Combating Sales Complexity Through Specialization: Part 2

Author: Kahly Ulmer
8 / 13 / 2013

Combating Sales Complexity Through Specialization: Part 2

In part one of this blog post, we discussed the tell-tale signs that your sellers are navigating an increasingly complex selling field and the impact it has on your business.  Specialization of your sales force is one way to combat this complexity and in part two, we will focus on the building blocks of a specialist sales strategy and some key considerations you will need to account for in designing one that is right for your organization.

The key building blocks for designing your Sales Specialist Model are inclusive of: Specialization, Engagement Model, Incentive Compensation, Org Design, and Change Management.

The Basic Building Blocks:

Specialization: What Makes You So Special?

Defining how your resources are specialized is the first building block you will want to put in place.  Some of the most common specializations are Industry, Product, and Technical, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. You may have no need to introduce Industry Specialists since your Account Teams are already organized this way; you may want to compile multiple products into a solution that your specialist sells; you may have your product sales specialists require a deep technical expertise.  All of these are viable options and defining this ultimately depends on your current sales framework, the complex or nascent areas of your business, and where your long range plan is forecasting significant growth.

Engagement Model: One Account – Multiple Sales Motions

For many sales organizations, you have spent years reinforcing that the Account Manager is King and that all roads to the client go through him/her.  In the new world of Sales Specialists, this rule becomes a roadblock to success and keeping this outdated mantra could cripple your sales effectiveness.  The analogy that resonates most with me is that the Account Manager becomes the Quarterback of the Account Team – calling the plays across all of the various roles, including Sales Specialists.  The most important thing a QB can do is to see the opportunity and to make the decision to hand the sale off to a team member who is better positioned to move things forward.  Defining this engagement model very clearly to team members is challenging – roles are no longer a set of defined swim lanes, but a series of “plays” that optimize for the accounts needs. Designing the engagement model is only half the battle, instituting it is even more of a challenge (see Change Management for more).

Incentive Compensation: Double Counting, Double Trouble

The incentive compensation models for your sellers should be determined by your decisions around Specialization and Engagement Model.  Comp plans will drive the right behaviors as it relates to the “what” you are selling and the “How” you sell it.  Probably the biggest and most complex decision that will be made is how you will count a single dollar sold.  Double counting across account and specialist will enable greater collaboration, but can get complex, costly, and difficult to control.  Depending on the number of types of specialists you have, you could get into triple counting scenarios as well.  As you build your comp plans, map out selling scenarios and ensure you understand all the implications of how you compensate before you institute it.  It is also recommended that you don’t just build a comp plan for the newly introduced Sales Specialist, but you also review all comp plans within the Account Team to ensure the engagement model is holistically represented.

Org Design: Blueprinting for the dotted line

Some companies put more emphasis on organizational design than others, but either way, a Specialist roles introduce new challenges in how you organize your sales team.  No one blueprint is right for everyone, but each leadership team should discuss and weigh the pros and cons of all options.  Ultimately where these new Sales Specialists report to is important, but more critical is to understand the dotted line relationships that are created by default.  If you centralize your Specialists, there will be a need to have a dotted relationship to the Account Manager to ensure proper collaboration and orchestration within each account.  If you de-centralize your specialists into Account Teams, you need to provide a dotted line relationship to a Specialist leader who can provide them with coaching, expertise, and a sense of role excellence.  You can institute hybrid models where matured products or industries will be de-centralized and incubation teams will be centralized.  There are plenty of options to choose from, but always remember: the dotted lines are just as important as the hard lines.

Change Management: the lynchpin for success

Landing a Specialist model, no matter how big or small your sales team, should take time, effort, and resourcing – if you’re doing it right.  Flipping the switch is only one step in the change management process, and often times is the only one that leaders take.  We could write a whole separate post on change management, but we’ll spare you and just say this – invest in change and it will pay back in dividends.  Here are some key elements of change management that you will need to give extra attention to in order to have a successful transition to a Specialist Model:

  • Communicating the Value – spend more time telling them “why” than telling them “what.”  In the end, all roles will benefit from the addition of resources and expertise – but continuing to beat this drum throughout the change management process is paramount.
  • Talent Assessment –It is very rare that you will be building this team from scratch.  In fact, hiring all new personnel for the Specialist team would be a shot to the foot.  Assess all of your talent, be open about the new opportunities with your people, and ensure everyone is where they are most capable and comfortable.
  • Training – the kind of training you will need to provide is not your typical sales training, in fact it’s more about building team camaraderie and trust than anything else.  Think out of the box on how to train your new roles – it doesn’t have to be just a series of presentations and FAQs.
  • Listening – ensure you have established a listening mechanism with your sellers that allows you to get a constant pulse on where your organization is on the change curve.  Often times leadership has missed a few pieces of the puzzle, and your sellers will help you identify them and sometimes will even have a great recommendation on how to address them.

As your company grows and expands upon its product offerings, complexity reaches the line of sales and negatively impacts employee and customer satisfaction and poses significant threat to revenue.  Deploying a Specialist model can help combat this complexity, but careful consideration needs to be given to each building block to ensure a successful implementation.  Specialization, Engagement Model, Incentive Compensation, Org Design, and Change Management are critical components to explore in depth across your Sales Leadership.  Ultimately, the outcome of a Specialist Sales model can help drive richer engagements with your customers, give your field sellers the support they need to drive large product portfolios, increase sell through on critical business initiatives, and increase the overall experience for your sellers and your customers.

Have you deployed a Specialist Sales Strategy?  What key considerations and advice would you recommend to those that are contemplating implementation of a Specialist strategy?   Add your comment below – share how you are assessing specialization and how it has impacted your overall sales goals.

Kahly Ulmer is a Manager with Lenati LLC. She has experience building enterprise architecture programs for digital, high-tech, retail, and consumer electronics companies. She has designed and managed programs across sales optimization, experiential marketing, marketing effectiveness, sales efficiency, organizational structure, change management, and business planning.  

 

 

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