As B2B buying cycles are getting longer and involving more decision-makers, sales specialization becomes increasingly essential to the success of a company. Instead of retaining jacks-of-all-trades, prosperous organizations choose to assign different tasks along the pipeline to trained professionals.
We, at CIENCE, are sales specialization devotees and practitioners. And we strongly believe that the distribution of various selling roles among different positions should be promoted in the business community. So far many companies are reluctant to adopt this practice, and it severely impacts their business.
We had an interview with our sales specialization inspirer and CMO, Eric Quanstrom. He shared his thoughts on the benefits of distributing selling roles and explained why many organizations are still reluctant to introduce these valuable practices.
What is sales specialization?
It’s the division of the functions that in a renaissance business would be done by one person. These functions include research, prospecting, qualification, discovery, demonstration, negotiation, quoting, proposal, pipeline management, account management, and account expansion are now the province of 5-6 people, where there used to be only one.
Most fast-growing companies have adopted sales specialization as a core strategy of their go-to-the-market. And the reason is that the employees performing distinct roles in a team can actually be better in each task of that chain than one person responsible for everything.
Take people who do the research all day long. And it’s their specialization. Compare their productivity to a renaissance salesperson who spends 10% of their time on research. Not even close.
Then that same renaissance salesperson changes focus to chasing new opportunities and running them through discovery, demonstration, calibration, negotiation, proposal, and then contract signing stages. And let’s be honest–on average, sales reps spend 64% of their time on non-selling tasks. There are heavy costs to switches streams– and they affect the output of any particular task at hand.
The point is that the sale cycle is robust. It has a lot of different phases. And eventually, when a customer is created (the purpose of any business according to Peter Drucker), in a sales specialized organization that account becomes the province of many people. So dividing labor makes sense in order to become more efficient.
Does specialization reduce cost?
Absolutely. Cost removal is the essential part of any specialization. I like to think of it as a natural law of life: everything moves towards complexity and division (entropy). By isolating down to minimum viable elements, you are able to hire specifically for task efficiencies. Less waste equals greater efficiency. Greater efficiency equates to fewer costs.
Does specialization improve results?
It should. If for no better reason than the law of averages says no one can be great at multiple disciplines. For example, marketing has been specialized for some years now. It’d be preposterous for me to think that my content writer should be doing design. Or that my PPC specialist should tackle PR. Other cross-functional absurdist examples are fun to think up… Let’s have our accountants code! Hey procurement– time to manage IT! It’s HR’s turn to run production!
So, we generally accept that it would be silly to mix all these separate disciplines into generalist roles and expect excellent results. The business culture has naturally divided into ever more specialized functions in the modern era. Yet for some strange reason, the sales department seems to lag all others in recognizing this fact. And the sales department is the last bastion of resisting change.
Why do you think they don’t want to change?
I think a lot of people don’t understand sales very well. They perceive this field as a very human, touchy-feely province of outgoing people who like to be on the phone all day and can do anything and everything in the sales cycle. Most don’t think of it discretely as a hard science in the same way as they would do about dividing development tasks.
Many sales organizations have resisted specialization. Primarily it’s because the people working there have financial incentive to do so. Commissions are an important, accepted, and ingrained part of the sales culture. And it’s true whether you’re just starting out or have already advanced to become sales leaders (VP Sales, Directors, etc.). Changing a structure where all outcomes are handsomely rewarded is optically (and practically) hard. Change will never come from the bottom up.
I also think that the startup culture wears much of the blame here. And the reason is that sales tend to be the province of a founder or CEO in a very small company. It goes on until they’re well established enough to actually to bring on a professional sales force. Thus, often an owner or a founder is the leading salesperson who drives the organization to the given size. And if they could do it…
Most owner/founder sales happen through networks– building organically. As a result, it becomes the area where it’s harder to professionalize. And it’s also getting difficult to move into the realm where you need to hire trained experts under trained management who perform particular functions at each stage of a sales cycle.
Do you think that startups founders are afraid to assign sales functions?
I think yes. The reasons are trust and economics as well as high visibility and enormous pressure. Most salespeople understand that bargain: you are at all times measured by results. In this area, an employee who claims: “I tried really hard, but didn’t achieve results” won’t last in any organization for a long time.
And often companies, especially startups, are very vulnerable to the results. As a result, they find themselves in a situation, where the ends always justify the means. And it’s hard to get up ahead of the story and say: “No, the means should be exactly this.” I mean that logic, discipline, and organization are at the forefront of how the ends are going to be produced.
Sales specialization at CIENCE
We built our specialization in alignment with a typical sales cycle. Some might argue that it begins with the first contact with a potential buyer and stops with the deal closure. However, in our opinion, it goes way beyond these two points.
Every sales cycle starts with the comprehensive analysis of a product and its environment. What are you selling? How can it help and whom? Who are those companies and individuals within them that desperately need your product or service? In what way will their life become better?
There are tons of question. And it’s the marketing department that should answer all of them. Based on this analysis, marketers create a unique sale proposition along with the buyer persona for a particular product or service. They establish a framework for your sales team to operate.
All the other people working within the cycle will align with these guidelines, but only if they are competent. If there’s no buying persona and no understanding of USP, your sales process will be chaos. For example, your sales development reps will have to waste their precious time inventing the value of your product.
Now, let’s talk about the end. The sales cycle terminates only when your company discontinues its relations with a client. For some products and services, there’s a situation when it lasts for years. So, it’s often up to your company to build steady relations with your buyer.
However, our key point here is that sales cycle lasts past the closed deal. It means you need an account manager (or Cutomer Success Manager, as we call them) to make sure your client is happy with the purchase. In this case, you can get recurring revenue in the long run.
There are several main takeaways from the above-said:
- Marketing takes part in the cycle and thereby in the sales specialization fulfilling some of the critical tasks.
- Account management and customer support also take part in this process.
- With these two inclusions into the cycle, it’s even harder for one person to be efficient at every stage. And that’s why sales specialization is so important.
And what’s in-between?
As we mentioned above, our sales cycle begins with the marketing study, USP and buyer persona. As soon as they’re ready, we pass our ICP to our Researchers. These are the most scrupulous people in our company. They look for the leads that correspond to our buying persona and fit our business.
Read about a Day in Life of our Researchers.
At the same time, our copywriter creates the templates of emails and scripts for calls. This is a hard task. You need to understand to whom you are writing as well as how you can help them with a particular product or service. So, once again, buying persona and USP are critical.
As soon as a researcher forms the list of contacts, our Sales Development Representatives begin outbound prospecting. Most people associate this stage with the beginning of a sales cycle. But in companies with profound sales specialization, it’s just in the middle.
SDRs do a great job to prepare the potential customers for their first contact with our Regional Sales Managers.
Read about a Day in Life of our SDRs.
RSMs meet the potential buyers and lead them through the negotiating process. They close deals and pass customers to our CSMs. In the traditional scenario, this is how sales cycle should end. However, a modern B2B company can’t stop here, unless it wants to lose clients.
There are some basic rules to succeed in sales specialization:
- Acknowledging that the cycle is very long and the need to slice it into the portions;
- Dividing all the tasks into groups and determining the positions for them, as well as the requirements;
- Hiring the people who not only put every effort but also feel comfortable and fit to fulfill their tasks.
- Creating the seamless process in which a buyer moves along the sales cycle from one person to another and have the consistent experience.
- Managing this process.
In fact, this isn’t as hard as it might seem at first glance. Many companies have successfully adopted sales specialization models and gain steady revenues.
Some even outsource part of the responsibilities in the cycle (such as research and outbound prospecting) to focus entirely on qualified leads and existing customers.
We are pretty sure, that your business can succeed in sales specialization too, provided you get the right approach and supportive employees.