It’s Time to Rethink Your SMB Sales Force

Ralph Grimse

Ask most sales leaders about their sales force structure and they’ll likely reference a triangle. Global/strategic accounts on top, followed by enterprise, and then mid-market. At the bottom will be the SMB sector, typically executed by an inside sales team. They’ll also explain how they organize geographies, verticals and the various roles – hunter/farmers/specialists/pre-sales, etc.

But our next set of questions often confuse and frustrate many sales leaders:

  • How do you draw the lines between these segments? Well, they’re…arbitrary. They’re industry standards. It’s how we’ve always done it. These are all the common answers we hear.
  • Do markets buy your solutions or do companies? Well, companies of course buy our solutions. We organize by markets because… [some variation of it’s easier].
  • Do all the companies in each of your segments buy like each other? Well, that depends of course… Some buy this way, others buy that way…

The ultimate question then becomes clear. If the goal of the sales force is to execute a set of motions that align with how buyers buy, why don’t we organize this way? The truth is, more companies are realizing the flaws of the traditional approach. And many are radically rethinking their model, and in doing so, unlocking significant value.

The analogy is to think back to the early days of e-commerce. You purchased something online and then wanted to return it the store. Most of the time, you were told ‘no’. You couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let you. It was certainly a frustrating experience. Why is this so hard – they’re the same company, right?! Oddly, nearly two decades later, the B2B world is playing catch up. Most companies are still struggling to understand and execute a true customer-centric sales model.

We’re working with several SaaS companies to help them transform their legacy ‘SMB’ teams. These projects involve redesigning sales team structure to align with the differences in the buying process for different buyers.

This approach has a big impact on former SMB teams. Instead of focusing on the lower end of the market, they are being deployed against buyers wanting specific expertise and speed. The new realignments stand in sharp contrast to the historical criteria for inside sales. It’s not about the size of the buyer but rather, how a particular buyer wants to buy. Many large accounts have sophisticated internal capabilities related to a seller’s solution. Their approach to the buying process starts to look more transactional. Speed, efficiency, and pricing transparency are key. In this way, the buying motion of a Fortune 100 account might be similar to a $50M SMB firm.

The idea that inside sales is best used to service smaller accounts is just wrong. They should be adapted to execute based on the degree of buying process complexity. It’s not about the size of the customer, it’s about how they want to buy!

Shifting to this model has important implications. First and foremost, the role of the field organization changes significantly. Field sales teams must transform into demand creators vs. demand harvesters. No longer are Enterprise reps waiting for large accounts to hit an inbound form. Instead, they must be generating demand, executing more complex and non-linear sales opportunities. This includes shaping solutions and navigating a consensus-driven sale required by certain types of buyers. Again, this more demanding sales motion isn’t necessarily related to the size of the prospect. Size no longer directly correlates with the buyer’s expectations or procurement process.

There are five steps to executing this transition: 

  1. Evaluate your inside team – How can it be better aligned to how your customers buy?
  2. Evaluate your field team – What changes can you make to increase deal size and win rates? Can you justify the expense of a high-powered field resource?
  3. Re-align – Understand the key buying motions and selling situations. Re-align the teams to mirror those required motions.
  4. Update your sales methodology – Both the inside team and the field team will need a new methodology to be successful. The field team will need far greater business acumen and situational awareness.
  5. Track and measure – Revamp the metrics for the field team. Focus on overall lead volume, lead-to-opportunity conversion, average deal size, and win rates.

This model has already proven to increase deal size and win rates at our clients. It requires a different adaptive skillset and methodology grounded in situational awareness. It also involves repositioning legacy sales roles to match the needs of different accounts, regardless of size. And it all starts with a focus on how your customers buy. Toss the outdated triangle structure of your sales force to win in today’s market.

Contact us to learn more about how shifting your sales model can lead to larger deals, increased win rates, and lower costs of sales.

Ralph Grimse

Ralph Grimse

Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.