What Are the Duties of a Sales Department?

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Having a strong sales team is crucial to the success of a company because the sales department is responsible for making sales, growing your business and retaining existing customers. Ultimately, the most important function of your sales department is maintaining relationships with your customers. This personal touch is the key to happy, long-term client relationships, not to mention increased profitability.

What Is the Importance of a Sales Department?

A sales department is the direct link between a company’s product or service and its customers. However, a well-trained sales department does more than making sales. Your sales staff builds relationships with your customers. Further, a quality salesperson helps identify a customer’s unique needs and makes sure that those needs are met. Since salespeople have direct contact with your customers on an ongoing basis, they become privy to personal information that helps make sales interactions smoother and friendlier. A highly trained sales professional tailors sales pitches to the individual customer and learns the ins and outs of their needs.

For example, say you own an office supply business. A customer calls your sales team and says that they need printer paper. The salesperson will ask what type of printer the business is using, how long it takes the office to go through a sheaf of paper and whether they need a higher-quality paper for any reason. A design firm printing work samples might need a higher quality paper than a nonprofit that is only looking to print handouts for meetings. Your salesperson ensures that the customer is getting what they need, in the right volume and at the right price.

Further, a sales department promotes the growth of your business as well as customer retention. A quality salesperson builds an ongoing, long-term relationship with your customers. The importance of personal relationships in business can’t be understated. A personal connection makes customers feel valued and encourages them to remain loyal to your company. Plus, a happy customer will recommend your brand to others.

What Are the Objectives of a Sales Department?

A sales department has several objectives, aside from just making sales. Since your sales department is often the link between your customers and the product or service your company offers, there are other necessary functions a sales department must meet:

  • Converting sales: Of course, a sales department’s main objective is to make sales. However, they must also do so efficiently and as inexpensively as possible. It is not enough to collect credit card information and process an order. A sales department is always concerned with improving its conversion rate. A conversion rate is the percentage of customers who complete a sale. So if your sales team speaks to 100 potential customers per day and 20 of those conversations result in a sale, then your team has a 20 percent conversion rate. A well-oiled sales department is always looking for ways to improve its conversion rate. A better conversion means the business spends less money converting each customer, resulting in higher profits.
  • Customer retention: Your sales team is responsible for retaining customers, a monumentally important task. It costs a business five- to-25 times more money to attract new customers than it does to keep existing customers. Research further shows that upping your customer retention rate by only 5 percent can result in increased profits of 25-to-95 percent for your business. It makes sense always to keep your customers happy. This is where your sales team comes in. As the direct point-of-contact for your business, your sales department is building valuable relationships with customers. A sales team that follows up with customers and makes sure they are happy with the product or service you are providing is crucial. Most customers who take their business elsewhere do so quietly, without informing anyone. So one objective of a sales staff is to make sure customers remain happy and continue to do business with your company.
  • Business growth: The sales department is one of the most critical sectors of business for growth. Through relationship-building and keeping customers happy, word-of-mouth recommendations increase. Plus, satisfied customers are usually willing to leave positive reviews for your company online. Reviews are critically important in doing business these days. Prospective clients want to see that you have made other customers happy, and are all too willing to go to your competitors if there is no evidence that you're doing so. This is why your sales team can help you grow your business. Through outstanding customer service, your customers become loyal and sing your praises to others, bringing in new business. What’s more, a quality sales staff will always be searching for new client leads, further growing your business.  

Sales Department Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a sales department vary depending on the business, and how large the team is. However, the first responsibility of a sales department is usually searching for and identifying prospective clients. The next responsibility of the sales department is reaching out to those potential clients and making contact, which is when the relationship-building begins in earnest. A sales representative will identify the needs of the client, and find out any relevant information for making a sale.

Next, the sales department is responsible for delivering presentations and proposals that will convert the customer. For example, say a prospective customer tells your sales representative that he is looking for a new office supplier, but what he needs that others don’t have is a selection of specialty inks. Your sales department now puts together a presentation for the customer that illustrates your wide ink selection. Usually, a team member will also put together a proposal for the business. This individualized courting of clients can help convert leads into long-term customers, so it’s important to get this part right.

If the prospective client is happy with the customer service of the sales staff and the bottom line of the proposal, it’s time to close the deal. Successfully closing sales is another responsibility of the sales staff: processing transactions and ensuring payments run smoothly. Finally, the sales department is responsible for managing customer relationships and keeping customers happy long-term. As previously noted, customer retention is crucial to business profitability, which often falls on the sales team as they continue to follow up with and meet the needs of customers. The sales department must maintain customer relationships and manage the satisfaction of all clients.

The Different Roles of a Sales Department

The responsibilities of a sales department are varied. Thus, a sales department is often split up into multiple roles, each with their unique functions:

  • Sales Development Representative: Also called business development representatives, a sales development representative is responsible for step one of the sales process: researching, identifying and contacting leads. This person is often a cold caller or the team member who makes the first contact with a prospective client. Once the customer lead has been identified as a “qualifying lead” (one likely to result in a sale), a sales development representative passes that lead to a higher-level sales representative.
  • Account Executive: The account executive is responsible for bringing in new business and making sales, filling the traditional salesperson role. This person must be a closer since the success of the deal ultimately falls on their shoulders. Account executives create presentations, run demonstrations, write proposals, identify any obstacles to the purchase process, negotiate terms with clients and finally, make the sale.
  • Sales Specialist: A sales specialist has in-depth knowledge of the product and the industry. This is the person you want handling complicated issues or difficult customer questions. A sales specialist is also adept at doing product demonstrations and client proposals. In a sales department, this specialist takes on any complex sales or advanced challenges that come up for the rest of the team.
  • Customer Success Representative: A customer success representative is responsible for following up and renewing sales with customers who have already made purchases. This role is crucial for customer retention and ensuring your business isn’t leaving money on the table. A customer success representative keeps your best customers happy and finds new ways to further the relationship, thus increasing your profits.
  • Sales Manager: The sales manager is the leader of the team, and responsible for making sure the team is meeting their responsibilities and hitting their goals. This person is charged with steering the ship as well as measuring and improving outcomes.

How to Improve a Business's Sales Department

There are many ways to improve a sales department. Depending on your individual business and industry, what will work for you may not work for another business. However, there are a few simple rules you can follow to make sure you are getting the most from your sales department.

First, assess everyone’s skills and make sure team members are in the right place to thrive. Not every personality type is cut out for sales. If you have one or two team members who are consistently underperforming, find out why. Do they dislike working with customers? Or are they perhaps not trained to a high enough standard? Identify any weaknesses and ensure that every team member has the support they need to fulfill their role. Whether done through a training program or coaching by an upper-level team member, it’s crucial that every member of the sales department is properly brought up to speed on their responsibilities. Make sure that nobody on your team is falling through the cracks.

Further, it’s a good idea to look at what training you are providing your sales team. Make sure everyone is on the same page and receiving similar training on the systems of your sales department. There are a variety of training programs available online as well as in-person. Find a program that complements your company’s objectives, and make sure all employees are trained in that program. Consistent, proper training keeps everyone on the same page and allows team members to jump in and help each other out when necessary.

Next, look at what is motivating your team. If your sales department lacks motivation, it’s time to improve the incentives you’re offering. Make sure your incentive programs are targeting your entire sales staff, not just the upper 20 percent. Incentive programs are often unnecessarily complex. Figure out if there is a way to simplify and improve your incentive program to bring more salespeople into the fold. Learn about what motivates your employees and ask them what incentives they would like to see. Not every employee is motivated the same way, so it’s important to find out how you can get the most out of each person in your sales department.

Finally, it’s crucial to reward and recognize success. People like to be recognized for their efforts and rewarded when appropriate. This increases motivation and maintains high morale across the department. A few words of recognition can go a long way, even if a team member hasn’t done quite enough to hit their targets. For example, say you have a team member who is struggling to close deals. You give him further training and he improves his numbers but doesn’t sell quite enough to reach his monthly target. This is a good time for recognition. Acknowledge his hard work and improvement, and encourage him to keep reaching for the goal next time. When employees feel recognized and appreciated, they are willing to work harder and do more for a company. Do not underestimate the power of reward and recognition.

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About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her B.S. in Business from Fordham University and her J.D. from Cardozo. She is a small business owner who has created content for Bank of America, H&R Block, CNBC, AOL and many more.