Realigning Support Functions – ‘a pre-requisite for world class sales’

70% of the issues preventing sales teams from becoming high performing originate from misaligned support functions


The Case for Change

  1. In the pre-digital world, buyers learnt from suppliers. In the digital world, buyers learn on their own, with around 60-70% of the buyer due diligence process complete before they approach suppliers. If you find yourself in this place, then expect a commodity price based discussion.
  2. Sales teams are now having to intercept buyers earlier in the process across multiple channels, armed with disruptive insight to help buyers realise they may be wrong, or at the very least, help them to learn something new.
  3. Digitally optimized Inside Sales is becoming the default lead generation channel for B2B businesses. But business leaders are uneasy about making it permanent, leading to conflict with the field and duplication of coverage. This is increasing selling costs.
  4. The days of B2B cold calling campaigns without insight and quality data are over. 90% of buyers never to respond to a cold outreach. A higher proportion of ‘Marketing Qualified Leads’ is required in order to achieve base productivity thresholds.
  5. Product and Marketing teams are failing to commit the right level of resources to equip Sales with the commercial insight necessary to develop the ‘Perfect Pitch’, one that addresses a buyer’s fundamental needs and demonstrates that you: a) understand their specific challenges, b) can deliver a value proposition to address them c) can bring compelling benefits ahead of other suppliers.
  6. Sales, Product & Marketing are at their very best when they are able to co-create ‘smart campaigns’ that are well researched and highly relevant to evolving events, triggering inbound interest and outbound demand from prospects that are ‘sales ready’.
  7. Sales organisations are finding it challenging to get the required line-of-sight to addressable spend and share of the wallet for both optimal channel coverage models and perform white space analysis to upsell into under-penetrated accounts.
  8. Staff retention is now becoming the new battleground for sales teams. Recruitment and efficient onboarding is finally being implemented but sales teams are still prone to high churn rates. This is largely because of failure to provide a clear development path and clarity about the long term bigger picture.
  9. Sales Directors are constrained from investing in long term sales capability because these costs are captured in fully loaded sales agent costs which decrease sales efficiency metrics.
  10. Sales organisations are seeking productivity uplift by diving into gamification and digital investment ahead of understanding baseline behaviours and developing a performance culture. Being bottom of the sales ladder and demonstrating poor behaviour must mean something to you and equally be recognised by your team.


Buyers are embracing the evolving digital world but large sales organisations seem to be constrained with complexity and are at risk of losing competitive advantage to smaller agile sales teams.

Sales cannot deliver frontier performance without the skills and insight of support functions, but this is proving challenging with 10-15 functions implicated multiple times in the various scenarios above.

Sales efficiency seems to be measured in components rather than a collective diagnostic system, making it difficult to know the cause and effect of where inefficiency is originating.

There is an implied governance issue; where does responsibility lie to coordinate and develop integrated capability across the ‘seams of the organisation’? Is it strategy, business Managing Directors, Chief Operating Officer, Channel Optimisation Director, or the traditional Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Marketing Officer?

Because of this, there are a sizeable number of handoffs that lead to unnecessary complexity. It’s no wonder then that over 70% of sales efficiency issues are caused from critical touch points with support functions.

Root Causes

  • As the market positions Inside Sales as the preferred solution to intercept buyers more effectively, business Managing Directors are stalling as they see this as further loss of control to a core competency. Selling costs are therefore increasing due to a lack of appetite to right size channels. This is leading to cross channel sales teams competing to try to justify their existence.
  • In the absence of a strong mandate, Sales Directors are spending too much time on channel relationships and collaborative ways of working rather than designing capability to penetrate the entire addressable market.
  • In the absence of shared objectives, support function priorities are often in conflict with sales.
  • Support function resources assigned to sales are often on a shared basis, and even when they are dedicated, they are often virtual and not close enough to the front line to understand where change is required.
  • Functions typically measure their own component parts; in fact, SLA’s are becoming the measurement basis of a support service instead of a subset of collective metrics measuring end-to-end sales capability and efficiency.

Realigning support functions behind end-to-end sales capabilities is well intentioned but seldom achieved. It demands levels of collaboration and coordination that require a fundamental shift in behaviours across multiple leaders and functions.

In the absence of a single accountable leader, this is not easy. Sales teams are having to navigate through years of established organisational structures and have not yet made a credible case to instigate a major revamp for working differently.

This is now mission critical. Buyers are shifting their capability faster than sales. According to Bain & Company, in 2017 ‘Mastering the new reality of sales’, only 35% of marketing and sales organisations surveyed had a strong operational alignment. 75% invested in digital applications, but less than 30% realised sales effectiveness improvements.

How can organisations tackle this?

Cost Transformation has identified 3 imperatives that sales leaders must address if they have ambitions of frontier revenue performance:

  1. Create a digital Inside Sales channel and simplify the ‘moving parts’ by bringing them into a single entity.
  2. For each service model, engineer end-to-end sales capabilities across channels.
  3. Deploy a ‘Three by Three ’ framework.

1. Bring inside to simplify the moving parts

In a perfect world, sales must simplify the number of moving parts and handoffs across sales models. Take the car industry as an example, the electrification of engines is simplifying the number of moving components. A standard combustion car has a staggering 10,000 moving parts while the latest electric vehicles just 150! As a result, consumers are enjoying significant benefits in reduction in failures and maintenance costs. Similarly, reducing moving parts is where sales leaders need to focus to reduce complexity.

After Corporate Directors set the wider, long term parameters of channel and segmentation strategy, there is an opportunity for Sales to start the cycle by establishing a digital Inside Sales function – an entirely new entity.

We believe the ‘new entity’ is the right place to start from, commencing with lead channel optimisation and progressing to opportunity management and finally sales closure and provisioning.

Sales can leverage this opportunity to bring inside all the critical support functions required to design and run frontier sales capabilities. The capabilities flow from Inside Sales to Direct Field sales channels or dealers.

This new entity should have full accountability for digital sales capability and should be established with the following values:

  • A separate business unit with its own strategic purpose, ambition, and values for sales excellence.
  • Its own budget with 3 year investment cycles.
  • Fully integrated and self-selected support function experts based inside the unit that are fully accountable for their functional capability development.

2. Engineer Sales Capabilities E2E

Understanding your capabilities and where they lie is vital to optimising digital sales. Start by identifying your capabilities across all sales channels from your sales model/service models. They may look similar to the illustrative example below:

Visual 1: Sales & service models across multiple sales channels

Identify the key capabilities you require from both sales and all the support functions. These typically span the life-cycle of sales, from strategic positioning phase, to execution of lead and opportunity management, to provisioning and development of sales professionals.

Visual 2: Capabilities and competencies across the sales lifecycle

Illustrative example

Once key competencies and capabilities have been identified in this way, they can be overlaid to each sales model. Each becomes a core sales capability. You can now progress to identify the teams and skills required, stripping the model down to understand where dependencies lie, what adds value, and what can destroy it.

Visual 3: Illustrative sample of a core sales capability

By aligning functions according to areas of expertise, you will gradually build greater visibility and ownership with a limited number of handoffs.

3. The ‘Three by Three’ framework

The ‘Three by Three’ framework consists of the following stages:

i. 3 year strategic investment cycles.
ii.Creation of ‘troika’ (teams of 3) to develop multi-functional digital sales capability.
iii. 3 uplifts in performance and competencies to develop high performing teams.

i. 3 year strategic investment cycles

3 yearly strategic investment cycles allows corporate and sales leaders to agree priorities, set and define underlying uplift, and establish the corresponding investment in sales capabilities. Agreement on the following ambitions is vital:

  1. The market share growth and revenue uplift you seek and the corresponding investment required build and resource the capabilities to deliver it.
  2. The strategic objectives and multi-year benchmark guidelines that will steer you to success.
  3. The competencies and levels that will directly drive the capabilities you seek to develop.
  4. The addressable market and white space analysis
  5. A staggered implementation plan to phase change and set sales targets and quota’s on a journey of year-on-year uplifts. Creating a balanced focus on short term sales management and longer term capability development for retention purposes.

Generating these cycles help to:

  • Align priorities for all integrated support functions on where and when to invest resources and skills required.
  • Provide teams with a connection to strategy, a purpose and an opportunity for teams to organise themselves to take on multi-year missions – a key ingredient for high performing teams.
  • Allow Sales the necessary long term landscape, and therefore an ability to assess whether they are set up for success, i.e. via lead channel ratios, account coverage, competency levels, campaign strategy and the ‘perfect pitch’.

ii.Creation of ‘Troika’ teams to develop multi-functional digital sales capability

Having already secured the mandate to architect sales models and bring expertise inside, focus has to shift to how to get them to collaborate behind a single vision.

There are logical groupings of support functions that when bundled together, are best placed to tackle a series of phases across the sales model life cycle.

These typically consist of 3 multi-functional experts PLUS Sales – forming an effective troika of expertise.

Frontier sales organisations align these teams across each sales capability, positioning them more as value streams where the highest exposure to efficiency and effectiveness is matched to functional expertise. These teams design, build and run capability using metrics that assess value creation, sales performance and efficiency of people and process.

Visual 4: Multi-functional ‘Troika teams’ building sales capability

They work in an open and honest environment and embrace ‘LEAN’ techniques for sales excellence, honing the sales engine by ensuring close proximity to their customer (buyers). They listen, learn, and adapt to ensure the strategic ambitions are being delivered.

iii. 3 uplifts in performance and competencies to develop high performing teams

Building strategic sales capability requires investment which has to be staggered to reflect organisational capacity to execute, learn, and embed the change.

We believe 3 uplifts over a 3 year period is a pragmatic ambition, for sales digital transformation. It provides a necessary sales edge to reflect ambition whilst allowing time to build competencies and capability through coaching and learning.

Sales leaders should create a quarterly cadence of checkpoints and deep dive reviews of performance across all indicators. This should employ a blended suite of metrics using baselines and annual benchmarks to steer progress.

The scorecard to track this typically covers 3 uplifts in both competencies and performance to reflect an anticipated ‘bounce’ from investing in sales capability. Setting competency maturity levels in addition to sales performance guidelines is critical. Sales organisations get ‘lucky years’ when exceptional deals fall into the same year, but without building backbone competencies, performance won’t be sustainable.

The uplifts deliver 3 key benefits:

  1. Multi-year benchmarks collectively steer the capability improvement, enabling leaders to assess progress, intervene through reprioritisation of resources should indicators project you are falling short of your strategic goals. This process should not be driven by Business Intelligence or Sales Operations alone, the test of alignment, honesty, and collective ownership lies here.
  2. Multi-year, multi-functional scorecards deliver ‘cause and effect’ insight, which acts as an ‘early warning system’ for sales inefficiency. There is no benefit in flogging sales teams to increase productivity and call volumes if inbound or outbound campaigns are missing core data and have non-existent Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL’s).
  3. Common scorecards illustrated in visual 5 should be used to drive consistent 1-2-1 coaching and sales management. Sales teams will now witness a better balance between short term fundamentals and longer term development, key for uplifting engagement, inspiration, and ultimately sales staff retention.

Visual 5: An illustrative 3 year competency and performance scorecard

Developing high performing teams

Most organisations fail to sufficiently consider the performance of teams when seeking performance improvement overall.

Why are high performing teams important in the context of this paper?

Frontier sales organisations are shifting their focus from individual performance to team performance.

All too often, individuals can get overwhelmed with bureaucracy and inefficiency outside of their control, leading them to simply give up and leave. In contrast, high performing teams thrive in this environment, they build collective resilience to confront complexity, they strive to get things fixed, two powerful ingredients in the battle for retention and sales excellence.

High performing sales teams have a strong competitive sales edge and over achieve on commission by ~25%. Creating high performing teams will build a mindset that can be applied to both sales and multi-functional support teams, allowing them to develop the following strengths:

  • Building critical relationships for the team to be successful, in this case, pulling in the various ‘troika’ multi-functional teams.
  • Taking ownership and as a team addressing all issues that have a ‘drag’ on the team preventing them from success.
  • Being honest and constantly learning and striving to improve. See the bigger picture and envelope transformational journeys.
  • Building internal energy and engagement levels that can lead to inspired teams, it’s not unusual to witness productivity levels increase by > 100% when teams are both engaged and inspired.

Visual 6: Investing in teams to create high performance

Achieving high performing teams does not happen overnight. They require a structured framework and investment of time from team leaders to baseline, track and develop the critical attributes that make the rewards well worth the effort to get there.


Cost Transformation recommends the 3 imperatives listed above in order to instill the necessary behavioural change required to address sales inefficiency from misaligned Support Functions.

It is not easy, but in the words of Henry Ford: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

The status quo is not an option and time is of the essence, the evolving digital world demands pace and agility. Some organisations have instigated Inside Sales as a key digital sales channel and are now working on integrating the wider Field Sales channel. Others are still wondering how to build the case for change. Very few have fully optimised an end-to-end cross channel service model that is right sized. This is where you will find your competitors, covertly positioned to secure competitive advantage.

Strengthening accountability with a strong mandate is key, perhaps incorporating a Chief Operating Officer role or creating an executive position for a Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Marketing Officer hybrid. This is necessary to breakdown the ‘seams’ and existing functional boundaries if you are to deliver frontier digital sales capabilities.

This can only be fully achieved when behavioural change is embedded and an environment has been established that rewards leaders when they demonstrate a willingness to give up autonomy of part of their function in order to achieve a common organisational objective. A common understanding is required where sacrificing something dear to your function for the good of the Enterprise must be deemed ‘good’ and should be recognized by peers. Equally, celebrating success by winning a decision that is not in the best interests of building world class sales teams is ‘bad’ and this should also be recognised by peers. Herein lies self-regulation, a fundamental component of high performing sales teams.

Embedding a single ‘sales currency’ is another unifying way to pull multi-functional teams together. They principally operate as a single measure to unite sales and support functions as one. They also generate an imperative to act, breeding the necessary sales drumbeat that reflects the new way of working for collaborating sales teams.

Organisations that put their sales teams on a journey to high performance will find they will get there first because these teams create the necessary agility and pull on support functions to reduce handoffs and complexity.

If you reject or fail to embrace this new way of working you will be unsuccessful in intercepting buyers early enough with disruptive insight they strive for. This will leave your Sales teams facing a landscape that operates solely in commodity price driven conversations, in a race to the bottom.

If you do not do it for yourselves, the competition will, and will cut you without mercy.

Cost Transformation are specialist advisors in sales channel optimisation and building sales capability that uplifts performance and productivity to both Inside Sales and Field Sales functions. We support sales organisations seeking to transition low maturity Telesales and Field Sales to digital Inside Sales.

Jason Box is a specialist practitioner advising organisations on all forms of sales transformation. He offers a depth and breadth across sales functions that include sales channel optimization and building sales capabilities that uplift productivity for both Inside Sales Functions and Direct Field Sales Teams. This includes architecting Inside Sales ‘start-ups’ and supporting organisations integrate and seamlessly transition Direct Field Sales to Inside Sales in the most efficient way.

Jason can be contacted via email:

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