Salespeople are by nature highly competitive. But internally, their competitive nature can lead to conflicts if they contest who owns which accounts, contacts, opportunities, and the like. Instituting clear and concise rules of engagement can help alleviate this friction, ensure alignment, and drive collaboration among sales team members.
A strong rules of engagement document includes the company’s crediting philosophy and clarifies account ownership, who gets credit for what activity, the crediting process and requirements, dispute resolution, and sales policies. It covers anything that may impact the selling process to allow sales representatives to concentrate on making deals without worrying about being undercut, alleviating the people issues that can undermine the sales function’s success.
Preparing for the New Rules of Engagement
Rules of engagement can help your business achieve its sales objectives. But before you can develop the rules, it is important to:
Identify Customer Personas and Profiles – Understanding your market helps to maximize engagement opportunities. A customer persona – a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer – allows you to connect with prospects in meaningful ways. It can help anticipate questions and address pain points in the selling process.
Data can be leveraged to create detail-rich personas and profiles of various customer segments. What kinds of jobs do they have? What are their preferred marketing channels? What are their professional motivations, buying behaviors, and goals? Developing customer personas helps drive the right conversations with the right people.
Understand the Addressable Market and Sales Capacity – A business can prioritize sales opportunities by calculating the total addressable market, which helps determine how many customers can realistically be reached and the revenue potential. Visibility into it enables sales leadership to align its salesforce against high-potential opportunities.
Setting yourself up for success also starts by understanding your sales capacity, the maximum amount of revenue your sales team can bring in within a given time period. This predictive measurement can help plan your salesforce size, set quotas, and forecast sales to determine the optimal number of reps needed to hit your target while also considering recruiting, ramp-up times, attrition, and market demand.
Define How You Will Segment the Market – One size doesn’t fit all. Segmenting your market, whether by vertical, size, geography, or other factors, can help you target and fine-tune your outreach scenarios. The most sophisticated segmentation approaches employ data analytics and qualitative validation, but it’s important to understand your markets, as not all prospects require advanced segmentation efforts.
Changing Your Sales Team’s Rules of Engagement
Rules of engagement should be regularly reviewed to ensure that they are still meeting your operational and organizational needs. Here are three critical steps you can take:
Assess your account ownership culture. Does your account ownership culture fit with your overall strategy? The rules can be significantly different for organizations that encourage strong one-on-one relationship building versus those that bring a collaborative approach to every account and pursuit.
Lay out the rules and how they will be enforced. Publish your rules of engagement to ensure that everyone knows the policies regarding account ownership, commission, and other potential issues. The rules should be fair, presented as a partnership, and communicated clearly. And since rules are only effective if they are enforced, it is important to map out how issues will be addressed.
Reinforce the rules through action when disputes arise. Consistent enforcement instills confidence in the rules of engagement and can improve the employee experience. The sales environment is naturally competitive, and giving transparency into your sales rules and enforcing them reduces disputes.
Consider Leadership’s Willingness to Enforce Rules of Engagement
In a collaborative culture, where the team largely adheres to the spirit of the guidelines, sales leaders can consider specific facts or circumstances for each dispute. However, organizations with a strong account ownership sales culture, where account ownership can or will be switched out, require a top-down approach.
Three Common Rules of Engagement
While rules of engagement can cover a wide range of topics, the three areas below—Assigning Accounts, Cross-selling/Collaborating, and Sales Crediting—are commonly included.
Assigning Accounts. The rules for account assignments help to define the opportunity for a salesperson within their market segment. The approach should be set ahead of the annual planning cycle:
Global hold – Holds are set at the start of the year, but final account ownership determination is assessed as situations arise to allow for a complete view
The 2/3 rule – Assignment is determined based strictly on the answer to specific criteria; 2 out of 3 wins. For example, for a geography-aligned team, the criteria might be:
- Location of the corporate headquarters/headquarters
- Location of the economic decision makers
- Location where contract and purchase order are negotiated
Claim and commit – Account ownership is established at the start of the year and no changes occur. The amount and types of accounts claimed impact quotas.
Cross-selling/Collaborating. Cross-selling and collaboration can boost revenue, but they require rules of engagement to reduce potential conflict by:
Setting limits on cross-selling credit to the account owner in order to encourage collaboration (if that is the goal).
Adopting a collaboration measure in performance management.
Sales Crediting. Often one of the biggest pain points in sales is crediting. Establish rules of engagement that clearly outline credit and compensation.
Define rules for sales crediting that reward cross-region, business unit, or segment collaboration.
Leverage cross-sale credit as a gate for accelerators.
Reinforcing the Rules of Engagement. Sales operations leaders are generally responsible for creating, implementing, and enforcing the rules of engagement by:
Providing formal training around the rules. Conduct sales enablement training on the finalized rules by providing clear examples to sellers to remove any ambiguity and illustrating scenarios specific to your business.
Utilizing incentives to speed up sales engagement adoption. Incentives can accelerate adoption of the rules. For example, a company can create a sales program incentive fund that incentivizes reps to flip a lead to someone in another region.
Building rules of engagement into sales compensation plans. Reward partnering and cross-selling to increase trust and drive revenue synergies.
Rules of Engagement to the Rescue
Clearly defined rules of engagement are critical to helping the sales team achieve its full potential, driving higher sales performance, and creating a positive and healthy competitive sales environment that helps to position the business for sustainable success.