Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 31, 2012

Guest Article: “Sales Force (Mis)Alignment,” by Tibor Shanto

Sales Force (Mis)Alignment
by Tibor Shanto

By now everyone is aware of the increasing talk of the need for alignment between marketing and sales, with some organizations realizing that it is healthier to look at the entire Client Life Cycle as one function rather than two. Some organization have acted on their commitment by creating the role of Chief Revenue Officer, having both functions coalesce behind a singular purpose, function and execution.

This indeed is a step forward as it aligns and consolidates the organization’s resource to better serve the most important element in selling, the customer. While it may seem basic and fundamental to mention the buyer, but they, the customer, are often absent from the discussion, and are instead represented by their common proxy, revenue. But revenue does not act on its own, it is a by product of a decision made by a buyer, which is why the key alignment many organizations should put greater focus on is aligning their sales people with the buyer, not just marketing. A key component of this alignment is ensuring you have the right assets and resources deployed at the specific and right buyer groups.

First let’s define the buyer groups in question, to keep it simple and familiar, lets divide them in to three common groups:

Status Quo – this group is content with their current situation, this is not to say that they are doing what is optimal, just that they are content with their current state. What some have called happy now, and not looking for alternatives, or enhancements to what they have in place. Many sales professionals you talk to call this group complacent, which is a nice way to express their frustration at their inability to engage with this group. Based on which surveys or studies you look at this group makes up about 65% – 75% of the B2B buyer population, let’s keep things simple for the rest of this piece and call it 70%

Passive – The key differentiator between this group and the Status Quo is that while they are not actively looking for alternatives to the way they are doing things, they have either acknowledged to themselves, or are beginning to see that they cannot be content with the current situation for long. This is why they are labelled Passive; to continue the definition from the above point, they are no longer 100% happy or content, but are not actively looking; they are open to suggestion, but on they are not ready to act yet. Again, based on various sources, this group represent roughly 15% of B2B buyers.

Active – The most straight forward group for most in sales, these people are actively looking for alternatives to their current situation, some have called this group as “in the market”. Not happy, and actively looking for alternatives. Every sales person’s dream, so long as they haven’t made up their mind on a provider, and are just using you as “column fodder”. This group makes up the remaining 15% of B2B buyers.

What you have is 70% of B2B buyers are cocooned in their current reality, not looking, not thinking of looking, and ready to torpedo any sales person looking to engage with them using conventional means, and if nothing else, most sales people are conventional. Then there is 30% that are in various states of readiness, while not all have the big neon light over the door saying “ready to talk”, they are all open to a meaningful discussion with knowledgeable sales people using conventional means of engaging and selling.

Now let’s look at sales people based on attributes and capabilities, they too can be placed in three general groups.

Demand Gatherers – as the name implies, these people do best with Active buyers, buyers who have declared their desire to engage and buy. While we can dissect this, the reality is that for the most part in a B2B environment these are order takers. They may be good at managing relationships, and safeguard existing revenue, but when it comes to new revenue, the buyer practically has to throw it at them. I am not being condescending here; time and time again in workshops these people will use the expression “when I can get the buyer to throw me a bone.”

Leverage Demand – these are the reps that can recognize those who are Passive buyers, they understand the signs of someone who is not looking, but not longer fully believes in the solution in place now. They are great at managing and growing accounts beyond what the buyer will throw at them. But, on their own will not or cannot engage with those buyers that make up the Status Quo group.

Demand Creators – This are the traditional hunter, the money players, the ones able to stir and agitate the right way and in the right measures to create demand and opportunities in buyers that Gatherers and those who Leverage Demand, will miss, overlook, and in the process concede the potential revenue to your competitors. Think of these people, as the sellers who know how to be the irritating grain of sand that becomes a pearl.

Here is the challenge, most sales forces are composed primarily of Gatherers and those who Leverage Demand, and few if any at times of Demand Creators. While I am sure the number is not exact, but when you talk to many sales VP’s, they will tell you without much shame, that their teams conform to the 80/20 rule, 80% those who Leverage and Gather; 20% Creators.    

Almost the exact opposite to the makeup of the buyer group. Can there be a more glaring, and costly example of misalignment, misspent and miss-focused assets and resources.

Most of your resources and efforts aimed at the smallest part of the market, and only 20% aimed at the largest buyer group. Add to that, much of the alignment between marketing and sales is focused on the Passive and Active groups. Makes you wonder how much opportunity is being abdicated to those competitors who have realised that you can with the right people, resources and message Create great success with that 70% of the market that 80% of your sales force will ignore or not be equipped to exploit.

It is always easier moving the small things around and harder to take action on the BIG and IMPORTANT things, especially when it involves changing personnel. Change that involves your people can come in one of two forms, you can either change the skills and habits of the people you have on board; or change those you have on board.

Let’s look at the latter, many of the same leaders who tell you that 80% of their team are either Gatherers or those who Leverage, will in the same breath tell you that 80% of their revenue is generated by the 20% Creators. What that tells me is that they could fire half their team, and realize great savings without tangible negative impact on revenue or client satisfaction. In fact, some will tell you that those two measures will improve when you get rid of the fat. An early indicator of this is the number of companies who have succeeded in migrating revenue from outside sales teams to inside sales team. They often experience a rise in coverage, revenues, and margins. In addition, these same organizations will be the first to realign their assets and resources and take more of your revenue. Mostly because there are more cost effective and efficient ways to ensure client satisfaction, and since the 80% are for the most part taking orders from demand generated by marketing, there is a savings to be had.

Changing the skills and habits is also difficult, both in terms of effort required, and costs; and in reality will likely involve in some change of people, especially among front line managers. Changing habits is an evolving process, and in these days of short-term expectations, it seems many sales organization are willing to live with the pain of underperformance vs. the pain of changing team members.

In some cases, it is less about reducing the size of the sales force, and more about the right talent not being available to match the market. Many have difficulty finding Creators, while there is an abundance of Gatherers and those who Leverage demand, usually at a lower investment than the Creators. Which is why in the end, it is more likely that you will have to both reduce the number of also-rans, and invest in developing Creators internally. This takes time and effort, but not more than dealing with the drag on the process the current reality creates.

One concern many leaders raise is what happens “if I train them and they leave?” Two answers, the first borrowed from a sales leader I met at a conference, whhe asked by his boss, he responded: “what happens if you don’t train them, and they stay?” The other is that A type Creators, know a good thing when they see it, that is what makes them successful, they want to be where they can win, which is exactly the environment you would be creating.

As stated at the start, it is about alignment. Aligning sales and marketing is a good thing, should be encouraged and continued. But without aligning the right sellers with the right type of buyer, much of the effort in aligning internal resources will be limited and diminished. In many ways it is trading in ongoing pain, for short term upheaval – but – long –term gain.



Tibor Shanto – Principal – Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., is a recognized speaker, author of award winning book Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers, and sought after trainer; his work has appeared in numerous publications and leading websites. You can read our blog, The Pipeline with new material three times a week.



  1. Alignment should be between all strategies, structures (departments or locations), process/systems, rewards and people. Ignoring customer service as well as internal operations can be very detrimental to the ability to increase sales.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    Comment by thecoachlee — August 31, 2012 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  2. Great post,
    As a number of organizations begin planning for 2013, one area they need to focus on is sales alignment.
    Yes alignment with marketing is a challenge and probably always will be until marketing is paid based on sales closed.

    But one of the quickest ways to insure you hit your sales goals in 2013 is align your salespeople’s traits with the job required.

    We basically have ; hunters, farmers and accountants. Hunters is what everyone thinks they have, wants to have, but in reality less than 10% of most sales teams are hunters. Farmers work the accounts you already have and are very useful at driving revenue from current customers and making sure you do not lose current customers to another team’s hunter. What is sad is the “accountants” who spend most of their time gathering data, creating forecasts, and spending very little of their sales time belly to belly with customers.

    So take a look at your market, your regions and make sure you align the right kind of salesperson with the objective you are trying to achieve.
    Take a look at those current customers of yours… divide them out by A, B and C accounts . A’s are your large accounts that have high growth opportunity and warrant having your best and brightest. B’s and C accounts can best be served by farmers or even inside sales support on phones and email. Removing the burden of B and C accounts help your hunters land more revenue at A accounts while having time to close net new business.

    And if you have a bunch of “accountants” bogged down with forecasting, shame on you as your direction created them and its time you turn them back into value adding salespeople.

    Mark Allen Roberts

    Comment by mark allen roberts (@markaroberts) — September 1, 2012 @ 8:02 am | Reply

  3. Reblogged this on One Percent Better and commented:

    Comment by One Percent Better — October 27, 2012 @ 1:21 am | Reply

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