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Companies continue to lose on sales productivity. Is it time for a new roster?

April 25, 2023



Imagine the game of baseball without Cal Ripken, Jr. Or Derek Jeter. It sounds almost inconceivable, right? But when baseball began, the shortstop position didn’t exist. Early teams used a pitcher, a catcher, three outfielders and three infielders. It was only after a few years, when teams started seeing a few trends in their defensive stats that the ninth position was added to the field.

What did they see? First, coaches realized that the outfielders couldn’t reliably throw the ball to their teammates on the bases. The ball was too light and the field too long. Second, they saw that batters tended to hit the ball in the same general area. Because most players are right handed, the majority of hits flew somewhere between second and third base. 

Teams missed hundreds of defensive plays because no one assumed responsibility over the area with most opportunities.

The shortstop position solved both issues. They could run towards outfielders without leaving a base open, shortening the length of each throw. And, perhaps more importantly, they could defend more proactively by being where the ball would most likely be. 

But what does the history of baseball have to do with modern enterprise growth strategies? Let me explain. 

Sales productivity drops because customer success and sales can’t cover every opportunity

The current market makes it harder than ever to acquire new customers. In terms of revenue operations, enterprises are structured like the early, eight-man baseball teams. They are consistently allowing revenue opportunities to fly through a very obvious gap. Despite knowing that most revenue growth comes from existing customers, enterprises hope that a player at second (sales), one at third (customer success), and sometimes the left fielder (account manager) provide enough coverage to convert opportunities they need to scale.

They don’t.

Expansion and renewal opportunities continue to slip by because most organizations don’t have a person who is responsible for anticipating each opportunity, and has the right skillset to make the plays. In other words, enterprises don’t have a shortstop. 

Sales productivity needs a new strategy

The last few years, enterprises shifted their focus away from new customer acquisition to customer expansion and reducing churn. Executives saw that new customer acquisition was more difficult than ever, with more work and money required from the entire company. The ROI didn’t make sense as a primary revenue growth strategy. According to Salesforce, 55% of sales leaders say they’re prioritizing low-risk with modest guaranteed goals. Companies aren’t taking big swings with acquisition. They want more predictable revenue from their customers. 

To get more predictable revenue with better ROI, companies added customer success teams. It made sense. Customers demanded better, more personal experiences from their SaaS partners, with 58% willing to pay more for more value. CS could provide those interactions, boosting adoption and helping customers realize value. But, most customer success managers aren't trained to nurture revenue opportunities and close deals. So companies started requiring more from their sales teams.

Today’s sales organizations split their time between building customer relationships, prospecting, and managing the data for all their different accounts. They have automation and AI tools to help do more prospecting in less time, but those same sequences won’t work on current customers. Current customers expect each touchpoint from anyone in your organization has context for their current goals, obstacles, and knowledge of your product. That work requires sales reps to spend hours researching, learning, and customizing engagements for each account. 

Of course CS and sales can collaborate on opportunities, but much of the operational data for an account, including what work went into closing (or losing) a customer got lost. Teams can’t build repeatable, successful workflows because no one is responsible for keeping track of what worked, when, and why. 

This proves that the answer isn’t more work. The answer is different work. A position focused on efficiency and value. 

The answer is a customer sales position, the enterprise shortstop. 

Customer sales drives predictable revenue more efficiently

A customer sales position borrows tactics from CS, sales, and account management. Like a shortstop, they specialize in filling in the gaps and ensure that the most important plays are made. They increase sales productivity as their main focus.

For example, when a customer is curious about increasing their users, your CSM probably knows first. But many aren’t trained in sales and some don’t want to sell. They may not be able to nurture that curiosity into a sale. Nor do they have the time. The customer sales person, familiar with the account, the customer journey, and their unique objectives, is a much more efficient resource than a sales rep, who is focused on broader workflows. 

Additionally, a customer sales person can monitor and analyze the customer journey for each account segment. They can identify when each account is ready to renew, the warning signs for a churn risk, and the engagements that turn customers into advocates for your company. Their sole purpose is to know the ins and outs of the customer journey, keep track of each engagement, and be ready with the right deal for each customer when they are ready to spend. 

The profile of a great customer sales rep 

The best part of this shift for enterprises is adding customer sales won’t require new headcount. In fact, there are probably people on your team right now who do these things, but just aren’t measured or celebrated for their insightful, proactive work. 

Here’s how to identify a productive, effective customer sales rep: 

  • They thrive in strategy and operation: A customer sales person should dig into the details of each customer experience workflow to know what works, what hurts your productivity, and what can be improved. 
  • They are more farmer than hunter: Customer sales is about small changes within set parameters. Their work is methodical, predictable, and measured. A traditional sales rep may think more like a hunter—finding new terrain, taking big chances on big rewards. That works for new customers, but not for your current customers. 
  • People trust their insights: Customer sales need to build relationships with customers, just like CSMs. But instead of trainings, customer sales offers advice, coaching, and shows them the path towards growth with your product. In that way, they need to build trust quickly and easily across accounts. 
  • Data is their thing: A big part of customer sales is looking at comprehensive data across different organizations and customer segments to recognize opportunities before it's too late. The more excited they are by data, the better your ARR will be. 
  • Collaboration is their default: Silos aren’t a part of the customer sales philosophy. They need to work with every part of your revenue operations, manage all the various workflows, take detailed notes, and be able to share their findings with everyone, quickly. In short, they need to collaborate. 

You can see how these are traits that already exist in some of your sales reps, CSMs or account managers. To make the shift towards the future of revenue operations, you can pick one or two and help them make the shift to focus on this key differentiator. 

The time to change is now 

Enterprises know customers are the most predictable source of revenue. They understand the necessity of exceptional customer experiences. They want to deliver value to ensure the growth of their company. But the solutions from the past 10 years have proved to be little more than a band aid on the real problem. 

Shifting your strategy to include customer sales brings the foundations of all the fixes from the past into a realistic modern growth strategy. A new focus on mastering the operations of the customer journey, of building repeatable sales strategies, and ensuring long-term success is exactly what all enterprises need right now. Customers are demanding it. Your revenue predictions require a new perspective. The time for change is now.