Sharp is Your Sales Structure?
can I get greater productivity out of my
salespeople? In one form or
another, that's a
every owner and sales manager
a sales trainer and consultant, it is the
question that I confront. And it is
underlying question behind every attempt
salespeople. Investing in
your salespeople is always a good
But it isn't the entire solution for many
the structure and
change the behavior of the people who operate
enormous improvements in sales
can be achieved by sharpening
structure of your sales organization.
structure is the sum total of all the
guidelines, procedures and tools
company uses in its sales effort. It's
about how your company sells,
than the people themselves. For
compensation plan is part of the
It doesn't matter (hopefully) who the
is, the compensation formula is the
everyone. Your sales automation
is part of the structure. Whether
devices, laptops or paper to manage customer
- the way that you do it in your
is part of the structure. How
your salespeople is part of the structure.
report to branch managers or sales
How many salespeople are there per
How often do you have sales meetings?
forms are salespeople required to submit to
of these decisions you have made about how
are done in your sales organization have
been codified into a structure. That
forms the rules for the salespeople,
tells them what to do and how to do it.
structure stimulated certain behavior, and
salespeople create practices and habits that
a list of the major components of a typical
of markets and customers
for continuous development of
descriptions for salespeople.
does all this matter? Because
of a powerful
human behavior: Change the
change the behavior of the people who operate
that structure. This is true
for any organized
people, whether it be a family, a school, a
organization, a business, or a sales team.
an example. For years my wife
and I were
parents. We cared for 19 foster children over
a fifteen-year period of time. Most of these children
came from miserable home situations, and were out
of control when they came into our home.
years, I watched my wife impose a structure on them
that always resulted in the kids responding positively.
the first day they came into our home, my wife
show them the bed where they would sleep,
them know that they were expected to sleep
bed. They were expected to wash
brush their teeth, eat three meals at the table
family using silverware and plates, go to bed
certain time, get up at a certain time, etc. She
a clear and comprehensive structure on
responses were predictable. At
test the limits. But once they
rules really were the rules, that there was
and understandable structure, they began to
blossom within that structure. They knew what was
of them, they sensed that the rules were
them, and they began to develop
the rules. That shouldn't be any surprise.
when you change the structure, you
the behavior of the people who operate
fundamental principle of human behavior is
true when it is applied to sales efforts.
my experience as a sales consultant, I can
without a shred of hesitation, that you can
significant and measurable improvements in
productivity of your sales efforts if you will
For example, we're often
in helping to revise a sales compensation
Let's say we create a plan that provides an
additional incentive for the salesperson to acquire
accounts. We've changed the
happens as a result? The salespeople
modify their behavior and call on more prospects,
acquiring more new accounts.
another example. We'll often
managers or sales managers to help them
a certain kind of sales management system.
of our system requires a highly structured
one-on-one meeting between the manager
salesperson. As part of this
discuss the coming month's plan with
this system is implemented, it represents a
in the way things are done - a modification
structure. Since we've changed
expect a change in the behavior of the people.
kind of change do we normally see? Typically,
become more strategic and less
extemporaneous. They spend more time planning
because the structure requires that of them.
can go on and on with countless examples.
you get the idea. When you change the structure,
change the behavior of the people who operate
now the question becomes, "How can you
use that insight to improve the performance of
most sales structures have evolved over
a result of specific decisions that were made
gone by. Over time those
hardened into the real rules of how things get
your organization. Some
are often finely articulated, while
portions of the structure, like how samples
are distributed, are rarely written down.
of these structural rules are positive, in the
that they are well thought out and designed to
stimulate certain behavior on the part of the
Unfortunately, much of the structure
positive. It developed unconsciously instead
thoughtfully, and detracts from positive sales
For example, your salespeople may have
developed the habit of coming into the office every
Monday morning for a few hours to start their
No one told them to do that, it's not part of
management plan, it just happened. Somewhere,
some time in the past, some one started doing that,
and it became part of the structure. No
one has ever
whether they ought to do that, or whether
practice is wise and time effective.
you want to make measurable changes in the
productivity of your sales team, refine your sales
Here's how to go about it.
Steps to Sharpening Your Sales Structure
one: Identify and clarify your
much of the sales structure is composed of
unspoken rules and habits, you may not even be aware
of it. So, you need to identify and clarify exactly what
rules and procedures your salespeople operate within.
may want to gather a task force for this
Enlist the involvement of a couple of
most insightful salespeople, and add in
bright managers and executives. It's
helpful to have someone from outside
your company be a part of this process.
the group with identifying the real structure.
down. What are the procedures that govern
communication between your sales managers and
salespeople? What are the routine practices of your
salespeople? How about your
sales managers? How
are samples and literature distributed?
related skills do you expect of your salespeople?
is your sales compensation program? How
are your sales
territories configured? How are proposals written and
tracked? What training do you
provide your sales force?
all the pieces of your structure - the rules,
procedures and tools, and describe them in writing.
the list at the beginning of this article to guide
you have a starting point. Pay
really happens in your organization, not what is
supposed to happen. For example, you may have a
policy somewhere that says that branch managers will
have a monthly meeting of the
entire sales staff. The
reality may be that it rarely happens.
You want to
record the reality.
two: Analyze the structure.
at each piece of the sales structure and
question, "What impact does this have
productivity of our sales efforts?"
that straight commission sales compensation
really encourage sales people to acquire new
accounts? Does the common
practice of salespeople
starting every week with two to three hours in the office
on Mondays really help them be more productive?
Are those irregular sales meetings well designed and
helpful? Is learning "on
the job" really the best way to
create a professional salesperson? Is the practice of
salespeople reviewing every big order to make sure
it has been keypunched correctly really necessary?
Are geographically defined sales territories the most
three: Prioritize the revisions.
you've never attended to the structure before,
discover that you have unearthed a huge
with an overwhelming number of practices,
and rules that need to be changed.
prioritize and start with those that will make
biggest difference first. From
the areas that hold huge potential for
your job descriptions for salespeople
that piece of paper you have in some file
but the reality of what you expect your
people to do)
sales compensation plan
sales information system (sales force automation) or lack thereof
sales management system - the procedures
that govern the way in which
with their supervisors
system for training and developing sales-
people (or lack thereof).
may not be true for your business, but
the list above contains the five major
of sales structure. And, while the task of
and clarifying every piece of your sales
structure is daunting, every well managed, productive
team needs to have well thought-out, clearly
policies, procedures, practices and tools
regarding these major five components.
you have these things in place, then move on
issues, prioritizing them according to their
potential for stimulating positive behavior change
four: Make changes as
only it were this easy. Some of
been around so long that many of the salespeople consider them sacred.
How dare you
change the compensation plan that you inherited
from the previous administration ten years ago?
you've gathered a task force earlier, that group can
be a powerful tool for change management. Gather
their input on priorities and the best way to implement
with those issues about which you are most
passionate, and that you know will make the biggest
change in sales force behavior. If you've not made
major changes in your sales structure recently, you
are likely to meet some passionate resistance.
unusual to lose 5 - 10% of your sales force when you
make significant changes in each of the five issues
mentioned above. Make sure you
count the cost
before you act.
yourself time to carry out each initiative and to
guarantee the success of the change before you start
next one. It typically takes a
full year, for
to refine and implement a new compensation
some organizations, this project is so large it
a permanent job - managing structural
in the sales system. In others,
it's a periodic
Regardless, it is one of the best things a sales
executive can do, almost guaranteed to return sales
profits far in excess of what it costs to carry it out.
Dave Kahle, The Growth Coach:
Kahle is a consultant and trainer who helps
his clients increase their sales and improve their
sales productivity. Dave has
of salespeople to be more successful in the
Information Age economy. He's the author of
over 300 articles, a monthly e-zine, and three
books. The Six-Hat Salesperson,
released by AMACOM. You can join Dave's
"Thinking About Sales Electronic Newsletter"
on-line at www.davekahle.com/mailinglist.htm
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