Ultimate Sales Team Structure Guide (with Models, Charts and Tips)

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Sales drive the bottom line. Whether looking to grow sales from the ground up, or expand pipeline for an established company, the sales team structure is the bedrock from which bottom line success is built. Get it wrong, and nothing else matters.

A sales team structure describes the way you organize the workflow for a sales department; the model you put into place should ensure you maintain an efficient workflow. It should also help cut costs and optimize the customer acquisition costs for your company’s resources.

Before deciding on a sales team structure, you should learn more about the different sales team models and determine which one aligns best with your goals.

In this article, we will explain the anatomy of the modern sales team, share sales model examples that work for different organizations, and tips for how to structure a sales team for success.

Anatomy of the Modern Sales Team

Before we jump into the sales team models, it’s helpful to understand the different roles within the modern sales organization to determine how they fit within each model. Hubspot identifies the seven core roles within the sales teams:

Hiring Manager:  The hiring manager finds and retains talent, as well as onboarding them into the organization. Larger more established companies might have this role in Human Resources; smaller, startups would likely have the sales manager handle it.

Sales Trainer:  The sales trainer teaches the new sales professionals the organization’s process. Except for behemoth companies, this role will likely be the sales manager’s.

Administrator: An administrative assistant often supports sales teams. However, sometimes smaller organizations skip this role, leaving the sales professionals to handle administrative tasks themselves.

Sales Development Reps (SDR): The SDR is responsible for generating leads. In smaller teams, this task is handled by the sales reps themselves.

Sales Representative:  The sales rep is also known as the Account Executive (AE). They close the business. Many of the other roles in the sales organization support the efforts of your sales reps to optimize close rates.

Account Manager:  The account manager services the new account, always looking for upsell opportunities. Sizeable teams have a separate employee who handles account management while smaller teams place this job under the sales reps’ umbrellas.

Customer Service:  These employees handle the customers’ questions and needs after the account is established. These departments are especially pertinent if the sales team structure does not include headcount for account management.

3 Team Structures That Dominate Sales

When it comes to sales team models, three sales organization charts perform best. These include the Assembly Line, the Island, and the Pod. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses.

It is vital that you decide which sales department structure works best for your organization. Let’s take a closer look at how each one works, the pros and cons of each model, and the type of organization where each works best.

Sales Team Structure #1: The Assembly Line

The Assembly Line is named for its linear structure and specialized process that divides and conquers the sales process for an organization. Each step of the line is a specific job associated with the sales cycle, with people who specialize in each sales task. Usually, these assignments are divided into the following areas:

Lead Generation Team: People on the Lead Generation Team researches potential prospects, gathers information around their needs and pain points, and then organize the data for the team to optimize prospecting for the department.

Sales Development Team: Employees that concentrate on sales development take the initial research forwarded from the Lead Generation Team and qualify prospects. Qualifying the prospects could include calling the lead in addition to research. The Sales Development Team forwards only the qualified leads to the accounts team.

Account Executive Team: The Account Executives are the closers. They take the qualified leads and pursue the sale. From product demonstrations, responding to prospects’ questions and overcoming objections, these employees sign the account and pass them along to the onboarding crew.

Customer Success/Support Team: This part of the team specializes in helping customers settle into the new product or service. Their job is to keep customers happy, educate customers on the value the product or service provides, and uncover new opportunities to deepen the relationship.

Organimi, a free online organizational chart tool, suggests that the Assembly Line style of sales structure is ideal for startups. By breaking the job down into smaller parts, it allows team members to specialize in different skills for the sales process.  

Close.io, a sales application company, details the strengths and weaknesses of  the Assembly Line model as:

Pros of the Assembly Line Model

  • Improves the accuracy of your sales projections because of the quality of data you gather from each part of the team
  • Provides a specific task to each team member, which can alleviate stress and help team members focus when facing a big task
  • Facilitates experimentation with the sales process over time, allowing you to find improved ways to approach each step of the process with innovation and creativity

Cons of the Assembly Line Model

  • Decreases ownership of the customer that you might expect from a dedicated sales rep who handles a customer from start to finish
  • Contributes to sales team silos when a focus becomes too narrow on a particular task, which can interfere with flow and customer experience
  • Inhibits the emotional engagement between the sales professionals and the customer because the process and relationship are shared by several people
  • Lacks practicality for smaller organizations or sales departments that have fewer resources

Sales Team Structure #2: The Island

The Island gets its name because each sales rep is on their own in the sales process. Unlike the Assembly Line style, the sales rep is responsible for all of the tasks associated with the sales cycle, from generating and qualifying leads, to closing the business and identifying upselling opportunities. Some joke this sales team structure is called the island because the sales reps must sell or die.

When it comes to the Island sales team structure model, it works for any company that still relies on its founder as the primary salesperson. Additionally, the Island works for organizations that cannot afford to hire more than a handful of sales reps for their sales team.

Here are a few more strengths and weaknesses of the Island model:

Pros of the Island Sales Team Structure

  • Improves the amount of “boots on the ground” while using the fewest resources, which is ideal for organizations on a budget
  • Deepens the emotional engagement of your customers who often form a relationship with their sales representative or account executive
  • Allows you to customize your territories to fit the skills of your team members

Cons of the Island Sales Team Structure

  • Decreases the control you have on how your brand is presented; sales reps have a unique style and might have individualistic approaches to the sales process
  • Increases the risk of customer churn if you have turnover in the sales team and the rep who is leaving is the primary connection the customer has with the company
  • Provides fewer opportunities to develop new or less experienced reps that might not be able to keep up with the experienced sales reps

Sales Team Structure #3: The Pod

The Pod sales team structure describes how the sales team is organized. Small groups of sales professionals that specialize in certain sales process tasks work together to achieve sales goals.

Each pod usually includes employees that generate leads, qualify leads, close business, and onboard new customers. The Pod sales model mixes the concepts behind both the Assembly Line and Island sales team structure models; the specialization of sales tasks comes from the Assembly Line, but the individual achievement of the pod takes after the Island sales structure.

Pod Sales are a natural progression for organizations that employ the Assembly Line style of sales structure. It also works well when the sales team is enormous already, or the organization has the resources to hire a larger staff to concentrate on sales.

Close.io has details on some of the positives and negatives about Pod sales team structures:

Pros of Pod Sales Team Structures

  • Helps the individuals see and care about the entire customer journey
  • Reduces friction in transitions and enables better communication within the team
  • Facilitates flexibility and agility to the sales team

Cons of Pod Sales Team Structures

  • Limits competition between individuals, inhibiting the natural growth that comes from co-workers pushing each other
  • Decreases specialization for each role with its multiple task approach to the sales process

Decentralized vs. Centralized Team Structure

In addition to the way you organize how your sales team processes your prospects through the sales cycle, you can also have a choice with where your team is located. Two team structures exist from which to choose, decentralized and centralized.

Decentralized Team Structures have sales team members posted at various locations at strategic points. These posts could be regional, state-wide or national. All of the team members are focused on sales for their strategic area.

Marketing91,  suggests that decentralized teams increase the reach of the organization and provide a superior way to control the “boots on the ground.” Also, you often enjoy excellent customer service when you have someone local to respond to customer concerns.

In addition, sales reps enjoy freedom to work the way they want and with fewer hours spent traveling. Plus, the organization reduces travel costs while increasing sales with a local presence.

Centralized Team Structures keep the sales team in one place and usually are run by one person who makes the decisions. This type of structure often has the owner at the center of the team.

Chron.com says centralized teams often excel at making decisions quickly because the decision maker is present. Also, centralized teams are usually better for organizations where the owner is still intimately involved in operations and wants a more focused vision. Organizations with a centralized structure also reduce conflict while maintaining control of their organization. This is because structure reduces any ambiguity, which boosts accountability for the results.

Which Sales Team Structure is Right for Your Business?

With so many options, its natural to wonder what sales team structure to implement for your organization’s sales goals. If you already have a sales team structure in place, then you might be wondering if you choose the right one.

You want to optimize your sales team for efficiency and performance. However, you also want to reward and develop your team appropriately to grow with the organization.

Also, let’s not forget about the customers. You must ensure that the sales department structure works for them or nobody will be working, quite literally.

With that in mind, here are five tips for building a rock solid sales team structure for your organization that will work for everybody—and keep everybody working.

Tips for How to Structure a Sales Team for Success

1. Stay Future-Focused: It can be difficult in a short-term results-focused business like sales to have a long-term view of your sales team structure. However, having a future focus is crucial to your success when building your sales department structure. How you set up the program today affects where the sales team will go tomorrow.

2. Stay Customer-Centric: Ideally, you should center everything you do around what is best for customers. There is no department in the organization where that is more vital than the sales department. The personal connections and relationships developed through the sales department are the foundation of sales.

3. Stay Data-Driven: Building a sales team requires using the right tools. There is a myriad of options available for your Sales Stack[TL1] ; be sure you have chosen the ones that work best with your sales team structure, so your people have the information they need when they need it. Also, having a data-focus lets you see where there are challenges or obstacles you need to help the sales team surmount.

4. Stay Cognizant of Employee Stagnation and Turnover: Hiring people is easier than keeping people. However, keeping people is better for your organization than hiring new people all the time. Have regular check-ins with all the members of your team to ensure that your employees are working towards their individual career goals with your organization instead of at the competition’s.

5. Stay Hungry: Creating the proper sales incentives is critical to keeping your team driving toward new goals. Also, celebrating smaller successes is an excellent way to keep the team motivated and engaged. After all, lots of little wins can lead to your team’s even fiercer desire to land humongous ones.

Having the appropriate sales team structure to maintain an efficient workflow for your sales professionals is imperative for an organization’s success. It starts with your hiring manager finding the right individuals with skills that range from prospecting to qualifying to closing and managing accounts.  Having the right team to slot into the sales organization charts is a significant factor in your success.

Once you have the people, how you use them depends on how you structure your sales team. Early on, you might consider the island structure, where it’s every man or woman for themselves. However, as you grow, you might determine that an assembly line with specialization is the way to go or maybe the tightly-knit team structure of pod sales. Whatever you choose, you must ensure that you have the resources and a workplace culture that allows your sales team to succeed.

Success requires attention in several areas. These areas include a long-term view of what the future of your sales department will look like, as well as what customers want to see. Also, you must have the right tools to gather the data you need to grow sales and adjust your strategy. Perhaps most importantly, you need a team that is motivated to sell more while staying engaged with the organization and achieving their individual career goals.

It is not an easy task choosing the proper sales team structure to achieve your organization’s goals. However, with a little research, some patience, and a whole lot of commitment, you will understand how to structure a sales team. Moreover, you will find the sales team structure models that work for you, your customers, your employees, and your bottom line.


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