How important is sales force deployment and specialization in sales?


I always find it fascinating when speaking to sales people or managers about their specific markets and get this answer: “We sell to everyone and we don't really point our guys at a specific market or area”

How a company goes to market—how it organizes and deploys not just its reps but its support, marketing, and delivery resources—is a critical part of the sales process. Any company that has watched its territory-based sales reps migrate down-market toward easy sales rather than profitable ones, is facing a deployment problem. Its resources simply aren’t being put where they can generate the greatest return.

One simple way to fix a deployment issue is to create a demand map of the market using segmentation information and then to compare it with your deployment map. The point is to substitute data for gut feel to identify where the best prospects are and to synchronize that information with the companies that sales reps actually call on.

But an analytical approach to deployment goes well beyond simply matching up reps with particular prospects. Best-practice companies also typically benchmark themselves on whether approaches to sales are paired up with the right customers.

Most companies, for example, utilize a range of sales channels: enterprise or other direct sales, inside sales, the Internet, dealers or value-added resellers, and so on. Having access to detailed information about the behavior and profitability of customer segments and micro segments allows sales executives to decide how best to deploy these different resources. For instance, inquiries about commodity rentals are directed to the Internet or closed by telesales; inquiries about large consultative projects are sent to specialized sales reps. The ideal salesperson for the firm’s construction-related business, isn’t necessarily a construction expert but a rep who “knows how to make 50 sales calls a week” and can close deals quickly. “The perfect rep for a refinery business, is someone who is comfortable with long sales cycles and complex, technology-intensive solutions.”

Another question that leading sales organizations ask themselves is, are the field reps spending as much time as possible selling? When we measure salespeople’s “non-customer-facing time,” we find that it often amounts to more than half and even higher, of their total hours. If sales executives uncover that kind of problem, they have a variety of tools at their disposal. They may be able to channel some of the reps’ administrative functions to support staff. They may want to reorganize territories to minimize time spent in transit. They also may simplify the systems that the reps are expected to deal with.

Several years ago, sales executives at Cisco set a goal of reducing reps’ no-selling time by a few hours a week and charged the IT department with making it happen. The improvement led to several hundred million dollars in additional revenue.

All four of the levers help increase sales force productivity. What’s most interesting, however, is that they seem to have the greatest effect on lower-ranked performers and so narrow the gap between top performers and everyone else. When studying the results of a systematic sales force effectiveness program launched in several branches of a large Korean financial services provider, it was found that the branches experienced a 44% rise in weekly sales volume, compared with a 6% decline in other branches. The top quartile of customer-service reps increased their product sales by 6%, the second quartile by 59%, the third quartile by 77%, and the bottom quartile by an astonishing 149%. A study of a comparable program in the Korean offices of another global financial-services firm found similar, though not identical, results. Increases in assets under management ranged from 2% in the top quartile to 33% in the second quartile to 54% in the third quartile, with the lowest quartile registering a 44% increase.

As we can see, its imperative that reps start focusing on areas, specific markets and that the right sales people target the right market place.

Research by HBR