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On building a sales organization as sophisticated as contemporary B2B buyers … 

Every B2B trade publication, analyst, and even company (Hi!) waxes poetic about the buyer’s journey. The idea that the modern buyer is more empowered than ever, and procurement is enabled through endless sources of information about a particular product or space. 

Here’s a secret: Contemporary sales leaders are just as well equipped as their counterparts in procurement. Popular to contrary belief, sales teams can not only survive in the age of buyer empowerment, but use buying behavior to their advantage — so long as processes and prospecting tools that help engage the right buyer, at the right time, with the right message. And do so at the expense of the competition.

But what does the structure of a B2B sales organization look like as we enter the next decade? What focus areas should Chief Revenue Officers be asking themselves as they plan out go-to-market motions. Today, we review. But before we do, let’s examine where things go wrong and address perhaps the most challenging problem sales leaders face: turnover. 

How Do You Improve Retention Rates for B2B Sales Teams?

Homegrown talent is the best talent. It’s not rocket science, it’s basic logic: overtime, sales staff gain unique experience, including intricate knowledge related to both overlooked and recurring problems that stall deals, navigating specific personas and accounts, industries, business relationships, and the overall market at-large. 

With more expertise and confidence, sales professionals are able to chase larger and larger contracts. 

Lack of growth from sales professionals and low retention is specifically caused by:

1. Unset career paths

The path from Sales Development Representative (SDR) to a management position isn’t easy. A fresh-out-of-college SDR typically doesn’t have experience in technology or industry-specific knowledge. But with a solid, comprehensive career path they can expand into an account executive within a year.

Career paths are laid out with responsibilities that leverage product management, engineering, and operations.

2. Inadequate training or onboarding processes

Your typical sales onboarding process includes learning team guidelines, utilizing tech stacks, and familiarizing accounts. But one of the most important parts of training sales professionals is teaching the same sales methodology. 

One of the best ways to burn out sales reps is inconsistent (or nonexistent) training. In fact, organizations that have inadequate onboarding processes experience a turnover rate of 14.2%, compared to the average 7.9%.

3. Poor clarity for expectations and goals 

Sales leaders are — and should be — slaves to the (quota) scoreboard. Sales is no longer an individual sport. As we’ll dive into later, sales teams are built differently in the digital age. Turnover can be avoided with strong alignment around processes and key performance indicators specific to various roles within the organization.  

4. Burn Out

Burning out SDRs is stemmed by a multitude of issues: tedious workflows, low call-to-contact ratios, poor coaching, etc.

This can eventually result in declining win rates and fewer inbound leads. They’re pretty much brainwashed by “WIN WIN, CLOSE NOW” culture, so any iota of loss in their job can quickly put them out. 

One way to eliminate burnout is to encourage SDRs to learn about their customers more in-depth with a data-driven approach. Better customer knowledge leads to optimized pitches which leads to more successful outreach.

Inside Sales or Field Sales? (or Both?)

Adoption of inside sales models has grown significantly in recent years. The idea is that sales reps prospect from central or remote locations, in a more structured environment. Because of its focus on high-volume activity, process is the priority. Yet, so is detail; inside sales practitioners are tasked with creating relationships without face-to-face interaction, thus often aim to give support to potential and current customers throughout the sales process, focusing on the volume of deals (rather than their size). 

Meanwhile, field (or outside) sales reps pursue the more traditional route of sales, meeting prospects and customers in-person. They conduct business in numerous territories and attend conferences, trade shows, and other relevant events. Even when they’re grouped into teams, field sales reps tend to be more individualistic and self-driven.

Considerations for Inside vs Field Sales Reps

According to a study done by Insidesales.com, inside sales reps represent 47% of all sales professionals, and field reps encompass 53%.

While it’s ideal to have both inside and outside sales reps, deciding how many to hire and where to put them depends on several factors:

Territories: For field sales reps, the size of a deal is determined by a territory’s location, industry makeup, and population. For instance, reps selling automation software have a higher chance of a sale in an area like Silicon Valley, over more rural Napa Valley.

Inside sales reps can handle smaller, more local accounts and offer support to field sales. This support helps field sales reps with their focus on key strategic accounts.

Location: Being located in an area friendly to your industry or vertical is always ideal. And if all business relationships are local, you won’t really need field sales.

If company expansion is planned for the future, you will need more field sales reps. And it’s preferable that they have location-specific knowledge.

Account Size: Lengthier, more expensive sales cycles are inevitable if you sell solely to large enterprises. 

Enterprise sales take a lot of resources, time, and luck, especially for smaller businesses. Putting the big dollar glasses away and shifting some focus on smaller accounts can increase closing quantities.

Product Line: If your organization has multiple brands or product lines, sales teams can be grouped to solely represent those lines. Workflows for both inside and outside sales stay generally the same, just with individual focus on a single brand or product line.

Industry: The number of inside vs outside sales reps varies by industry. For those that are digital-focused (such as software companies) require more inside reps, while more old school industries (like coal or oil) favor field sales reps.

How Do you Know Which Sales Team Model is Good for You?

Every sales organization is just as unique as the solution and customer-base it is trying to grow. That said, let’s answer this question with a few different questions. 

Which Channels are You Having the Most Success In? 

The ultimate goals of channel strategies are to improve communications and product exposure by enabling prospects to discover your brand.

For outside sales reps, efforts tend to be more old school with territory mapping and account plans. This is ideal for organizations that have smaller pools of prospects to engage in longer sales cycles, leading to larger deals.

On the more digital, in-house side, building a sales model fronted by SDRs leverages lead response efforts. With higher volumes of prospects, marketing filters them through lead qualification and outbound execution.

Where are Your Customers Currently Engaging? 

Analyzing channel usage will gage customer engagement, but it’s also important to segment audiences. Which customer segments are responding to social channels? Where are C-level prospects engaging vs manager-level? Who prefers in-person contact over remote?

Understanding in-depth channel usage can improve content creation. Let’s say you have mostly marketers responding to social media posts. Tailoring content specifically to marketers can increase engagement.

What are Typical Sales Team Roles?

Each role in a sales team includes working toward one unifying goal: giving optimal support throughout the entire buyer’s journey. And every position has its own unique definition of how they fit into that journey.

This buyer’s journey is defined by the sales funnel we all know and love. Potential buyers toward the top rely on sales reps to educate and attract them in their product or service. Further down the funnel, reps are more focused on securing a close through deal negotiations.

The following are typical roles in B2B sales team structures:

Sales Operations: 

As the name states, sales operations specialists support daily operations in sales teams. But it’s not so simple. They leverage numerous processes such as lead management, revenue strategy, data analysis, and onboarding.

Sales operations specialists are responsible for aligning processes across the entire department and empower sales professionals to focus on increasing their numbers.

Sales Enablement: 

Although similar to sales operations, sales enablement specialists specifically focus on the success of sales cycles. 

Their role revolves around improving buyer interactions and content by equipping sales reps. The main goals for sales enablement reps are increased win rates, bigger deal sizes, and reduced selling time.

Sales Engineering:

A sales engineer’s role in the sales cycle giving technological support to sales reps. They serve as connections between product development and sales operations by sharing advanced knowledge of products being sold.  

Their daily workflows center around the complexity of product features and how they can fit into a customer’s digital tech stack.

Sales Management:

It’s easy to deduce that sales managers are in charge of managing sales teams. They oversee sales rep performance to ensure that revenue goals are on track.

Their ultimate goal is to lead sales reps to success. In the words of our Vice President of Sales, Steve Bryerton, someone who is considering sales management should be:

“… a good performer, certainly, somebody that knows the sales process inside and out, somebody that certainly demonstrates leadership qualities… and then also they can look at data and make data-driven decisions, they think about the business differently and aren’t necessarily just focused on themselves.”

Positions in the Front Lines of Sales

These sales positions encompass the roles mentioned above, and serve as the go-team for all sales functions:

Sales Development — SDRs:

SDRs, which make up a quarter of inside sales organizations, oversee the development of sales relationships. Their daily workflows include lead generation and validation, making sure that incoming leads are qualified, valuable customers.

Lead generation is a practice handled by both marketing and sales, but each team has different qualification processes. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are processed before they enter the sales cycle, while sales qualified leads (SQLs) are already there.

Team Leads: 

Team leads bridge the gap between sales reps and management. It may not sound useless, especially for smaller companies, but this position allows them to test management duties and establish business relationships.

Team lead positions also give room to specialize in areas where reps are too busy to focus on.

Account Executives and Sales Representatives:

Account executives — used interchangeably with sales reps — are responsible for being points of contact along the customer journey. They represent the best interests of both their customer and the company they work for —  but with the ultimate goal of closing as many deals as possible. 

They accomplish this by maintaining communications with qualified leads, presenting demos, and managing any contract disagreements.

Customer Success Specialists:

You know what’s more important than conveying and selling value? Delivering it. Customer service is a required commitment, not a nice-to-have. After the deals are closed, customer success reps swoop in to handle account onboarding and support. Their main goal is to increase the lifetime value (LTV) for each customer, which includes upselling and re-evaluating contracts.

During the onboarding process, which 62% of customer success reps are solely responsible for, custom frameworks of product features are built for new customers. Starting from the pre-sales stage, customer success reps already have knowledge of customer needs, making the onboarding journey much smoother.

Key Takeaways of Building Sales Team Structures

Sales teams are the powerhouses of building and maintaining customer relationships. But each company is unique in their offerings and culture, which should be reflected in how sales teams are organized.

Whichever model you choose, your sales team should be able to adapt to any industry or organizational change.

About the author

Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the Director of Marketing at ZoomInfo, the leading B2B contact data solution.

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