You’ve heard the phrase, “we’re all Inside Sales now.” It’s meant as a nod to virtual selling solidarity. Not to be taken literally. But still, it made us think.
So many of our clients have had to make, or are in the process of making, sales org restructuring decisions to fit economic realities. The now outdated “Inside/Outside” sales terminology can muddy the waters on these decisions, particularly if your company doesn’t have clearly defined sales roles, which is a common enough occurrence.
Leaders looking hard at their sales organizations to determine if they need to restructure an “Outside Sales” force that can no longer work outside should ignore the terminology altogether and look instead at the specialization of roles required to achieve their revenue targets. Especially if they have personnel decisions to make.
In fact, we’ll go further and suggest sales leaders double down on leveraging role specialization while making re-org decisions, resources permitting, for at least two reasons, though there are more:
- First, as a way to focus distracted sellers in order to boost productivity at a time when you need all the productivity you can get.
- And second, as a way to quickly identify and isolate pipeline trouble at a time when we must all be hyper-vigilant about pipeline health.
Roles specialization can also drive up work quality, creative thinking, problem solving capability and collaboration (out of necessity). But let’s just stick with the two points above. I’ll explain.
We’ve been writing lately about the intersection of sales and philosophy to see what practical wisdom we might offer sellers and leaders as they meet challenges presented by the Covid-19 economy. (See our recent posts applying philosophies from Descartes, Sir Francis Bacon, and Epicurus to sales.)
The benefits of role specialization originated with Adam Smith, who is usually described as the founding father of economics. You know him for his “invisible hand” theory of free-trade. But he was also a philosopher who wrote extensively about the benefits of skill specialization: asserting that narrowed focus drives efficiency, productivity, higher quality and even innovation.
If you’re interested in the productivity and innovation part, listen to Stephen West in his podcast, Philosophize This, give a fascinating explanation for how we went from spending the equivalent of 6 hours of wages in order to buy 1 hour of candlelight in the year 1800 vs. the half-second of wages it takes us today to light a lamp for an hour – a 43,200x improvement in 200 years.
Smith so believed in the power of role specialization and the division of labor (think the different members of a major accounts team), he credits its presence or absence as the determining factor for why nations were either wealthy or poor. And he believed these benefits translated just as well to small groups vs. entire countries.
So let’s return to our recommendation for leveraging role specialization when making sales restructuring decisions – first as a way to boost seller productivity and second as a way to be hyper-vigilant about the pipeline.
Sellers or other account team members isolated at home are either alone or have multiple distractions, like school-age children who aren’t going to school. It’s one or the other, and both produce stress. Specialization, whether it’s task specialization or solution specialization or industry specialization, can lower the anxiety of already distracted sellers by keeping their focus narrowed, boosting productivity.
This seems particularly urgent given a Salesforce statistic stating that sellers today only spend 34% of their time actually selling.
As for pipeline, for sales leaders working in an industry like automotive which will feel Covid-19 economic reverberations for a while, specialization can act as an early warning system for pipeline health, which requires tight management always, but especially now when we can’t afford a single deal to stall or a single resource to waste time on an improperly qualified opportunity.
How does specialization help? Role specialists tend to work in specific stages of the pipeline. Business development reps, product management, pre-sales engineers, customer marketing, pricing specialists, etc. enter and leave the deal cycle semi-predictably. A pattern of stalled or lost deals in a particular stage tells you who’s involved in addition to the account or territory manager.
This gives the sales leader a quick indication of where there’s trouble and who needs coaching; something front-line leaders must be diligent about while sellers are still grappling with how their years’ worth of outside selling experience is translating into effective (or not) virtual selling.