Addressing the “How to Organize Sales” Question with Technology and Process


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For large companies, a big question is how to organize their sales force. Do you have one big sales force that represents all products or do you allow each division to have their own sales team? There is no single right answer to this question as it depends alot on the company, the products, and the customers.

A single sales force provides one face to the customer, but puts a tremendous burden on the sales organization to now all of the products (and more importantly–the business challenges they address to produce positive outcomes for customers). It can also be harder to introduce new products to this type of sales force, since they already cover so many products and selling something new is usually harder.

Conversely, the divisional sales force provides a better ability for sales to have deep knowledge of a specific group of business challenges and the products to address them. Similarly, introducing new products in this organization can be easier, since they are part of your team and you have more control. The downside of this is the risk that customers will have multiple reps from the same company selling to them. At times, this can seem convoluted and confusing.

Rieber, a German company that makes products for the kitchen industry–addressing everything from safe preparation to delivery, decided to use technology, and process, to address these issues. They have four divisions that specialize in different aspects of the food(commercial and residential) processing as well as industrial components. In the past, reps from these divisions would sell to the same customers with little or no visibility as to the work of their counterparts.

To improve customer experience, Rieber implemented a sales effectiveness solution, SAP Sales OnDemand, across all divisions. Some of the ways this is helping their various sales teams include (you can see more details in this video):

  • In-context collaboration allows everyone working on an account to have visibility into other activities and to share ideas about selling together
  • ERP integration enables them to see details of past order history across all divisions, identifying opportunities to introduce new products that work well with others already purchased
  • Sharing service issues enables reps to be aware of, and empathetic to, customer issues.

The technology alone was not enough. Rieber also made some tweaks to their sales process to ensure that the teams used the tool to provide these benefits. They also managed this change with some cultural planning, encouraging people to use the tool not as a way for manage to track activities, but to focus on using it to better serve customers and help the sales teams be more effective. Even the founder of the company uses the Customer Insight application (demo here) to see the latest opportunities and reach out to sales to see if he can help them win the business.

For the customer, they now interact with Rieber as a more integrated company. While they still deal with multiple reps, they see that the efforts are coordinated with the customer needs and issues at the forefront of all sales efforts.

While technology and process are helping Rieber manage their independent sales forces, that may not be right for you. What is clear is that capabilities like collaboration, back-end visibility, and sharing customer insight can help any sales organization work together to be more effective.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Hank Barnes
Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies--particularly around marketing, positioning, and customer experience--for technology providers. Hank has more than 25 years of high-technology sales and marketing experience in both field and corporate roles, both as an individual contributor and the marketing leader for several startups. He is a long-time proponent of customer-centric marketing and the use of customer experience as a key differentiator for business success. His posts here include content from his days with Adobe, SAP, and now Gartner


  1. Hank: as one who has experienced splitting sales forces into product silos, I’ve seen it ‘done right,’ and ‘done wrong’–horribly. The process and technology steps you’ve described were absent in the ‘done wrong’ situations, as was proper planning.

    Still, even with the right technologies and processes in place, companies run the risk of sales forces lapsing into NMP Syndrome–as in Not My Problem! A customer might complain about product quality of the healthcare line to a representative of industrial products. While that rep might share data with the other divisions, there’s often perfunctory interest in addressing the prospect’s concerns.

    This occurs because revenue is siloed into distinct general ledger categories, and division P&L’s are managed separately. Same for sales team incentives: separate, and not equal. “I’d love to help you out, but you’ll need to call your healthcare rep on this one . . . ”

    Establishing shared goals and incentives for customer satisfaction and revenue growth between sales teams helps manage these risks.


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