Effective Methods of Determining Sales Force Size

In most companies, the sales force is the most critical part of the business; thus determining the sales force size is critical in planning for sales governance. Although the corporate sales team is one of the most valued assets of the company, it can also be expensive to maintain. Increasing the size of the sales force may increase sales volume but at a higher cost to the company. It is therefore necessary to determine the optimal sales force size. The size of the sales force will also affect territory design.

The three most commonly used methods to determine sales force size are as follows:

Breakdown Method

This is the simplest method among the three. In this method, each member of the corporate sales team is assumed to possess the same level of productivity. In order to determine the size of the sales force needed, the total sales figure forecasted for the company is divided by the sales likely to be generated by each individual.

However, this method fails to account for differences in the ability of salespeople and the difference in potential of each market or territory. It treats the sales force as a function of the sales volume, and does not take profitability into account.

Workload Method

The workload method is also known as the buildup method. In this method, the total workload (i.e., the number of hours required to serve the entire market) is estimated. This is divided by the selling time available per salesperson to forecast the size of the sales force. This method is commonly used since it is easy to understand and to recognize the effort required to serve different categories of customers.

However, this method also has some shortcomings. It assumes that all accounts in the same category require the same effort. Other differentiating factors such as cost of servicing, gross margins, etc. are not considered after the accounts are categorized. It also assumes that sales persons are equally efficient, which is generally not true.  One way to overcome this shortcoming is to adjust the sales force size, determined in the last step, for efficiency. The sales force can be classified into different categories based on their efficiency and the actual number of sales persons required can then be calculated with this adjusted number.

Incremental Method

The incremental method is the most precise method to calculate the sales force size. The underlying concept is to compare the marginal profit contribution with the incremental cost for each sales person. The optimal sales force size as per the incremental method is when the marginal profit becomes equal to the marginal cost and the total profit is maximized. Beyond the optimal sales force size, the profit reduces on addition of an extra sales person. Therefore, sales people need to be added as long as the incremental profit exceeds the incremental cost of adding sales people. The main shortcoming associated with this approach is that it is difficult to estimate the additional profit generated by the addition of one salesperson and is therefore difficult to develop.

Thus sales force needs to be properly organized, motivated and compensated in order to have the right size to do the workload, alignment to cover all needs, and keeping them happy and selling. At the end of the day, they are the ones who get the customer to give up their money for the company’s product or service.

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