Monday, March 29, 2010

Time to Rethink your Sales Force?

In the ever increasing world of disintermediation where buyers can source information on products or services directly and bypass much of the traditional buyer/seller relationship the need to structure your sales force according to these buying patterns becomes even more crucial.

Neil Rackham and John De Vincentis explored this concept in their prescient book “Rethinking the Sales Force” which was published in 1999 but speaks even more directly to the challenges facing organizations today. One of the central arguments is that you need to segment your sales force according to whether it is a transactional or a consultative sale. This may seem on the surface to be a statement of the obvious but stop for a moment and think about how many sales organizations straddle both and how many sales people will grab transactional business to offset the longer sales cycles of a consultative sale. During the 1990s in sales organizations it was still common to have a percentage of sales people focused exclusively on transactional selling, another percentage focused on consultative selling and then a large chunk in the middle who did both. What has happened, however, over the past number of years is that the middle has started to get squeezed as the percentage of transactional buyers has increased due to all of the factors I listed in a previous blog entry (consumer buying habits infiltrating B2B buying and the ever increasing ease of purchasing driven by technology advances). Equally the consultative side of this equation has also expanded as buyers become more sophisticated at the higher end and look for greater value creation from vendors. They don’t just want to know how your product can help them but they want your insights on their business, the industry and they want you to become the illusive “trusted advisor”. Taken together this puts greater demands on the caliber of your consultative seller and greater strains on your support organization.

So as these two types of sales (transactional vs consultative) become more demarked not less, you need to ask yourself if your sales organization is sufficiently segmented and structured to support both? You further need to ask yourself if your transactional sellers should be more akin to marketers leveraging all of the different web 2.0 marketing channels to reach and service the transactional buyer (this will be a topic for a later post).

As you grapple with these challenges I would recommend reading (or re-reading) Neil and John’s book because the more I look it at it, the more I feel it was ahead of its time in 1999 and the time it was ahead of is now.

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