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The root of many problems – sales role design

by Dave Egloff  |  February 21, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

Effective sales role design is a critical component of many strategic efforts from sourcing the right talent to performance management and coverage planning. Additionally, sales role clarity is needed to promote sales effectiveness, ensure customer needs are met and align pay for performance.

Unfortunately, sales role designs are a challenge for many organizations – even though most are not fully aware of it.  Many managers, even in the same sales organization, offer slightly different perspectives on role priorities and coaching focal points. Additionally, sellers frequently stray from the designed path because of internal biases, perceptions of compensation or the relative ease of work.

Chief sales officers (CSOs) unsure if they have an issue should look to their sales enablement programs, sales coverage models and/or sales compensation plans.  If there are unnecessary complexities or problems with effectiveness, sale role design might be the culprit.  Often, complex or broadly designed sales roles require more elaborate skill-building and rewards programs.

CSOs should explore how sellers are operating in their roles.  Knowing how and where sellers spend their time leads to insights around the role design as well as the overall understanding of role priorities.  Two strategies include:

1 – In-Depth Seller Observation

The most accurate — and unfortunately labor-intensive — approach is to shadow competent sellers. The shadow approach requires an objective observer to follow and document seller activities over a set period. The time can vary but should be long enough to capture a representative set of activities per seller.

The number of sellers shadowed depends on observation variability. If a reasonable number of competent sellers within a role represents a fair cross-section of the population and the observations vary minimally, additional observations are not necessary. Importantly, more data points will be needed to uncover anomalies if there is a lot of variability in the responses.

2 – Seller Survey

Alternatively, sellers can be surveyed on how they spend their time. The survey approach can be simple and effective.  However, the results are most accurate when the survey can be submitted anonymously, and the results reflect a healthy participation rate.  Practically, CSOs may preemptively address seller skepticism or concern about how the data is being collected and used.

Once the data is collected, CSOs with key stakeholders – e.g., sales management, sales operations and sales enablement – should reconcile the intended sales role design with the time study results.  If sellers are spending a disproportionate amount of time on lower priority tasks and outcomes, the team should investigate why this is occurring and how to realign behavior.

At the heart of reducing complexity and improving effectiveness is sales role design.  Sales roles should be designed to focus on a select few priorities.  These priorities help enablement teams to create training and development programs to build skills.  Also, managers should leverage these priorities to bolster coaching conversations.  Finally, sales operations can develop analytical reports to measure capacity and performance, as well as help influence compensation plan designs.

Designing sales roles effectively is fundamental to the success of any sales organization.  Plus, the work invested in getting sales roles right improves cascading programs spanning enablement, sales coverage and compensation.  For many, it might be time to revisit sales role design.

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Dave Egloff
Senior Director
1 years at Gartner
20 years IT Industry

Dave Egloff is a Senior Director, Analyst in the Gartner for Sales Leaders practice. His current work focuses on key initiatives in sales strategy, sales operations and sales compensation. Read Full Bio

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