Stephanie is an experienced marketer and content expert in the B2B space with a background in international trade and marketing analytics.
Brian, Belkins' VP of sales, is a recognized professional with 15 years of experience in relationship-based sales and management.
Reading time:12 m
Sales in the B2B space can be intimidating. With longer sales cycles, complex products, and clients all over the world, B2B sales teams face some hefty challenges in navigating leads from start to finish.
The solution? Building an effective B2B sales team structure.
A strong and well-organized sales team sets a foundation for B2B companies to thrive. Great team structures take into account the unique obstacles that exist in the B2B space, optimizing team members and tools so that no opportunities fall through the cracks.
In this article, we’ll identify some of the most common sales team structures in the B2B industry. We’ll explain the qualities and benefits of a great sales team and show you how to take yours to the next level. Finally, our VP of Sales here at Belkins has provided some valuable insights for you and your team.
The secret to building a winning B2B sales team is creating a scalable and flexible squad that can adjust to changing company needs, evolving markets, and customer preferences. While the organization of your sales team will vary depending on your company type, all great teams should have a few things in common:
An awareness of all parts of the buyers’ journey. From customer acquisition to onboarding and offboarding protocols, your sales team should cover all the bases when it comes to the buyers’ journey. You don’t want your lead to feel abandoned at any point in their deliberation, nor do you want them to be left in the dust once they’ve made a purchase. Great sales teams have people in place along the entire journey.
Great goal-making and strategic outsourcing. An effective way to enhance goal attainment is by considering the option to outsource sales team functions. This approach can bring in specialized skills and insights, contributing to the overall efficacy of the sales team. Good sales teams know how to set actionable goals. While the goals are challenging, they’re reasonable and achievable. Goals are articulated clearly and team members know their role in company achievement
Scalability. A great sales team has plans in place for when the business grows. How the sales team will look varies based on the team structure that is best for your B2B business, but there’s infrastructure to scale without causing burnout or bottlenecks.
Customer-centric approach. Customer-centric sales teams rear better results. Did you know that 73% of B2B buyers report that most interactions feel transactional? Sales teams that treat buyers as people stand out above the rest.
Excellent tech integration. Members of sales teams have a lot of responsibilities, regardless of the team structure. Excellent sales teams are efficient, in that they’ve fully leveraged technology to streamline their processes. These teams don’t waste hours on tasks that can be automated. They take full advantage of technology so that they can focus on the work that really matters.
Note: Belkins’ team is an expert at taking routine tasks off your to-do list. We take lead research, bulk appointment-booking campaigns, and more so your sales team can focus on the heart of sales: meeting with prospects, nurturing leads, and closing deals.
What are some signs that your sales team is suboptimal?
Now that you know the basis of a great sales team, it can be helpful to learn some red flags to look out for that will indicate when your team is operating sub-optimally. Keep in mind that these red flags don’t mean you need to replace your whole team or take drastic action. These are indicators that your structure isn’t supporting you properly.
Here are a few signs that your sales team isn’t performing at its best:
Low close rates. The most obvious sign of a lacking sales team is poor closing rates. If sales aren’t being made, you know there’s an issue. However, the cause could come from a few different places. If sales reps are wasting their time on tasks that could be automated or if they’re not focusing on the whole buyers’ journey, it’s easy to understand why close rates aren’t optimal.
Lack of customer loyalty. If customers are signing up for your B2B service but quickly canceling their subscription, or if they’re not making repeat purchases, it’s an indication that your buyers don’t feel supported. Whether the product was inaccurately marketed or your clients feel abandoned after purchasing, your sales team has some adjustments to make.
Poor product knowledge. Sales teams that don’t understand the product can’t sell it effectively. Take a look at your internal materials and make sure they’re up to date. Complicated B2B products can be hard to understand, but your sales teams need to know what they are so they can explain them to leads.
Low morale. If your team morale is tanked, that’s a definite red flag that you should be looking at your team’s organization. Goals may be impossible to reach, or team members may feel inadequately prepared to close deals.
Inability to adapt. Inflexible sales teams are ineffective sales teams. B2B markets are constantly shifting. Buyers are getting smarter, purchasing groups are getting larger, and marketing practices are always changing. Your team needs to be built to adapt.
Making internal investments, like pouring resources into sales team development, can feel difficult when what you really want is to increase your bottom line quickly. However, letting your sales team continue in an unoptimized way can cause major repercussions for your company. There are two big consequences for leaving your sales team in poor shape:
Missed opportunities. If your sales teams are wasting energy with time drains, or if their morale is low, they will miss out on great sales opportunities. If you have the wrong people fielding the wrong prospects, you lose time finding the right leads. Not only that, but poorly tracked and managed opportunities are bound to slip through the cracks.
Wasted time. Optimization is extremely important. Organizing your lead flow to cater to your team's strengths will help you close the gap on wasted time. Wasted time is wasted resources — and you certainly don’t want to be doing that.
Not to mention, a suboptimal sales team can result in poor retention, which causes a whole slew of additional problems. Getting your sales team organized is a great way to protect your employees, customers, and your bottom line.
Get to know the common types of B2B sales team structures
We know why a great sales team matters. But what does that really look like? Selecting a B2B sales team structure that’s right for your business is a key part of setting your sales department up for success. Before we dive into how to pick the right structure, let’s get familiar with some of the most common types of B2B sales team organizational structures.
The first, and most traditional, B2B sales structure is the Island. This structure is generally what comes to mind when we think about salesmanship. There’s one sales manager and a team of representatives who report to the manager. Each rep stays with the buyer through every step of the journey. For the Island to work, sales reps need to be equipped to navigate every need the buyer may have, from top-of-the-funnel questions to offboarding procedures.
Sales teams that are made up of an Island structure are generally internally competitive. Each rep is fighting to gain more leads and then push for deal closures. There isn’t a lot of collaboration, but sales reps can feel empowered to make decisions for themselves.
How to build a B2B sales team with the Island structure
This structure relies on having sales reps that will thrive with a hands-off approach. Sales reps need to feel motivated by their control over their workload with little support from other members of the sales team. An important component of creating an effective Island is strong training procedures. Because sales reps are going to need to guide leads through the journey from start to finish, they need to be experts in every part of the journey.
When to use this model
This model is great for simple B2B products. Complicated products with long buying cycles make the Island an inefficient structure, but if the product is simple and the buying cycle is fairly short, it can be a fantastic way to gain a long list of customers.
There are quite a few industries that thrive using the Island as the structure for their sales teams. Outside of B2B, we see the Island in practice in real estate and car sales. It works for those industries because the structure allows the customer to feel catered to throughout the entire journey.
Within B2B, the Island is a bit less common because products tend to be more complicated and buying cycles can be long. However, our brand utilizes components of the Island strategy to cover multiple time zones.
At Belkins, we have a sales team of 9 experts that are located all around the globe. This gives our team the power to navigate prospective clients in many time zones. This approach is customer-centric and has enabled us to scale globally.
Each of our team members has a pipeline of opportunities to manage and a thorough follow-up process, so our reps are supported throughout the entire buyers’ journey. We also have a seasoned expert keeping track of the more complex sales cycles, so no details go overlooked.
Finally, our sales teams integrate Belkins’ automation tools so no time is wasted on tasks that technology can handle.
We find this works brilliantly for our services, as we can speak intimately with clients and answer their questions throughout the entire buyers’ journey.
However, Belkins works diligently to value collaboration over competition. Internally, our sales reps are supported and because they cover different zones, the drawbacks of the Island model are minimized.
The Assembly Line
Another common sales team structure is the Assembly Line. In an Assembly Line structure, there are different sales reps for each part of the journey. Typically, there will be different team members devoted to lead generation, sorting out qualified leads, closing deals, and following up with new customers. Each lead, then, talks to several team members that are in close collaboration with one another.
A key component of the Assembly Line is specialization. In the Island structure, team members need to be jacks-of-all-trades, able to answer any question, regardless of where the lead is in the buyers’ journey. In the Assembly Line structure, team members specialize in their step of the process.
Lead generators are experts in gathering information on prospects. Sales development reps lead them further down the funnel, answering questions and providing insights on why the product will address the lead’s pain points. Account executives close the deal, navigating negotiations and providing demos. Each of these team members plays an integral role in moving the lead down the funnel.
How to build a B2B sales team with the Assembly Line structure
The foundation of the Assembly Line is a cohesive team of specialists. Your team needs to be built of collaborators who thrive on diving deep into their areas of expertise. Additionally, you need to have enough employees to make this structure work. To have specialists in each area, you need enough coverage throughout the buyers’ journey. Or else, you’ll accidentally end up in the Island structure.
When to use this model
The Assembly Line is a great and traditional model for companies that have a bit of complexity in their product. You want to utilize the Assembly Line when your buying cycle is a bit too long and complicated for one person to cover it from start to finish. Again, you have to have a large enough team to be able to split the sales team between different roles.
The Assembly Line is fairly easy to implement, so start-ups and mid-size companies that are looking to solidify their sales team structure may benefit from this model. By taking stock of who is great at which part of the journey, you can quickly grow your Island into a well-oiled Assembly Line.
If your team is too large, however, the Assembly Line may not be the most efficient model. Transitioning a customer from one sales rep to the next can be a clunky process, and if there are too many sales reps at each stage, it can be difficult to make a seamless transition.
At Belkins, we also take some tips from the Assembly Line model. Our team is really a fusion of the Island and the Assembly Line, gaining advantage from each model. While we do have sales reps around the world reporting to one leader, we also have differentiated roles.
For example, our BDR department includes lead researchers who find leads and BDRs, who qualify leads and run internal appointment setting campaigns. We also have a distinct marketing department that we collaborate with to run identity resolution and construct the materials that make up the buyers’ journey. Each of these roles helps to guide the lead down the funnel in the smoothest way possible.
The Pod is the most modern organizational structure for B2B sales teams. It’s emerged as a solution to selling products that are expensive and complex. In a Pod, a team of specialists works together to guide a lead throughout the entire journey.
In some ways, it’s like each Pod is its own assembly line but with more continuity for the customer. The specialists aren’t so highly specialized that they lose track of the whole, but they also know the answers to super-specific questions because they have their own defined roles.
The Pod brings back an element of competition that is lost between the Island and the Assembly Line. Each Pod collaborates internally and competes externally with other Pods. This can be a great balance between competition and teamwork. Potential customers get a lot out of the Pod because they don’t lose contact with their initial touchpoint. However, they get a more in-depth, specialized review throughout the buyers’ process.
How to build a B2B sales team with the Pod structure
While the Pod sounds like the best of both worlds when it comes to competition and collaboration, it’s not the right structure for everyone. For one, the Pod requires a fairly large sales team. You need to have multiple specialists and enough employees for it to make sense to form subgroups. If your Assembly Line team is running smoothly, transitioning to a Pod can confuse and overwhelm.
To succeed in a Pod structure, you’ll want teams made up of self-starters who are also highly collaborative. Cut-throat salespeople won’t enjoy a Pod because everyone in the Pod will have their hands in the same cookie jar. However, collaborative individuals with their own expertise will thrive in a Pod.
When to use this model
B2B businesses with complicated products or long buying cycles will find the Pod extremely beneficial. Customers can lose steam and intentionality when their contacts get lost in the fray. The Pod creates a cohesive customer experience for long buyers’ journeys.
Companies with a secure spot in the market who are looking to grow will benefit from implementing the Pod structure. Its scalability is unmatched — when you’re ready for growth, you simply bring on a new pod.
This is becoming a more and more common B2B sales organization structure, particularly within the SaaS space. SaaS products can be difficult to understand and pretty expensive, so implementing the Pod structure is the best way to guide users through the experience.
One real-world application of the Pod structure is the company Cognism. Cognism is a sales intel company that structures their B2B sales teams as Pods. They were, historically, an Assembly Line organization, but after realizing the value of the Pod, they transitioned their structure.
Cognism has four positions in its pod: Sales Development Reps, Account Executives, Customer Success Managers, and a marketing role. Together, this group navigates the lead all the way through each sale. Cognism recognized the benefits of the Pod as being plentiful, identifying company culture advantages alongside a better customer experience.
How to choose the right B2B sales team structure
Now that we’ve provided an overview of the three most common sales team structures, let’s take a closer look at how to select the right structure for your company. You’ll want to consider four primary variables when determining the best structure for your sales team.
The first consideration is the type of product that you’re selling. Simple B2B products with high transaction numbers can be sold with a more traditional structure, but more complicated products with longer sales cycles need more personalized care.
Here are the product types that pair best with each of the sales structures:
The Island: Simple products with short sales cycles and high transactions
The Assembly Line: More complex products with longer sales cycles
The Pod: Complicated products with high financial investments and long sales cycles
Another variable to consider when selecting the right sales team structure is the resources you have available. Primarily, this relates to the number of sales team members that you have at your disposal. Small teams thrive in different structures than big teams. Additionally, the financial investment required to hire specialists is likely higher than generalist sales reps, so budget is an important consideration, too.
Here’s a breakdown of the resources required to make each structure work:
The Island: Small sales team & only one manager-tier individual (low resource investment)
The Assembly Line: Larger sales teams & more specialists (moderate resource investment)
The Pod: Large teams & exclusively specialists (high resource investment)
Company culture can play a big role in what structure is the most effective for your sales teams. Depending on the individuals you have on your squad, different levels of hands-on and hands-off care might be best suited for your company.
Here’s a quick look at some of the cultural components of each structure:
The Island: Competitive & hands-off
The Assembly Line: Extremely collaborative with some external leadership
The Pod: A mix of collaborative and competitive with little to no external leadership
At Belkins, we recommend keeping customers at the core of all your decisions. Chances are, you’ve received feedback related to your sales process. That’s an important consideration. Your customer demographics can have a large impact on which sales process is most effective, as well.
If your ideal client is a quick decision-maker, the Pod may be overkill. If your ideal client takes a while to come to a decision, you’ll want to make sure they have personalized care throughout their journey. Consider who your customers are and what structures might best support their individual needs.
Best practices from Belkins
Navigating the organization of your sales team can be complicated. We spoke to the VP of Sales here at Belkins, Brian Hicks, to gain some insight on the best way to go about building a thriving sales team. Here are some of his quick tips!
#1. Before you do anything else, define your value proposition
Hicks suggests clearly articulating your company’s value proposition before diving into the nitty-gritty of sales structure.
"What does your product or service do? Who does it serve best (company type and titleholders)? How does it help them? Once this is identified, you can build on it."
When your sales team knows what value their product brings to the market, they can better target potential leads. Sales team members can also begin to identify their personal strengths, which will help the right organizational structure emerge.
#2. Align team members with their strengths
Not all sales team members bring the same strengths to the table — and this is a good thing! Hicks suggests taking stock of your team member’s strengths and weaknesses so you can build your structure on strengths.
"The most successful models that I have seen have their teams segmented into business development, sales acquisition/closers, and delivery (account management and customer success). The best salespeople might not (and usually aren’t) the best appointment setters, and this rule is usually true for other team members as well."
The value of a team is having folks who work together to fill in one another’s gaps. This means a team that brings a diverse range of strengths is a valuable one.
#3. Build models based on outcomes and historical data
In Hicks’s experience, utilizing historical data is an integral part of great goal-setting. Neglecting to incorporate outcomes and data into goals carries some major consequences.
"Constantly setting goals that are out of reach for your sales team will kill the team morale and make them feel like you are out of touch with what is actually happening in your market. Alignment here is very important."
Hicks is calling attention to a key B2B sales team management pitfall: executives and sales reps feeling misaligned on the reality of the market. When these two groups feel dissonant, morale tanks, retention rates drop, and productivity takes a nosedive. Incorporating historical data is a key way to keep these two parties on the same page.
Summing it all up
In a B2B market full of unique and intimidating challenges, a strong sales team structure can be a simple solution. Recognizing what works and what doesn't is vital, and at Belkins, we're here to guide you through this journey.
We don't just offer tools to streamline your processes; our sales outsourcing services are tailored to address your immediate sales needs effectively. With 70% of B2B decision-makers acknowledging the higher performance of outsourced SDRs over internal teams, Belkins stands ready to elevate your sales strategy.
Looking to enhance your sales operations or expand your team with skilled outsourced SDRs? Let's connect and propel your B2B business forward together.
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Stephanie is an experienced marketer and content expert in the B2B space with a background in international trade and marketing analytics. A multi-channel storyteller and strategist with over a decade of content marketing experience, Stephanie's expertise spans the marketing, technology, SaaS, eCommerce, and workplace management industries.
VP of Sales at Belkins
Brian is a professional with 15 years of experience in relationship-based sales and management. He built teams and implemented sales processes in startups and Fortune 500 companies across numerous industries.