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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Is Your Sales Force Adaptable?

It’s best to develop a detailed, holistic list of required sales rep activities with timing benchmarks for individual tasks (from pre-call prep to record keeping and follow-up) garnered from interviews and surveys with internal and external sales experts. Besides guiding salespeople, benchmarks will provide a mechanism for tracking sales activity and sales rep effectiveness.

Step 5: Match resources to the new organization. Ultimately, maximizing a sales force’s productivity is a function of matching the size and configuration of the group as well as the resources backing it to the revised call standards and new sales strategies. It is important to note that this exercise requires a company to identify both the right number of sales reps and the right mix of resources. The latter is an increasingly important factor as companies try to economically deliver more customized product and service offerings.

Equally critical is ensuring that the company has the right talent to successfully handle the tasks assigned to the sales force, which requires a structured people-selection process matching job requirements to the skills of the existing sales force. This type of assessment helps sales force management evaluate the skills of the existing force and understand which positions need to be filled from the outside. It also enables management to identify future training requirements for the reps that will continue in their current jobs or fill new positions within the revamped sales organization. For an individual rep, this could mean developing deeper knowledge of a product line, acquiring different client accounts, or focusing on one aspect of the sales process. This process is not necessarily easy to execute, but there simply is no substitute for having the right talent in the organization.

Never the End of the Line
When implementing these steps, remember that adaptation is a constant. Given the challenges of creating an adaptive sales force, it’s tempting for companies to treat it as a singular event to be undertaken only when the company’s growth or market share is threatened. It’s important, however, to measure and respond to customers’ ever-changing needs with some degree of regularity and sustained involvement from senior management. Indeed, as many companies are finding out, failure to match the sales force with customer requirements can be a dangerous oversight.

Author Profiles:

Edward Landry ([email protected]) is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in New York. He focuses on strategy and sales and marketing effectiveness for consumer packaged-goods and health-care companies.

Thomas Ripsam ([email protected]) is a principal with Booz Allen in New York. He focuses on go-to-market strategy development and sales force organization and operating model design for clients in the consumer, technology, and industrial sectors.

Bart Sayer ([email protected]) is a senior associate with Booz Allen in New York. He focuses on growth strategies and sales and marketing effectiveness for consumer packaged-goods and media clients.

Heberto Molina and Wendy Millan also contributed to this article.

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  1. Johannes Bussmann, Gregor Harter, Evan Hirsh, Ivan de Souza, and Vanessa Wallace, “Winning the Multi-Channel Challenge: Customers, Channels, and Marketing Management,” Booz Allen Hamilton white paper, February 2007: There are three basic principles common to all successful multi-channel management practices across industries. PDF Download.
  2. René Y. Darmon, Leading the Sales Force: A Dynamic Management Process (Cambridge University Press, 2007): Demonstrates how to dynamically manage the sales function via an analysis of the key players throughout the process and a description of the tools available to sales force managers. Click here.
  3. Frank Galioto, Jason Kerins, Steffen Lauster, and Deanna Mitchell, “The Matrix Reloaded: The Multi-Axis Organization as Key to Competitive Advantage,” Booz Allen Hamilton white paper, December 2006: Discusses the benefits of a multi-axis organization (i.e., product/category, geography, function) and demonstrates how to manage this type of organization for success. PDF Download.
  4. Edward Landry, Wendy Millan, Thomas Ripsam, and Bart Sayer, “The Adaptive Sales Force: Five Steps for Staying Aligned with Customers,” Booz Allen Hamilton white paper, February 2007: The piece on which this article is based goes into more detail for industry leaders. PDF Download.
  5. Rosann Spiro, Greg A. Rich, and William J. Stanton, Management of a Sales Force (McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2007): A soup-to-nuts textbook on sales force management. Click here.
  6. Andris A. Zoltners, Prabhakant Sinha, and Sally Lorimer, Sales Force Design for Strategic Advantage (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004): Discusses the changing role of sales forces and describes how to optimally design them. Click here.
  7. Booz Allen Hamilton’s Organizational DNA Web site: An online resource with further information on effective organizational structure. Click here.
  8. Forum Web site: An online management resource with numerous short articles on sales force effectiveness. Click here.
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