts to manage—again selling the entire breadth of products and services.
Regionally-located inside sales resources are targeted against large numbers (often 100–200) of even smaller sized clients.
Distinct sales roles are created to sell specific, highly technical product suites to customers of all sizes.
Other channels are used to handle the remaining customer segments.
As with all the strategies discussed in this text, this is an additive approach—more segments and structures are being added all of the time. This creates a very complex, matrixed organization and can create significant opportunity for inefficiencies and customer confusion. In a business sale, a large account could be engaged with a variety of salespeople in the same selling organization. For example, a local branch may be working with a local sales resource; the headquarters may be working with a key account team; yet other buying centers may be working with product-oriented sales resources. If not carefully coordinated, neither organization (buyer nor seller) will have a complete view of the relationship. This holds true for consumer selling models as well. Very often, a single consumer will be contacted by multiple resources from the same organization resulting in inefficiency and an inconsistent (and often frustrating) brand experience. As a result, the more complex the deployment strategy, the greater the need for clear account assignment and migration policies (i.e., who owns which account or customer segment and when does that account move from one segment to another—for example, from regional account to global account status).
Clearly, many of these constructs involve the use of teams. Permanent teams will be assembled to address ongoing circumstances or market conditions (e.g., creating a sales team to handle a key global account). Others are more temporary in nature, such as assembling a cross-functional team to create a sales proposal for a client. In either case, teams can be an effective way to achieve tasks that cannot be accomplished individually. On the other hand, poorly conceived or managed teams can be a great waste of resources. When assembling a team for selling purposes, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the business issue driving the creation of this team? Too often teams are created without a unifying business purpose, resulting in a collective waste of time. Instead, each team should understand its charter and how it links to sales and corporate strategies.
What kind of work will this team be tasked with? This will help determine what kind of team you need to assemble and who you need on it. For example, you may need to assemble a cross-functional team to function as a CRM advisory board. On the other hand, you may want to assemble a temporary team of senior salespeople to look into a mentoring program.
How will I assign roles and responsibilities? Developing a specific team charter and assigning clear roles and responsibilities and performance metrics is critical to fostering consensus building and to preventing coasting, domination, or group think by team members.
Tokyo-based Fuji-Xerox provides digital copying and publishing machines, networks, servers, and workstations, as well as other products and services associated with document services. Due to market demands for increasingly technical solutions, the company is more frequently utilizing a team-selling approach. Such teams are designed to combine individual strengths to create proposals and solutions for customers that leverage a full suite of products and solutions to create fully integrated network solutions. This has not only resulted in creating better proposals but also in reducing sales cycles because teams of salespeople collaborate to meet a client need. Further, by assigning teams to opportunities, the company can better represent its talent and implementation ability. As one sales manager noted, “We need to be able to make proposals that will bring changes in a customer’s operations, rather than proposals explaining our product’s features and benefits. So a team-selling approach has become more and more important for us because it can show our strengths in process improvement and reform.”
How will customers be impacted? If different members of a team will be interacting with a customer at different points in the sales cycle (e.g., pairs of hunters and farmers), then it pays to ensure that there are processes in place to guarantee a smooth handoff.
Does my organization support teaming? Individuals should be prepared to work successfully in teams. Make sure training provides the base for acquiring the proper skills in the areas of collaboration, communication, negotiation, and influencing.
How will compensation be handled? When we spoke with organizations that had failed with specific team constructs, we found compensation was often to blame, specifically in situations where sales teams shared a quota and shared compensation. Under those plans, there was very little individual accountability and high inconsistency in contribution.
Another factor to consider when deploying the sales force is those relationships that must be formed with internal stake-holders in functional areas outside of the sales organization. Such stakeholders include, but are not limited to, customer service, finance, legal, marketing, fulfillment, and product development. Over time, these departments have migrated from operating as individual silos to becoming more integrated— using the customer experience as a focal point.
This creates both benefit and additional responsibility for the sales force. Unlike no other time in the past, sales professionals find themselves in a position of being able to truly leverage the efforts undertaken by other functions in the organization. This is most clear in the integration of sales and marketing. When operating in tandem with the marketing department, sales forces can leverage market research, competitive analysis, and customer segmentation to sell more effectively and efficiently. At the same time, the sales force bears a greater accountability for delivering customer information back to these departments to ensure that the customer’s point of view is adequately reflected in all aspects of front- and back-office activity (supports servicing activity, market research, etc.). As one marketing executive noted, “Sales gives us input into what they need to sell our products. We have regular meetings together—to educate each other about what we are working on and what they say their customers want. This way we can build off each other instead of working at odds.”
Structurally then, it becomes important to formally create these links and support the needed processes so that the sales organization maintains insight into, influences, and leverages the functional initiatives and processes in these areas. This is critical because, as noted previously, decisions about sales force structure cannot be made in a vacuum. For example, if the marketing organization is structured by product type, it then becomes difficult to have a vertical-based sales strategy that sells solutions based on industry business issues.
Organizations we worked with were using a variety of techniques to better leverage other parts of their organization. Some were temporarily rotating sales and marketing management for cross training. Others were including marketing managers on sales calls. Yet others were building cross-functional teams tasked with collecting and analyzing customer feedback. Even if a formal mechanism was not in place, individual salespeople were reaching out to other parts of the organization to mine their expertise. One example, which illustrates this well, was a Diebold salesperson who said that he always recommended visiting the technicians and talking to them about their experiences in working with automated teller machines (ATMs) at client sites. This helped him identify potential issues as well as new opportunities in accounts.