One of the critical questions that every expansion-phase B2B focused company needs to consider is “what’s the most appropriate Sales and Business Development organisation structure for our product or service offering”?
There is no single perfect answer to this - but the choices you make have a huge impact on your ability to create and close the maximum number of qualified opportunities, as quickly as possible.
As well as taking into account the packaging and price points of your product or service, it is important to pay close attention to the expectations and needs of your buyers.
You obviously need to identify the problems that your solution solves, focus on the types of organisations are most likely to suffer from these issues and distinguish which roles are most likely to lead the search for a solution. But there's more...
If you have a relatively simple, easy-to-explain, transactional product or service operating in a mature market where buyers know exactly what they want, your organisational options are straightforward. These purchases are increasingly web-based and automated with only occasional human intervention to handle enquiries or exceptions - and cost-of-sale, customer ease-of-use and business efficiency considerations mean that this model is becoming the norm for such transactions.
Designing for the most effective interactions
However things are not as obvious or as simple if your product or service offering is a high-value considered purchase, with a lengthy and complex sales process involving multiple customer stakeholders, each with their own agenda.
For these types of sales, a significant level of human interaction is always going to be required and this has a profound impact on your options regarding sales structure and process and on your resulting cost of sale.
Here are some of the most important organisational structure considerations:
- Are you selling into an existing and well-understood solution category, trying to reshape an existing solution category with a radical new approach, or trying to create a brand new solution category?
- How coherent is your target market? Is it well or loosely defined? What are the common characteristics of your ideal target organisations and key potential sponsors?
- How much education does your target audience require? Is the need for your solution obvious, or do prospects first have to be alerted and educated as to the scope and nature of the problem you solve?
- How important is it that you assess your initial contact’s ability to mobilise the rest of their organisation around the need for change and the specific advantages of your approach?
- What alternative options do your target customers have for solving the identified problems? Can your approach be generically differentiated from these options, or does your positioning need to be hand crafted on a case-by-case basis?
- How easy is it to make a business case for implementing your solution? How aware are your prospects likely to be of the costs and consequences of sticking with the status quo?
In almost every scenario, educated, articulate and well-informed sales and business development resources have a critical role to play in the early stages of customer engagement.
Solution Category affects Strategy
When you are selling in to or trying to reshape an already well-defined category with which your prospects are familiar, you have a reasonable chance that your most promising prospects may have already started to recognise the problem and the need for change. In this instance, for them to move forward with you, they need to believe that of the available options, your offering is the one that best solves their specific problem. The challenge here is to persuade them to engage with you early on in the process, before their thinking has been unduly influenced by other potential suppliers.
If you are attempting to establish an entirely new category or concept that your prospects are less familiar with, before they can move forward with you, they will need to believe that there is a clear need to challenge the status quo and that the perceived risk and disruption involved in implementing a new, different way of working will be more than compensated by the upside of the outcomes the change will generate. Here the initial conversations will need to focus more on uncovering the underlying issues and implications - neither of which may be initially obvious to the prospect. Creating curiosity, interest and intrigue is particularly important in the initial interactions.
Appealing to senior executives
The solution category question is particularly important because of its impact on your prospect’s preconceptions and expectations - and the level at which you need to sell. If you’re seeking to create a new solution category or re-invent an existing one, your initial conversations will typically need to be at a more senior level within the prospect organisations - the people who are concerned with shaping strategy rather than implementing it and who have the ability to mobilise their organisation to take action.
These senior executives expect to have constructive business conversations, and do not take kindly to being subjected to a crude sales pitch. So it’s absolutely critical that even your initial conversations need to include valuable business insights that will stimulate them to want to learn more.
Adding real value from the very first conversation
Driven by the pressure from investors to deliver growth (and sometimes a belief that the product will just ‘sell itself’), it can be easy for an emerging technology organisation to build or outsource a demand generation team without having fully assessed what their buyers really expect from those initial conversations. Deploying the wrong capabilities in the wrong situation can have a major impact on growth.
The key organisational challenge is to accurately define what a well-qualified opportunity looks like and then to create a business development capability that can replicate these conditions time-and-time again so that the field sales organisation can operate at an optimised level. Here are some key questions:
- How much do you need to know about the prospect’s situation before you can confidently identify them as a qualified opportunity?
- How important is it that you are able to accurately assess your initial contact’s ability to mobilise their organisation around the need for change?
- How soon do you need to start engaging with the decision team as a group?
- Which level of prospect executive is likely to recognise the challenges you are seeking to solve?
- How much education and/or persuasion will be required to persuade your prospects to want to move forward?
- What level of interaction do your competitors offer?
Your business development/demand generation team must be of a much higher quality than a transactional business needs to employ. Every conversation matters; your teams must be fluent in understanding the problems your solution solves and not just the capabilities of your product or service.
Taking these factors into account can help to design an effective organisational structure and sale process that has the right level and balance of sales and business development resources to optimise sales outcomes - and it can help to ensure that your organisation implements the optimum structure from the beginning.