May 16, 2017

The Anatomy of a Successful B2B Sales Team

Successful B2B sales teams come in all shapes and sizes, from startups where the CEO is also the head marketer and the sales department to enterprise sales teams that require multiple tiers of account strategists and customer service reps. Depending on your business goals and product, you might structure your team as an island, or as an assembly line like Aaron Ross’s Predictable Revenue model, or some other metaphor that describes how your team should work. 

Of course, every sales team will struggle with either alignment or scaling. The assembly line model (where customers are passed from sales to onboarding to support), for instance, finds that customers fall through the cracks when alignment between sales stages breaks down. This model, also known as the hunter-closer-farmer model, can cause confusion among your customers, especially when management doesn’t clarify product expectations and service agreements. 

ALSO READ: Building a Quote-to-Cash Process

Many new companies find themselves stuck in the island model, where each team member is responsible for sourcing, onboarding, and supporting their own customers. Startup founders generally act as the one-person sales team for the first several years and hire on extra sales reps out of necessity, teaching their particular system without thinking much about how that system will scale. This results in sales teams that don’t have much room to scale, since they provide end-to-end service to each of their customers. When a sales rep reaches capacity, the only way to scale, it seems, is to bring on more reps. 

Sales expert and consultant Jacco vanderKooij recommends using a hybrid model of sales “pods” that provide sufficient pipeline, customer support, and scalability to best serve both the company and the customer. Each pod consists of a mix of an SDR, 2-3 AEs, and a CSM. These small teams collaborate to grow sales, give outstanding support, and scale according to need and capacity. 

What many sales teams don’t remember is that no matter the size or organization, every sales team should work together — much like the human body works together — to move, make decisions, and react to changes in the environment. In this article, we’ll imagine sales team as a larger system in which each member serves an important role contributing to overall health. 

Disclaimer: this will be an imperfect metaphor and, like all metaphors, should be taken as suggestion rather than fact.

The Brain: Sales Director

We’ll start here, because this part of the metaphor is pretty easy to understand. As the brain, the sales director is responsible for taking all of the input from different parts of the sales body and using it to make major decisions. The director will analyze significant amounts of sales and customer data and filter out the unhelpful stuff. The brain gives the marching orders and should be ready to react to changes in the market. Although it’s listed first, the brain isn’t necessarily the most important part of the system. However, it does direct decisions and drive reactions, and many of the other parts would be useless without it.

Spine: Customer Support

The spine keeps the body upright. In this metaphor, your customer support teams provide the support to existing customers that will bring you repeat revenue. They also provide that initial onboarding that helps move new customers from the closed-won to fully immersed customer. In the optimal sales team model, your B2B sales team will work closely with support to ensure that the whole system runs smoothly. It’s also the job of the customer support team to relay feedback between all parts of the body and the brain.

When lifting that heavy box causes strain on your back, your brain responds with pain, and makes the arms drop the box. Same thing here: when issues arise within the sales and support cycle, the customer support team should recognize the strain and provide feedback to other teams.

Arms/Hands: Outbound & Inbound 

You have to get food (leads) into the mouth somehow. Whether it’s grabbing leads from capture forms or by picking them from the BANT lead-tree, your inbound and outbound teams have to be flexible, mobile, and ready to pursue every opportunity. The arms and hands provide the balance and dexterity necessary to run programs and keep your pipeline moving.

Legs: Marketers

While the brain decides what to go after, the legs take you there. Sales knows a lot about the customer, but so does marketing. A successful B2B sales team will integrate the marketing department into their overall strategy and make sure they move as quickly and with as much agility as possible. Chasing after leads won’t be easy, but the legs need to have feedback from the brain, the arms, and the spine to get their job done.

Smartphone: Tech & Data

It was bound to happen sometime: our technology actually becomes part of our bodies. Just like your teenager at the dinner table, the fictional B2B sales team body can’t function without technology. And like the rest of the system, your smarketing technology, tools, and data can’t exist on their own; they need the arms to work and the brain to interpret. Without a well-functioning body, all the smartphones in the world couldn’t make a sale.

Mouth: Sales Development

The mouth is a major gateway into the system. We put lots of fuel (leads) into our mouths, and the other parts of the digestive system make sense of what’s usable and what should be released as waste. The mouth is also where we release sound — calling out to friends and strangers, talking, convincing. We’re looking to chew some things up, maybe spit a few out, and definitely begin moving as much as we can down to the stomach, where the sales magic happens. Your sales development team members will most likely be SDRs working in conjunction with nurture campaigns from marketing. 

Digestive System: Closers

The stomach is where all those leads generated by the other parts of the sales body start to come together. A stomach begins to break food down into its component parts and segment it. Later on in the system, other parts begin to distinguish between the nutrition and waste. It’s only by interacting directly with leads that we can understand which ones are important and which ones are a bad fit or not ready. Closers take these segmented leads and add chemistry to get the most profit out of them. Not the prettiest of metaphors, sure, but without the digestive system, other parts of the body aren’t needed and won’t run.

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What does your sales team look like? What models have you found most efficient for B2B prospecting, development, and conversion? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

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