Sales support: What it is and why it’s important in 2023
Learn how to use sales support the right way so you can back up your sales team while increasing your ROI.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated January 4, 2023
The sales industry loves to throw around the word quota. So much success is measured by this one little word: how many sales you made, how much money you made, how many leads you made contact with, how many eyes saw your marketing.
It’s a big deal to hit and maintain a quota. So, why are most companies neglecting the support systems needed to help their sales reps do just that?
Not only is the average sales quota difficult to hit, but it’s also made more difficult because of the way certain companies choose to distribute their resources. According to Global News Wire, only 23 percent of sales reps have enough leads to reach quota. And 48 percent of sales leaders admitted they knew they didn’t have enough leads for their reps.
How can any sales rep be expected to meet their quota when they’re not set up for success?
This is what sales support is all about. In this piece, we’ll walk you through the world of sales support and offer our top insights on how to increase your productivity by redistributing the workload.
What is sales support?
Sales support is an umbrella term that refers to any company resource that directly supports the success of the sales team. These resources can include everything from marketing materials and sales software to sales scripts and additional sales employees. In essence, it’s anything that helps the sales team increase its sales performance and productivity without increasing reps’ workload.
The primary goal behind developing strong sales support is to simplify, streamline, and outsource any sales rep activities that take away from their ability to engage with prospects. There’s no one right way to do this, which is why every company’s approach to sales support is different. The end goal, however, is the same: Give reps the time they need to engage with more clients and close more sales.
Your sales reps can’t do it all
According to Forbes, sales reps still spend less than 36 percent of their work hours actively selling. Which begs the question: What are they spending their time on during the remaining 64 percent?
The answer: They’re doing a lot of activities that sales support is designed to take care of.
It doesn’t matter how much you pay your sales reps—they have a limited number of hours they can work on a given day. When reps are expected to meet impossible quotas while managing their paperwork, lead generation, lead qualification, and in-office communication, they burn out and fall behind.
It’s tempting to pile it all on sales reps because onboarding new employees and investing in new support resources can be a pricey proposition. But at the end of the day, you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns with your overburdened reps. The better option is to bring in sales support. This will enable reps to focus on their jobs, meet their quotas, and increase the company’s overall revenue. It’s a long-term investment for a long-term outcome.
What is a sales support role?
Sales support roles (or sales support specialists) are the people running sales support tasks. They are the backbone of the sales team, guiding sales reps through the time-consuming process of lead generation, qualification, and opportunity management. Lead generation is often seen as a task for your sales team, but the truth is that most sales reps spend so much time researching and qualifying leads that they don’t have enough time to actually nurture those relationships.
Well-researched leads are essential for a successful sales pipeline, but they don’t mean very much if your reps are too busy to speak with them in any meaningful way. Sales support helps this process by preparing leads while leaving the customer relationships to the sales reps.
Some common tasks for sales support specialists include:
- Generating initial leads
- Filtering and qualifying those leads
- Monitoring customer accounts for potential sales opportunities
- Researching new sales opportunities and reporting them to upper sales management
- Scheduling training and management of sales reps
- Communicating with sales reps on a consistent basis and providing real-time support when necessary
Sales support isn’t solely made up of additional staff, but having a strong sales support team can sometimes be the most effective method of sales enablement. Like any other investment, however, your sales support team will only ever be as strong as its sales support executive.
What qualities make a great sales support executive?
If you’re going to put money and effort into building a sales support team, you need to ensure that you have a top-notch sales support executive steering the ship. Sales support executives delegate tasks and manage goals just like other managers, but they’re also responsible for looking at sales analytics and figuring out what the sales support team could or should do differently.
Additionally, sales support executives work with other members of sales leadership to develop relevant coaching and training based on current sales trends and the company’s sales plan. It’s crucial that your sales support executive knows how to develop and implement effective improvement strategies.
Key skills and qualifications for a sales support executive include:
- Education in sales and marketing
- At least three years of experience in sales and marketing
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Strong attention to detail
- Developed research skills
Sales support executives are one of the few positions you should absolutely hire from within your company. It’s highly beneficial for them to already understand how your sales team works and where it could best use support.
Sales support functions
Sales support functions can generally be divided into two main categories: people and digital sales tools. Ideally, both of these categories work together to streamline similar activities and co-support the sales team without wasting resources. This can be tricky. But with the right team and strong interdepartmental alignment, sales support functions can increase per-rep revenue and productivity.
Now, let’s take a look at some examples of material sales support functions below.
Sales support function examples
Material sales support functions are anything non-human that helps your sales reps close deals. These functions include software solutions as well as any physical resources needed for your sales support specialists to do their jobs.
Common material sales support functions include:
- CRM (customer relationship management) software or other pipeline management software
- Email automation and email analysis software
- SFA (sales force automation) software
- Sales scripts
- Sales playbooks
- Any printed or digital marketing materials used in the sales pitch
- Lead generation software
- Sales web pages
- Targeted marketing materials
Many of these functions are used by both the sales team and the marketing team, which makes department alignment (or “smarketing”) that much more important. There’s no point in creating new support marketing materials if they’re not relevant to the sales style or angle. Right now, on average, 60 percent to 70 percent of B2B marketing content is created but never used. That’s an enormous amount of money and resources wasted because of miscommunication.
On average, 60% to 70% of B2B marketing content is created but never used.
The other thing to keep in mind about material sales support software is that multiple people and teams are going to need to use it. This sounds like common sense, but efficiency suffers in nearly all companies because of communication that is diluted or confused when it must go through several different software platforms. If you’re going to invest in sales support software, it’s best to find one that includes all of the above features and abilities so that there’s less room for human error.
Sales support activities
All sales functions are designed to successfully run the four main sales support activities:
- Lead generation
- Product training
- Customer service
- Active market communication
All four of these activities can be done by just people or just material resources, but they function best when supported by both. Let’s look at examples of each in action.
Sales support activities examples
1. Lead generation
Without sales support, sales reps waste a large percentage of their time simply finding prospects worth calling. With lead generation software and a sales support team, it’s much easier to find, filter, and qualify leads so that sales reps can begin to reach out and develop fruitful relationships. More sales reps contacting more qualified leads means a higher likelihood of conversion.
2. Product training
If you’re a company that’s rapidly expanding, you need to ensure your sales reps are up-to-date on all the latest products. In-depth product trainings alongside clear product manuals and marketing materials help your reps answer product questions without stress. Additionally, if your sales support team is putting these materials together, then they become a go-to source of info for sales reps.
3. Customer service
Customer service via sales support falls at both ends of the sales funnel. Not only does sales support allow sales reps to spend more time with their customers, but it also provides a means of feedback at the end of a purchase.
Whether through surveys or interviews, sales support can use customer outreach and follow-up to determine if there are any kinks in the sales process. This is critical for fostering an environment of consistent growth and improvement. Not only that, but it ensures each team is getting the tools they need to succeed.
4. Active market communication
The goal of active marketing communication is to create company awareness in the market before a prospect ever speaks to a sales rep. By coordinating advertising and marketing strategies, sales reps are more likely to call someone who’s already heard of their company. Considering 71 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service from a name they recognize, this is crucial.
Why sales support makes or breaks companies
It’s no longer an industry secret that strong sales support has a massive effect on company gains. This is partly due to the fact that spreading out the workload makes it easier for all sales employees to do their jobs. But the underlying implications of that success go much deeper.
The market has been trending toward a focus on customer experience for years. Yet at the end of 2020, a Walker study determined that in the coming years, customer experience will overtake price and product quality as the key brand differentiator.
Many customer experience improvements focus solely on customer retention and satisfaction. However, you can’t improve the customer experience if your reps don’t have time to develop a personalized relationship with their prospects. This remains true no matter how wonderful your customer service is. If consumers are getting one experience from customer service and another from sales, they’re going to start distrusting the honesty of customer service—it’s just what people do.
This makes it increasingly vital to have the right sales support in place so that your sales reps can compete in this new, customer-centric market.
Of course, not all sales support will work in the way it’s intended. It takes trial and error to find the right balance. Let’s dive into a few consequences of good and bad sales support.
The risks of bad sales support
Bad sales support stems from one of two mistakes:
- You don’t invest enough in it to create long-term, usable tools.
- You invest too much in it and hit a point of diminishing returns, which costs the company more than the tools are worth.
Both of these issues go back to a fundamental misunderstanding about what support your sales team actually needs.
For instance, let’s say you decide to invest a bit in creating sales scripts to help your reps, but you create scripts with no room for personalization or adaptation to different projects. Good intention, poor outcome. In this case, you need to invest the time and money to make scripts your reps can actually use.
Similarly, you might get inspired by sales support and throw a huge investment into sales software to bring your reps all the latest tools. However, using too many software tools can actually slow down sales, and as a result, many reps will become less efficient. In this case, a lack of research and too much enthusiasm end up costing your company precious money and your reps precious time.
The benefits of strong sales support
On the other hand, the benefits of strong, balanced sales support are unmatched.
Sales support is crucial to aligning sales and marketing through shared tactics. Alignment can help generate approximately 209 percent more company revenue. Additionally, between 35 percent and 50 percent of all sales go to the first sales rep who responds. Sales support lets your team qualify leads faster so that your reps can be first in line to meet potential buyers.
Remember, your team is likely working as hard as they can. Sales support isn’t there to automate their jobs—it’s there to make sure their focus can stay on the tasks with the highest ROI.
Improve your sales support team and activities
Now that we’ve looked at the risks and benefits of poorly and well-managed sales support, let’s talk about how your company can improve. While re-budgeting and hiring can certainly improve your sales support, more often than not, it may simply be a matter of implementing best practices.
How to diagnose problems with your sales support
The best way to identify problems within your sales support system is to look for the signs. Ideally, your sales support should be:
- Giving sales reps more time with their clients
- Speeding up the process of lead generation and qualification
- Aligning sales and marketing for a focused and consistent customer experience
With these in mind, your first questions should be:
- Are you having hold-ups or issues with any of these activities?
- If so, where are the hold-ups or issues occurring?
Some of the common symptoms of poor sales support include:
- Customers feeling like they’re not being heard
- A slow marketing process and follow-up process due to slow delivery of support materials
- Tension and blame between the sales and marketing departments
Right now, around 77 percent of buyers want their sales reps to integrate customized data or insights into their pitches. This is a tall order, but it’s not impossible with the right support. Without fast access to data, most sales reps are forced to use the same generic pitch for every client. This tends to turn prospects away, even if they have genuine interest in the product.
Simply having a support team in place to run data analytics and assign relevant data to customer profiles helps the sales team craft the right words for every client.
How to fix sales support problems with best practices
We’ve seen the pitfalls—now, how do you avoid them?
Sales support best practices are easy to follow and will end up saving your company significant time and money. Here are a few ways to ensure your sales support is on the right track:
- Implement regular trainings, development opportunities, and well-run sales meetings to keep everyone on the same page. Sales support needs frequent updates on what they should be focusing on, and marketing needs to adapt to fit the sales team’s strategy.
- Establish a clear list of requirements for qualifying leads. There’s no point in having a team qualifying leads for your sales reps if they’re not qualifying them to a specific standard. Setting expectations lets your sales reps know exactly what they’re getting into when they accept a list of leads.
- Use your sales support team. Too often, companies implement sales support teams and then still expect sales reps to do administrative work. That’s what the sales support specialists are there for. Let them do their jobs.
- Use a sales-specific CRM for smooth communication and clear data.
Sales support starts with quality investments
To ensure your sales support is helping your sales team, invest in the best possible support products. No matter how large or small your company, you know a bad investment is worse than no investment at all.
With a solution like Zendesk Sell, your sales team gains access to an efficient, state-of-the-art sales CRM designed to maximize sales productivity, pipeline visibility, and revenue. Zendesk also features a mobile CRM and cloud CRM so your team is never cut off from communication.
Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today, and show your sales team you’re ready to support them with the tools they need to succeed.
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