Training ABCs for sales force design

Sales Force Design

Booz & Co published a particularly insightful article on a particularly important topic – Sales Force Design: Assessing Stark Choices and Getting it Right. Because of the dynamic changes occurring across markets, the assessment of whether the right sales force design is in place has become a priority for senior sales leaders.

As the authors point out – “Getting the sales structure right can have a huge impact on the future success of a company and means billions in additional revenues and increased customer satisfaction, and getting it wrong can have an equally big negative impact.”

The article explores the design issue from a strategic organizational perspective.  The discussion is organized around two fundamental questions – How many sales forces are needed? and What is the optimal structure?  As a part of the discussion they explore three factors that determine the optimal design – product diversity, customer requirements, and the complexity of the sales process.

But what about sales training? When all is said and done and a determination is made that a new sales force design structure is needed, is there also a need for additional training?   If so, what are the considerations for crafting that training?

The answer to the first question is an easy one – yes. Sales force redesign is a complex, high-risk undertaking impacting most or all the players in a company’s sales force.  So, some type of training should be part of the implementation plan.  As to the second question, let’s explore some considerations that would go into the training for the sales team.

Alignment. Part of the success equation for implementing a change in the design structure of the sales force is getting the sales team to understand and commit to the change before the change takes place.  A sales training program designed to achieve this purpose should provide the sales team an opportunity to discuss at least the follow issues:

  • What does the change look like?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • What support mechanism such as: quotas, commission structures and pricing models will be put in place?
  • What will the sales team be expected to do differently?

Simply sending out this information in a memo is not in concert with the magnitude and importance of a sales force design change – changing the overall structure of a sales team is a big deal.

Skill Development. In many case the design change will require the sales team to learn new sales skills and/or adapt their existing skills.  The initial development of these skills should begin before the design change is implemented.  Nothing generates more push back than asking someone who is doing something well – to change – and end up not being able to be good at what they are now being ask to do.  Such a sales training effort needs to be highly customized to the situation – sales simulation work well for this type of challenge.

Sales Management. Before any sales training for sales reps takes place,  front-line sales managers need to receive the sales training – both for alignment and skills awareness/development.  The front-line sales managers will be pivotal in making the change successful.  They will be required to provide both leadership and on-going sales coaching.  Ideally they should receive the training and then be included in the sales training programs the sales reps receive.

A final note … Many companies in the last several years have under gone acquisitions, product shifts, and changes in their markets, the question is whether a correlated effort has taken place to determine whether the existing sales force design is still optimal.  Doing nothing in regard to sales force redesign and the correlated training is probably the wrong answer and the consequences of neglect can be substantial.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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