If the sales function has not kept up with the productivity gains that we’ve seen on the production side of the house, what has been holding us back from making the changes that would improve productivity?
Well, for a long time the traditional sales model worked, so changes were unnecessary. But those times of the traditional model are behind us. The world has changed. First, sales is more competitive now that the rate of product innovation has slowed. Second, sales is more complicated. Companies are selling products that are built-to-order instead of simply selling from their stock of inventory.
It’s hard for us to adjust when the world changes. Usually we respond first by attempting to use the methods and tools that have always worked for us in the past. We make incremental adjustments. But then we find the old tools no longer work. Finally, we are forced to confront our assumptions about how the world works.
Time to Challenge our Assumptions
And what assumption have we been making about sales? Justin Roff-Marsh says that from the time that sales became a profession in the U.S., we’ve assumed that “sales should be the sole responsibility of autonomous agents.”
But if sales is more competitive, can we really expect salespeople to do everything—prospect, sell, support, and administrate? If companies are offering build-to-order products to their customers, can we expect salespeople to sell and then to work closely with production on every order to design and engineer solutions?
A new world requires a new assumption. To enable salespeople to be successful in a more competitive and fluid environment, we have to divide the labor among more people. Roff-Marsh explains that we need to make sales the “responsibility of a centrally coordinated team.”
Salespeople should be able to do what they are best at, selling. And others can pick up the prospecting, the support, the administration and the design.
Divide the Labor
Ok, if we were to divide the labor that a salesperson traditionally performed, what would that look like? What would be the roles on a centrally coordinated team?
Before we can answer those questions, Roff-Marsh cautions us to slow down before making changes. You face many challenges when you transition from a craft shop to production team where labor is divided among multiple players. Before making significant changes, study the principles that have worked in production. They have been experimenting with process improvement for a long time.
Study the Principles of Manufacturing and Learn Their Ways
Roff-Marsh identifies four principles that have come out of our experience with the division of labor and process improvement in manufacturing environments.
- Scheduling should be centralized. When you have multiple people working on different parts of the same problem and each has a different role, they have to coordinate their activities so that the right work is done at the right time. In this environment someone has to manage the schedule. There’s nothing new here, it’s common in other work environments to centralize scheduling and project management. Just ask the master scheduler in a factory, the project manager on a software team, or the conductor of an orchestra.
- Workflows should be standardized. When a salesperson works as an autonomous agent, there’s no need to standardize workflows. Each salesperson has their own ways of responding to opportunities and producing outcomes. But once you divide the labor among multiple people, you can only manage the work if you standardize how you route the flow of work from opportunity to outcome.
- Resources should be specialized. As the flow of work moves through a standardized route, who will do the work? The answer is that the work is done by people who are specialized in that task. It’s not enough to divide the labor and then ask people to do many types of specialized work. When people perform only one type of work, they become very good at it. And they avoid the costs of switching between significantly different types of work.
- Management should be formalized. A certain fragility is associated with an organization that schedules work to flow along established routes to specialized resources. Someone has to pay attention to the whole organization. The manager makes adjustments, resolves problems, and improves the design.
Now that we have firmly established Roff-Marsh’s four principles in our minds, we can begin to learn how he reimagines the sales function.