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Organizing for Sales Effectiveness: Clarifying the Role

In a marketplace where the dynamic needs of customers and their buying habits require greater levels of care, attention and customization, companies are asking more and more of their salespeople.


The definition of the role naturally starts to dilute as the ask of sellers expands. In conjunction with role definition becoming opaque, sales leaders are consistently asking themselves and their respective team:

  • Do we have the right roles to execute on the transformational nature of the sales environment?
  • Do the sellers have the right skills and competencies to adapt and find success?

Answering and addressing these types of questions necessitates an in-depth analysis of the sales population and what their selling roles mean. Defining a role accurately can help to reorient a seller and communicate what results are expected of them.

While there are different approaches to role definition and design, what’s important is having a clear view on the functional responsibility of the role and its proximity/involvement in the sales process. There are six key areas that we’ve identified as being integral to understanding and designing a sales role profile. These six areas ultimately create a framework that can be applied to all types of selling roles to help organize for effectiveness.


  1. Role Type
    • Is the role a seller or sales overlay?
    • Is it an outside or inside seller?
    • Does the role have indirect or direct contact with the customer?
  2. Sales Focus
    • Will the role focus on acquiring new customers, developing existing customers or retaining customers?
    • Is the seller in a hybrid capacity and will they have responsibility over more than one selling motion?
  3. Sales Process
    • Where along the sales process is the role involved — pre-sale, sale or post-sale?
    • Is the role not directly involved in the sale?
  4. Organization Structure
    • Is the position an individual contributor or a sales manager?
    • Is the role a player/coach that will require selling in addition to developing others?
  5. Market Coverage
    • Does the seller collaborate with others?
    • Will the seller focus on emerging, transitioning or mature markets?
  6. Deal Type
    • Is the sale complex?
    • How long is the sales cycle?
    • What size is the typical sale?

Using the job definition framework will make great strides in bringing clarity to a seller understanding what their role is within the organization and in the future success of the business. It helps management understand if certain roles should be ineligible for the sales incentive program, and it also provides alignment to roles that are found at other companies. For example:


Redefining roles and expectations make an impact for both sellers and management. One example of a retailer that went through this change exhibits the impact: The organization, like many other retailers, is going through major transformation to adapt to customer buying behaviors. Primarily, it’s a shift from the price-driven transactional sale of the past to a focus on customer experience as more customers begin to shop for recreational purposes. All the change led the organization to recalibrate and make sure there was alignment among stakeholders and sales leaders on the purpose of each sales role. The outcome of the exercise was a set of key capabilities and role descriptors that were ultimately used to develop role profiles and refined job descriptions.

In doing so, the organization built sustainability into their program.

When the effectiveness of a sales program is in question, many will go straight to the incentive plan to look for opportunities to redesign. However, everything starts with the job role — detailing the critical success factors, priorities and drivers for each role cascades through your sales model to lead your team to produce.

About the Authors

Paul DeCoster is a principal at Korn Ferry. Marco Sneider is a senior consultant at Korn Ferry.

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