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Sales Organisation Structures for Success: Models, Tips, and Best Practices

Posted in:  Sales and Marketing Management

Sales success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Behind every top seller is a carefully structured sales organisation that allows individuals to perform at their best.

Proactively thinking through how and why your sales organisation is set up a certain way ensures that you are not only making strategic hiring decisions but that you’re putting your reps in position to thrive.

To help you build a stellar sales team from the start, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about sales organisational structure, including:

What Is Sales Organisation Structure?

Sales organisation structure refers to the segmentation of your sales team into specialised groups. How you organise your sales team will be determined by the regions you serve, the number of products and services you offer, the size of your sales team, and the size and industry of your customers.

Sales organisation structure is important as it sets sellers up for success. After all, you wouldn’t put a new recruit in charge of your enterprise accounts; similarly, a rep with deep experience in healthcare would probably struggle to sell into tech. Thoughtful design of your sales organisation will allow you to capitalise on individual capabilities and experiences, while also ensuring the right sellers are targeting the right customers.

What Does a Sales Department Do?

Your sales organisation is in charge of generating revenue for your business by convincing buyers to purchase a product or service. In order for salespeople to effectively close deals, they need to focus on sales-critical activities. But most sellers will tell you they are frequently tasked with activities that would be better suited to sales operations or sales enablement functions.

Often, this is due to constraints like budget or misunderstanding of the role of sales reps. However, by operating with the previously stated goal in mind, you should be able to easily differentiate the core activities of your sales team from other supporting functions, like sales operations or sales enablement.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how these roles differ:

  • Engages with buyers in order to close deals and generate revenue
  • Manages administrative tasks, such as expense reports and CRM data entry
  • Attends onboarding and training in order to grow skillset
  • Manages day-to-day operations of sales organisation, such as forecasting and tool administration
  • Develops and analyses revenue strategy
  • Tracks and reviews sales performance metrics
  • Prepares sellers for customer engagements via training and onboarding activities
  • Manages day-to-day communications with sales and other go-to-market teams
  • Manages sales content organisation and strategy

As this table shows, sales teams must be supported by roles like sales operations and sales enablement in order to do their jobs effectively. But they can’t be expected to perform those duties on their own. Secure your sales team’s success by carefully defining their roles and responsibilities within your go-to-market team — and invest as necessary in the supporting functions they need to thrive.

What Are the Types of Sales Organisations?

There are three main models for sales teams: the assembly line, the pod, and the island. Each structure comes with its own benefits and limitations.

The Assembly Line

assembly line sales organisation structure

In the assembly line model, also known as the hunter-farmer model, sales teams are organised based on each individual’s job title. The name stems from similarities between sales operations under this model and manufacturing assembly lines: in both cases, specialised workers perform a specific task — and in sales, that task is moving buyers through a certain aspect of the customer journey.

Typically, account or business development reps generate pipeline or nurture marketing-qualified leads. These leads are eventually handed off to an account executive, who then completes the sale. Once a deal is closed, customers are handed off to a customer success or account manager who maintains the relationship for the duration of the customer’s life cycle.

  • Maximises operational efficiency via specialisation
  • Deepens rep expertise in specific sales motions
  • Moves customers through your sales process quickly
  • Runs risk of silos and miscommunication across teams
  • Runs risk of poor customer experience due to many handoffs
  • Incurs additional costs due to task specialisation

The Island

the island sales organisation structure

With the island model, every seller is a generalist: an individual rep will manage a single customer from prospecting to onboarding. This means that a rep will generate, qualify, and close leads on their own. While this method gives reps a high level of autonomy to build and grow customer relationships, it also puts a lot of pressure on individuals to perform. For some businesses, this is a plus, as it creates a highly competitive sales culture.

Due to its simplicity and emphasis on individual success, it is frequently adopted by businesses with smaller sales teams who are looking to get more output per hire or where one-to-one customer relationships are prized, like in the financial services industry.

  • Creates individualistic, competitive culture
  • Streamlines customer-seller relationships
  • Maximises individual rep output
  • Presents challenges to managing numerous accounts at different stages of the customer lifecycle
  • Prioritises individual success over collaboration
  • Is not suited to scale

The Pod

the pod sales organisation structure

This model mixes elements from both the island and assembly line models. Like the island method, a single pod will partner with a customer from prospecting all the way to solution onboarding. But like the assembly line, each pod will have reps specialised in a specific aspect of the customer journey, including an account or business development rep, an account executive, and an account manager.

The pod model is favoured by larger businesses that want an easy way to segment their sales teams. That’s because leadership can easily assign (and reassign) pods to certain product lines, geographies, verticals, and more, as needed. Pods can also be used for account-based sales, as a single pod can efficiently go after a targeted account.

  • Reduces silos between roles and functions
  • Enables smoother lead handoff due to enhanced collaboration
  • Allows leadership to make agile sales team adjustments
  • Makes individual motivation difficult
  • Allows poor performers to hide behind successful teammates
  • Emphasises any friction between individuals in the same pod

Additional Model Segmentation

You can further segment your sales teams by additional factors, such as:

  • Geography/Territory
  • Product/Service Offering
  • Customer Size
  • Customer Vertical

One or more of these segmentations can be combined with any of the three models discussed earlier. For instance, an organisation using the assembly line model may choose to replicate that structure for each geography they serve. Alternatively, an organisation using the pod model may dedicate a pod to each of its product lines.

pod sales organisation structure segmented by product line

Keep in mind that as your company grows, additional segmentation will be necessary to ensure that reps develop the specialised skills necessary to serve particular markets or target certain accounts.

How Do You Structure a Sales Team?

Finding the right structure for your sales team depends on a number of factors. Start by considering:

  • Your budget: A bigger budget will allow you to invest in a larger, more specialised sales model like the pod or assembly line model. Smaller businesses may find that the island method maximises output per headcount.
  • Your customers: Where your customers are located, which products they buy most often, and how large they are can help define not only your sales model, but also how much segmentation you need to be successful.
  • Your culture: Each sales model comes with its own unique culture; think about whether a collaborative team structure is better suited to your company values, or whether you’d prefer something more competitive.

Know that what works for one business may not be the right fit for your company. The key is to find the right model and segmentation structure for your business — and keep in mind that you may have to adopt a different model as your sales team grows.

Finally, it’s important to remember that your sales team doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your sales structure will also be influenced by supporting functions, like sales enablement and sales operations, and vice versa. Think about how you expect these essential organisations to operate within your chosen sales model — and how you will structure them to ensure they are equally effective.

What Is a Sales Enablement Team?

Sales enablement exists to increase the effectiveness of your sales teams by empowering salespeople with the training, guidance, and content they need to succeed.

This has become increasingly necessary as modern sales cycles have become more complex and buyers more educated. Before, a buyer would have had to rely on a salesperson to educate them on a product offering; now, modern buyers are engaging with salespeople after having done their own extensive research. In this new world, buyers expect salespeople to provide deep insights and guidance they can’t get anywhere else. This shift has transformed the role of a salesperson from an “educator” into a “trusted advisor.”

Businesses looking to succeed are now investing in sales enablement to ensure that their sales teams are prepared to elevate every customer conversation and fully meet buyer expectations.

What Do Sales Enablement Teams Do?

A sales enablement organisation will fulfil its mission to increase sales effectiveness by focusing on key areas of impact:

  • Training and onboarding
  • Content and guidance
  • Analytics and intelligence

Training and onboarding ensures that sellers are equipped with knowledge of what to know, say, show, and do for every customer conversation. This in-depth, ongoing learning begins the day a rep joins a company — and with support from a sales enablement team (and the right sales enablement platform), should continue as part of their daily workflow. Sales enablement teams achieve this by leading new-hire onboarding, managing coaching and training motions, and embedding micro-learning into their sales enablement platform.

Content and guidance refers to the process of creating, managing, and distributing sales content. Sales content is critical to educating buyers and closing deals, but strategic investment in its management and activation has historically been low. Enablement professionals can maximise the impact of sales assets by first ensuring that they are discoverable and second by strategically placing guidance alongside content.

Analytics and intelligence are core to the optimisation of a sales team’s success. Deep analytics and business intelligence on how content is being used, whether or not training is being consumed, or if a sales play has effectively landed will allow sales teams to make strategic decisions on how to play to their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. By tracking and monitoring these data, enablement professionals play a big role in the ongoing improvement of their sales organisation.

How to Organise Your Sales Enablement Team

As more and more businesses have adopted sales enablement, an ideal structure for building out your enablement team has emerged. Here are the key roles you need for your enablement team to succeed and why.

Chief Enablement/Revenue Officer

Your chief enablement officer will be responsible for leading your sales enablement team. Sometimes, this role is also adopted by a chief revenue officer who, in addition to sales enablement, might manage sales, sales operations, and other go-to-market teams. This role is important as executive buy-in is critical to sales enablement success. Without a dedicated leader championing your cause, it will be difficult to justify sales enablement investment or launch programs effectively. Look for someone with deep go-to-market experience who is comfortable leading strategic teams and communicating with other executives.

VP of Sales Enablement

A vice president of sales enablement is responsible for ensuring your sales enablement strategy aligns with other go-to-market initiatives. In smaller companies, this person may also play the role of the chief enablement officer and communicate enablement strategy to other executive teams. Prioritise communication skills and strategic thinking when hiring for this role.

Director of Sales Enablement

This role will manage your sales enablement strategy and oversee the day-to-day operations of your sales enablement team. They will also act as the bridge between sales and marketing, working closely with leaders from product marketing and field sales to ensure that enablement efforts land effectively. This role is best suited to someone with experience leading high-performing sales teams.

Sales Enablement Program Manager

Your sales enablement program manager is responsible for building and implementing strategic sales enablement activities. Program managers may be generalists or can be segmented to work with specific teams (such as account development) as budget allows. You may also consider hiring a program manager specifically for onboarding and training as those activities will require dedicated time investment. For this role, look for someone who has had prior experience selling.

Sales Enablement Specialist/Coordinator

Sales enablement specialists will manage specific elements of your sales enablement program, such as creating sales plays, managing the day-to-day upkeep of your sales enablement platform, or collaborating with marketing to create sales content. This is an early-career role and best filled by recent graduates or persons with similar sales experience.

Best Practices for Building Strong Sales Teams

Now that you’ve got a complete understanding of how you can organise a sales team and the key elements you need in place to succeed, let’s take a look at how to start building your team out.

Invest in organisation

It’s imperative that before you actually sell anything, you do the up-front work to think through how your sales team will be organised. Otherwise, you risk multiple reorganisations which can result in confusion, wasted time, and a poor customer experience.

Start by looking at your product: this will inform your sales process and, in turn, the model best suited to delivering it. For instance, industries such as real estate and finance typically rely heavily on relationships between sellers and clients — therefore, a model with many hand-offs is ill-suited to building a lasting partnership.

This forethought will ensure that no matter which sales model and segmentation you choose, you will enter the market organised and ready to serve your customers.

Invest in simplicity

With so many ways to segment your teams, it can be tempting to overcomplicate your sales organisation structure. But it’s important to stay focused on the current state of your sales team. How can your structure best serve the way they work today?

The ability to scale, while important, shouldn’t override present needs. If you have a small number of sellers and a limited budget, investing in an assembly line model might actually reduce the output of your sales team and stunt your growth. What’s more, a simple structure with low segmentation will give you greater flexibility to make adjustments as your organisation evolves.

Finding ways to simplify your sales organisational structure ensures that already complicated sales processes don’t become even more so.

Invest in your people

Investing in your people is a surefire way to ensure that sellers evolve with your function. As your sales organisation evolves (and inevitably reorganises), sellers will likely fill increasingly specialised roles that require unique skills.

To keep your salespeople prepared, build a “competency roadmap” that details how you expect your salesforce to evolve and the core capabilities they must have in order to succeed. For instance, if you are growing rapidly, try monthly training sessions focused on new markets and upcoming product releases. If you are already established, perhaps your sellers would benefit from career-based learning that helps them grow as individuals.

A deep investment in your sales team’s ongoing education is critical to ensuring they have the tactical know-how needed to thrive, regardless of how sales structures change.

Invest in sales enablement

Sales enablement will be an essential component to maximise the above investments. A strategic approach ensures that your sellers have the tools and skills they need to master whatever challenges come their way.

As you begin your journey towards sales enablement success, be sure to empower your enablement team with the right sales enablement platform. Look for one that offers a world-class seller experience, effective content management, and deep analytics. These features are guaranteed to uplift, not inhibit, your sales enablement efforts.

Don’t wait to make your investment in sales enablement — the sooner you start enabling your teams, the better you’ll be able to grow your business.

Invest in your culture

Selling is hard. From frustrating customer requests to frequent rejection, your sales team works tirelessly to ensure your business succeeds, and often with little thanks. That’s why sales culture is so important — it boosts morale and enables employees to do their best work.

You can ensure that your sales culture stays competitive — not cutthroat — by building values of compassion, support, and open communication into your company’s guiding principles. Additionally, make sure that your leaders, especially those on the sales team, live these sentiments every day.

Doing so ensures that even if your salespeople are divided by geographies, into pods, or something else entirely, they still feel like they’re part of a greater team.

Structure Your Sales Team to Succeed

With the right sales structure and segmentation in place, your teams will have everything they need to not just meet but exceed quota and crush the competition.

Kickstart your journey to sales success with the latest research from SiriusDecisions on winning in our new virtual selling environment.