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In my last few posts I discussed the transformation of software sales organizations over the past decade. Ten years ago, the sales rep was the single point of contact, managing every aspect of a deal cycle.  Today, in the modern sales organization the sales rep acts more like a  quarterback coordinating a team of specialized resources. Teams such as lead development, solution consulting, value engineering, bid management, customer success and the deal desk each play a specialized role in the sales process for each deal.

illustration of modern software sales team

To many people outside of sales the modern organizational structure is a point of confusion and frustration. “Why should sales reps get paid such high commissions if the team around them is doing all the hard work to win the deal?” However, there is a strong case to be made for specialization.

Many Reps Aren’t Good at Key Sales Activities

Most sales reps are not good at the specialized or “high skill” activities in the sales process. Most sales reps are not good at cold calling (and they don’t want to cold call). They are not good at writing RFPs (and they don’t want to write). Most sales reps are not good with financial models for ROI and TCO (and they don’t want to be financial modelers). And even those few sales reps that are good at these high-skilled activities would rather spend their time on managing the deal cycle.

But is the the sales team really that different from other organizations in the business? Upon closer inspection, no they are not.

Marketing is Highly Specialized

Consider marketing employees. From the outside in you might assume that most marketing professionals are good writers, good presenters, good storytellers, good graphic designers, good data analysts and good with marketing technologies. But the truth is that most marketing professionals are not. You are lucky if you can find someone with two or more of the skills outlined above. And those multi-skilled, talented individuals typically prefer to work at creative agencies. In fact, that is why the typical marketing organization sources so much of their work to outside firms that have specialized teams for each of these functions.

Finance is Highly Specialized

Consider finance professionals. From the outside in you might assume that most finance professionals are good at accounting, budget planning, financial modeling and cash forecasting. However, each of these activities is actually a highly specialized skill. It is rare to find a finance professional who is skilled at recording transactions in general ledgers, processing invoices from vendors, generating department level budgets, collecting receivables from delinquent clients, performing profit and loss analysis. That is why the typical finance organization has many sub-disciplines such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, corporate treasury, financial planning and analysis.

Corporate IT is Highly Specialized

Consider technology professionals. How many IT professionals do you know that could develop code in Java, sys admin a Linux server, re-index an Oracle database, configure a wireless network and investigate a security breach. These are each specialized skills.  That is why the typical technology organization is divided into specialized functions for software development, system administration, database management, network management and information security.

Why Shouldn’t Sales be Highly Specialized?

Given the specialization in the other functions is it reasonable for us to expect sales reps to be:

  • Good at cold calling
  • Good at presenting
  • Good at building relationships
  • Good at managing a deal cycle
  • Good at writing RFP responses
  • Good at negotiating pricing

It is rare to find a sales rep who would be good at more than two or three of these.  And if they are, chances are they were promoted into sales management.

Why shouldn’t the sales organization have the same type of specialized model that exists in marketing, finance, IT, human resources and other functions around the business? One could argue that the transformation of the sales organization into its modern form should have occurred decades ago.

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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