Five Common - and Avoidable - Mistakes in Sales Force Design

Ty Curry, Managing Principal

We often observe several pretty common and fairly consistent mistakes in the way that companies are designing their sales organizations to cover the market. The first common mistake we see is role pollution in the sales force, in which salespeople get involved in a lot of things that really are not core to their jobs of selling. They often spend too much time in service or support. Companies can and should have other and more appropriate resources in place to address these issues so that salespeople can focus on what they're supposed to be doing, which is selling.

The second common mistake we see is field salespeople spending too much time chasing small opportunities—customers and prospects that have very limited sales potential. This mistake often goes hand in hand with under-utilization of alternate channels, such as inside sales that can provide much more cost-effective coverage of these small customers and prospects.

The third common mistake we see is taking a fragmented approach to key or strategic account management, as opposed to consistently implementing best practice. Companies that have poorly coordinated efforts across lines of business tend to leave opportunities to sell across the entire portfolio on the table.

The fourth common mistake we see in sales force design is companies making sales force size and effort allocation decisions without using leading analytics. Companies are often relying on sales management intuition, as opposed to using data-driven approaches, or they're making decisions based off of simple financial ratios that don't tell the whole story. They ignore critical factors like "What's the sales potential at an account level? What's the effort required to execute the sales process against different segments of customers, etc.?"

The fifth common mistake we see is that sales territories or account assignments are just out of balance. Over and over again, with companies across industries, we see sales territories that simply have too much to do. The flip side of the argument we see all the time as well, and that is territories that simply don't have enough customers or enough prospects to call on.

We work on hundreds of such programs with our clients every year, and one of the things that we see is while these are not simple problems—the sales force is a very complicated thing—there are some consistent best practices that can be used to help companies get those right resources against the right opportunities at the right time to drive profitable growth within the organization.