Distribution salespeople are tasked with more responsibilities today than ever. Besides the pure sales functions of prospecting, connecting with potential clients, making sales pitches and maintaining sales conversations with existing clients, they are more recently now responsible for tasks that many would consider to be in the realm of customer service, marketing or account management.
Justin Roff-Marsh says that has to change if sales organizations are to truly flourish. Roff-Marsh, the founder and CEO of sales process engineering firm Ballistix, is an advocate for the reengineering of sales organizations so that sales staff can focus purely on selling. We discuss that here.
Beyond the Interview
The conversation between Roff-Marsh and I covered a lot more than we could include in this video and still keep it reasonably within the "5 With ID" timeframe. But since his additional commentary was too good to go unused, I wanted to recap it here.
Here's another segment where Roff-Marsh sums up what he sees as the core problem with distributor sales operations:
“Attempts to solve the problem are deployed within the sales function, but that’s not where the problem is. The problem is with the organization as a whole. You can’t go into a sales function and say to salespeople, ‘I have a great idea: How about you stop spending so much time with assisting customers with transactions — purchasing orders, resolving quotes, purchasing issues, managing accounts, etc. — how about you stop doing all that and dedicate all the time you saved to the pursuit of new business?’ You can’t say that because, obviously, if salespeople extricated themselves from day-to-day transactions, it would be extremely injurious to the organization as a whole. And in many cases, injurious to salespeople because salespeople are compensated on a commission basis. The lion’s share of their commissions don’t come from the pursuit of new business, it comes from the maintenance of existing business. So you have an enormous gravitational pull that prevents salespeople from selling. You can’t improve sales performance in any meaningful way from within the sales function. The only way to improve sales performance is to redesign the organization as a whole so that salespeople have only one activity they can pursue during business hours, and that’s the pursuit of new business.
Roff-Marsh — the author of "The Machine: A Radical Approach to the Design of the Sales Function" — went on to elaborate that an increasing theme his firm is seeing in the B2B sales space is customer service teams that are involved in procurement. In order to free salespeople from transactional tasks, customer service people must first be freed from procurement tasks. Requires reengineering of customer service, procurement, engineering and marketing. “These folks pretend to know how to generate opportunities, but they don’t have the ability to generate them at the predictable velocity required to keep sales fully activated. So this is a major organizational rebuild.
Roff-Marsh said this sentiment is the same even at small distributors, including those with less than $10 million in annual revenue.
“You should be building this structure from day one, or at least day two," he told me. "If I were starting out as a manufacturer’s rep, my first hire before I made a single (sales) call would be an executive assistant to do whatever is required so I can be solely focused on selling conversations. And as I had more and more selling conversations I’d add more and more assistants, and I’d end probably end up with a whole company or army behind me. That’s the way to grow a distributorship starting with one person. You can’t use lack of size for poor behavior, because all you’re going to guarantee is that you’re going to stay small.”