Insight & Knowledge

Designing the sales force for a new era

Truth be told, sales have been changing for years. The days where salespeople were a gateway to scarce information are long gone. Yet, at the same time many buyers are also paralyzed by the many choices available and struggle to reconcile the conflicting information available.

Happy New Year!

As one of the most troublesome and unpredictive years in the last couple of decades comes to an end, it is also a perfect opportunity for commercial executives to look ahead and reflect on how the new normal will look like – which of the recent changes are transitional and which will stick? We know where we would place our money.    

Sales has been changing for years – but the changes have just been greatly accelerated.

Truth be told, sales have been changing for years. The days where salespeople were a gateway to scarce information are long gone. Trust and authority have to be earned and should not be taken for granted, as digitalization has democratized information and empowered buyers to take control of their buying journey. 

Yet, at the same time many buyers are also paralyzed by the many choices available and struggle to reconcile the conflicting information available. On the back of these developments, we see a pull away from the “average way of buying” towards two extremes:  

  1. In one end of the spectrum, customers are more self-guided and expect frictionless and convenience buying experiences. In this context salespeople are in most cases a necessary evil that potentially add costs, complexity, delays, mistakes, and other risks to the buying process. Here, customers will continuously look for ways to simplify and automate these types of purchases.
  2. At the other end, buyers of complex solutions need support from expert advisors that can help them make sense of complex information in an unfamiliar space, build business cases, and navigate a complex buying committee. This type of complex B2B buying demands a high level of human interaction based on skillful guidance by the salesperson.  

Through our work across geographies and industries we are seeing both these scenarios play out – and interestingly COVID has greatly accelerated both developments. Due to this dramatic acceleration, we believe that 2021 is the year, where commercial executives will need to take a hard look on how to tackle the pressing challenges related to designing and managing the sales organization (a field where very little has changed in the past 50 years) to meet changing buyer demands and make better use of technology. 

The blueprint for salesforce design 2021 – there is no better time than now
While there is no one-size-fits-all, many top-performing organizations that we interact with  are implementing or experimenting with one or several of the following initiatives:

  1. As customers expect convenience and speed when it comes to buying more transactional products, leading organizations are increasingly selling these products through fully automated e-commerce platforms or low-touch, low-cost virtual channels such as inside sales centers coupled with inbound marketing.  Many organizations have in the last couple of years launched dedicated inside sales teams. 
  2. Setting up a dedicated consultative taskforce not tied to specific accounts, geographies, or product groups. These task forces work on the high potential / high complexity deals that require immense deal strategizing around commercial models and solution customization, value quantification, project governance, and stakeholder management.
  3. Reducing the number of transactional field sellers and realigning the remaining field sellers´ compensation packages to better reflect the value these sellers create. 
  4. Acknowledging that capability–building is instrumental to boost sales force performance, but high performers are rethinking how they design and execute training programs. Instead of going for big-bang one-off events, they are creating programs that blend self-guided learning with classroom training and on-the-job certification tasks. They also use shorter formats, virtual training and continuously update the curriculum for optimized learning. 
  5. Enabling salespeople to sell virtually by developing and deploying “virtual selling“ skills training, the supporting technology, and collateral fit for virtual sales engagement.
  6. Strengthening customer success as a commercial engine by retraining and retooling the customer & client organization to be less transactional and more relationship-focused. This entails revisiting performance metrics and empowering the team to be much more proactive through monitoring the customer’s usage of solutions, identifying opportunities and challenges, and taking action to help resolve issues and foster expansion. 
  7. Experimenting with new ways of organizing – whether it is about not tying salespeople to certain geographies (in a borderless world), creating cross-functional teams where marketing professionals are an ingrained part of the team or creating more specialized sales roles – to improve responsiveness, customer value creation and productivity.
  8. Deploying advanced technologies and analytics to realize value from the swarms of data they have captured about customer behavior and past performance. This data can be used to optimize how salespeople use their time, who they should reach out to, when they should reach out and which propositions and solutions, they should lead the conversation with.
  9. Realizing that all customer-facing personnel including R&D, quality, logistics, customer service, and the C-suite are responsible for selling. They have flipped the diamond and, as consequence, upskilling a much broader base of people on how to sell in a high complexity buying environment.  

At Kvadrant Consulting, we believe that the current crisis, while being deeply tragic, also provides the impetus needed for companies to rethink how they organize and operate their commercial functions. We hope that the above provides some inspiration on where to start these discussions! 

Happy New Year! 

About the author
Picture of Mikkel Bach-Andersen
Mikkel Bach-Andersen
Mikkel has has 12+ years of experience of consulting B2B companies. He has a functional focus on brand strategy, value propositions, segmentation, organizational design, commercial strategy, product launches and deal acceleration.