In today’s world in which a buyer can totally bypass the traditional buyer/seller relationship, sourcing product or service information directly online, the requirement to restructure your sales force to match up with these buying patterns has become even more crucial.
In their excellent book Rethinking the Sales Force, Neil Rackham and John De Vincentis explore this topic in detail. Published in 1999, this book speaks even more directly to challenges facing sales teams and organizations today. A central argument of the book is that a company needs to segment their sales force according to the type of sale: transactional, or consultative. On the surface this may seem like a “no-brainer,” but just think for a moment about how many sales organizations liberally cross both types. Salespeople in such environments often grab transactional business to offset longer consultative sales cycles.
Back in the 1990s it was quite common for a percentage of reps in a sales force to be devoted exclusively to transactional sales, and another to consultative. There was also a third segment in the middle that dealt with both. Over the past number of years, that third (middle) segment has fallen under increasing pressure due to factors discussed at length on SalesPOP! (B2B buying bypassing normal sales channels, and ease of purchase driven by technology advances). Consultative sales have also expanded due to increasing buyer sophistication at the higher end–buyers look for greater and more precise value from vendors. They no longer simply want knowledge on how your product or service can help their companies; they are seeking your insights on their business and industry. They’re looking to you to become that elusive “trusted advisor”. This means a heavier demand on the caliber of your consultative seller, as well as greater strains on your support organization.
As you can see, these two types of sales (transactional and consultative) have become more clearly differentiated, not less. You need to ask yourself if your sales organization is sufficiently segmented and structured to support both.
As you come to grips with these challenges, I highly recommend reading (or re-reading) Neil and John’s book. The more I look it at it, the more I feel it was ahead of its time in 1999, and the time it was ahead of is now.