Playing the sales headcount  game.

How many sales people do I need? It’s one of those 64 thousand dollar questions that everyone needs an answer to. Closely followed by: “If I fired all my sales people tomorrow – would that change my forecast this quarter? It may be hypothetical and often posed tongue-in-cheek. But should it be?

An interesting political take on this is to cast our minds back only a few years ago, when Belgium struggled to elect a majority government for 598 days. It took a year and a half to form a coalition, yet despite the lack of leadership, evidence suggested a positive impact on the country’s financial performance. Analysis showed an upturn in GDP growth during the banking crisis, in sharp contrast to other global economies. So if we apply that to our industry, it makes me wonder about the question of how many sales people we really need.

One way to approach this in the modern sales enablement eco-system is to ask firstly, how complex is it to buy your product? Also, could you be easier to buy from? Buying complexity is increasing. A fact that has been well documented in studies of how buyers think and feel about modern b2b sales. Are you adding to this complexity? The answer is critical, as it has a profound impact on the types and numbers of sales people required.

Perhaps this is why several global organisations are now introducing strategic sourcing models, typically used by customers’ procurement teams, to analyse how their customers perceive them. The outcome dictates what coverage model is needed. In this omni-channel world, businesses need to assess whether they need more solutions consultants, or simply more technical inside sales people to manage the long tail at lower cost.

Another way to view this challenge is to reflect on one of the oldest cliches in b2b sales – ‘relationships are key’.  The days of taking doughnuts in to a customer to get them to like you and buy from you have gone. Personal relationships seem to be less relevant in the digital world and getting access in front of the customer is growing harder. Face to face has gone virtual.

The major difference is the platforms sales teams now have to build relationships. For example, could liking the LinkedIn post of a high degree influencer now be the best way to build relationships with those harder to access customers? What is clear is that a change in social habits has forced us to approach customers in new ways. This is one element of the process that is not always as headcount intensive.

Aside from a company’s buying complexity or issues with access to the customer base, what is vital is to analyse what existing teams are doing in terms of sales effectiveness. Questions such as ‘how many visits can we do in a day now?’ are often started by analysing the pattern today.

The best place to start is with the sales funnel and exploring the modern customers’ buying journey. Look at the types of questions they ask, what information they seek along their journey and how we are best placed to help them. You can then build the right kind of model and touch points to match and exploit their journey. This approach is adopted by many successful businesses and involves a combined strategy of headcount and job descriptions. Play it right and you can win the annual numbers game. The winning prize is an effective, productive team. And maybe the 64 thousand dollars gained from answering the question….