What do you do when a salesperson is working a lead that should belong to someone else?
Any company with multiple salespeople will eventually have to deal with this situation. One of your reps will end up working on a lead that should belong to someone else. It could be because of recent changes to territory, market segment, company size, something else entirely.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to handling these conflicts. Each situation will have to be judged on its own unique set of circumstances. The best way to build judgement is by experiencing different scenarios, and learning from their outcomes. But, hopefully we can discuss a few real-world examples and come away with a greater sense of judgement without having to make mistakes first hand.
(All of these scenarios are real-life examples, but are being presented anonymously, descriptive pronouns may have been altered)
A SaaS company segments their leads by two main categories, Inbound and Outbound. Within these categories they have Enterprise, Mid-Market, SMB, and a relatively new category, eCommerce. Sales reps do the best they can to confirm the lead they working is in the correct category, and are taught to mark a lead “eCommerce” if it is an eCommerce company (has an online store). The outbound team consists of leads that are sourced and created by a Business Development Rep (BDR), with an Account Executive handling intro/demo/closing responsibilities. The deals typically take 30-60 days from BDR first touch to AE close.
With two days left in the quarter, a member of the eCommerce sales team (who is currently short on his quota by 25%) goes through all of the outbound sales opportunities that have closed in the quarter. He finds a closed deal in the CRM for a company that has an online store on their website. While it is not the main business model for the company, the store is nonetheless visible on their website. The deal was sourced by a BDR and then closed by an Account executive in a process that took about 90 days from first touch by the BDR.
This eCommerce rep contacts the Sales Manager for the team who closed the deal. He claims that since the deal has an online store, it should have been sourced to him, and he should get credit for the deal that closed.
What do you do?
An international telecom company segments their (mostly) inside sales team by territory. The Regional Sales Rep responsible for “East of the Mississippi” is looking through the CRM and preparing to make some prospecting calls. He notices a company that he has been cold calling into for close to a year with no progress suddenly has an opportunity in the system with a million dollar potential. The person working it is the West Coast sales rep. He was given this lead by a referral and spoke directly with the decision making contact at this company’s HQ in Connecticut. These conversations have progressed and there is a quote in the system that the decision making contact is considering against competitive proposals.
The Regional Sales Rep goes to his manager and complains that he has been actively trying to prospect into this company for the last year, and the lead should have been given to him.
What do you do?
An enterprise software and professional services company organizes their sales organization by territory and then by market segment. Every quarter, they make some changes as they hire more salespeople, as well as balancing which sales reps are located in each territory/segment based on performance and other factors.
A Sales Rep from the NorthWest US – Enterprise market segment is promoted to a Regional Sales Rep position responsible for the entire East Coast – Enterprise market. She inherits no immediate pipeline in the new role. She has 2 enterprise deals in her NorthWest US – Enterprise pipeline that are forecasted at 90% and have contracts out. She expects them to be closing in the next 30-60 days based on the clients’ budgetary timelines, but both deals have been verbally approved on both sides.
The company is moving a different sales rep from SouthWest US to NorthWest US as part of the re-organization. This rep was not fully ramped and was leaving no existing pipeline in their SouthWest US territory.
What do you do?
In considering the appropriate action for each scenario, it is important to consider there are many different solutions that will solve each. The most correct answers will consider not just what is fair, but also what encourages good behavior, and will have the most positive impact on your sales organization.
The Sales Manager in this example decided to split credit for the deal 50/50 between the eCommerce rep and the Account Executive. So if the deal was for $5k in MRR, each rep was credited with $2.5k MRR.
This seems like a terrible decision by the Sales Manager for a few reasons. One problem is the incentive it creates for the eCommerce rep to poach other team’s deals. Since the rep knows they will receive 50% of a deal even though they didn’t have to do anything, it is worth spending a considerable about of time trying to find these deals in the system. Instead of spending time selling, this rep is now motivated to spend time poaching deals from other people.
This is also a very bad management decision for morale. If the BDR and AE can spend months working on a lead, and then lose 50% of it based on a few minutes of the eCommerce rep complaining, they are not going to be happy.
The Sales Manager for the East-Coast telecom rep decided to allow the West-Coast rep to continue with the opportunity. He reasoned that since a relationship had already been established, it put an unnecessary risk on the opportunity by changing the sales contact. Also, since the lead was a referral, they felt the West-Coast rep was fine to originally pursue it.
This seems like a reasonable decision. With territories as large as half of the USA, there needs to be flexibility as to exactly who can work what leads. Referral leads are very important in B2B sales, and it is common for companies to allow reps to work outside their normal market when referred in. Furthermore, there is likely a significant coaching opportunity here for the East-Coast Rep. Prospecting unsuccessfully into an account over the course of a year that suddenly turns into a million dollar opportunity probably means the East-Coast Rep is not prospecting well.
The sales rep moving into the NorthWest was given the 2 deals to finish. This resulted in the rep receiving the two signed contracts in 2-4 weeks from starting the new role, immediately exceeding her quota for the quarter, and receiving a large commission check. This rep would go on to significantly miss next quarter’s quota, and be released for lack of performance the quarter after.
This situation has a few nuances that make it difficult. The point of a sales reorganization is to better organize and prepare the sales team to take on new customers. If this re-org is not clean and crisp, you are left with reps closing out their old pipelines in their old markets, as well as building a new pipeline in their new market. Instead of organization, you are left with anarchy. That was one of the major reasons this company decided the policy of completely turning over your pipeline was the best way to do it. They didn’t want to have one-offs all over the sales organization.
That said, this still feels like the wrong decision. Turning over your pipeline and starting strong in new territory is important, but once a deal is forecasted at 90% and is in verbal agreement, it doesn’t make sense to take it away from the sales rep. It also creates a dangerous situation for the inheriting rep, where it is easy to lose focus and motivation when you are being given credit for something you didn’t accomplish.