Choosing the Right Sales Structure for Your Small Business

Oct 16, 2020

Learn about the three common types of sales structures and which one you should use to organize your small-business sales team.

Gitanjali MariaSr. Content Analyst
Choosing the Right Sales Structure for Your Small Business

Companies with well-documented sales processes are nearly twice as likely to be successful than those without a defined sales structure. This suggests that your business revenue, to a large extent, depends on the strength of your sales team—not just a handful of high-performing sales reps. 

But for a small business like yours, setting up a sales structure can be a challenge. Since your team is small, members may have to wear many hats. Also, things can start getting haphazard as operations scale if there isn’t a defined process for your sales team to follow.  

In this article, we’ll discuss three sales structures startups and small businesses like yours can use during their early years and as they grow. We’ll also explain the benefits of all three models and how you can use them to develop a high-functioning sales team.

1. The island structure: Offer personalized interactions to your customers

As the name suggests, in this model, every salesperson in your team functions like an island, working individually on all sales tasks, right from lead generation and qualification to sales closure and customer communication. Each member manages a specific client or set of clients and doesn’t interact or support others in the sales process.

In the island structure, your sales reps work as individual contributors and report to a common sales manager or directly to the business owner or CEO. Every rep gathers leads, qualifies them, closes deals, and maintains after-sales communication with customers. This structure is common in startups and businesses with fewer than ten employees. 

You should opt for this model if your sales transactions need high levels of personal interactions with clients.


Things you should consider when selecting the island structure

Here’s a quick glimpse of the benefits you can get and the challenges you may face when using this structure. 

Quick and easy to set up and manage.It’s difficult and costly to hire sales reps with multitasking skills.
Minimum managerial oversight is needed, as sales reps work on their own.Fierce competition between sales reps can lead to intense work environments and high attrition rates.
Deeper interpersonal relationships with clients, as the same rep interacts with them throughout the buying process.Due to the absence of defined sales processes, sales reps are free to use their own sales styles or methods.

Pro tip: Look for the following qualities when hiring a sales rep for the island model: competitive attitude, multitasker, good communicator, go-getter, and self-motivated.

2. The assembly line structure: Easily identify underperforming sales divisions

The assembly line sales structure is similar to the assembly lines in production units. Your sales team is divided into subteams or divisions working in an orderly manner to close deals. The information collected by one team is shared with the next to help complete the sales process. Each subteam or division is led by a dedicated manager and works on a specific function (e.g., lead generation or account management).

Opt for the assembly line sales structure if your business has a low sales conversion rate—i.e., you’re making only a few customers from a large number of leads. Companies in B2B industries such as manufacturing, software, and IT usually use this structure. Its typical sales divisions or subteams are:

  • Lead generation team: Involved in researching prospects, collecting leads through email or web campaigns, organizing leads data, and sharing it with the sales development team.  

  • Sales development team: Qualifies prospects by cold calling them or doing additional research on them. Next, shares the list of shortlisted prospects with the account management team.

  • Account management team: Connects with the qualified leads to understand their challenges, answer their queries, schedule and give demos, and finally close the sale. Also, shares the details of all closed deals with the customer success team.

  • Customer success team: Onboards new customers, keeps in regular touch with the existing ones to reduce churn, identifies upselling opportunities, and helps increase customers’ engagement with your business.


Things you should consider when selecting the assembly line structure

Here’s a quick glimpse of the benefits you can get and the challenges you may face when using this structure.

Processes are easy to understand and implement.There can be communication and alignment issues between teams due to different sales goals or objectives.
As sales reps work on particular processes, they become specialized and more efficient in their specific roles.Teams focus only on their specific tasks and don’t likely understand or know what’s going on in other sales divisions.
Since there is a clear division of tasks, it’s easy to identify which sales division or funnel stage is underperforming.More resources—employees, infrastructure, and tools—are required to set up a full-fledged assembly line structure.

Pro tip: The four-team assembly model is used most commonly, but you can have fewer or more teams per your needs. You can do with just two teams or even five based on the number of resources you have. 

3. The pod structure: Ensure higher collaboration among your sales staff

The pod structure is a combination of the island and the assembly line structures. In this model, you have individual sales pods—i.e., groups consisting of eight to 10 reps—responsible for managing the complete sales cycle for a specific client or set of clients, just as in the island model. However, similar to the assembly line model, each member within the pod has a specific task assigned, such as lead generation or customer success.

In this model, there is better collaboration among sales staff, as the success of each pod member is tied to the success of other members in the same pod. This helps sales reps better understand the impact their roles have on the entire sales cycle.

You should opt for the pod structure if your business caters to different types of clients or may have more than one type of product to sell. It is commonly used in IT services businesses, technology companies, and manufacturing units.


Things you should consider when selecting the pod structure

Here’s a quick glimpse of the benefits you can get and the challenges you may face when using this structure. 

An agile, flexible sales structure that improves collaboration among sales staff.Any conflict between pod members can lead to reduced collaboration and affect sales closure rates.
Sales reps are motivated to participate in the entire sales process, as their success is tied to their pod’s success.Motivating sales reps within a pod individually can be a challenge, as members don’t usually compete with each other.
There is better collaboration within pod members, which helps in closing deals faster.In smaller pods, the boundaries between various tasks can get blurred, and pod members may have to work on multiple tasks, leading to less work specialization.

Pro tip: Select the right number of members for each pod. Though there is no magic number, consider the bottlenecks you face at each sales stage, and accordingly decide how many members you need for individual sales functions. Too many or too few reps for any function can affect the success of the entire pod.

Recap: Which sales team structure should you pick?

The sales structure you decide on should not only be easy to implement but also cater to your targeted market or customer segment. To help you select the right model for your small business, here’s a quick recap of the different scenarios in which each of these structures works best.

Sales Structure - Final Image

Besides implementing a strong sales structure, you should also equip your team with the right tools to get their jobs done. Here’s a list of tools you can consider investing in: 

About the author

Gitanjali Maria

Sr. Content Analyst
Hey there, I’m Gitanjali Maria. I’m a senior content analyst at GetApp. I bring you insights about CRM, sales, customer experience, and data security. I’m an MBA from Loyola College, India, and experienced in tech research. Home base: Gurugram, India. (1-2) things about me: Enjoy reading all genres and making junk art. The [1-2] tech trend[s]/innovation[s] I think you should keep an eye on: Watch out for all the things AI can revolutionize!
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