Sales Team Roles and Responsibilities, and How to Compensate Accordingly

15 min read

Teams are everywhere.Roles are everywhere.

Think about your favorite movie and its cast of characters; or your preferred nightly news crew, your own department at work, and of course the most obvious example, a group like a beloved basketball squad. Teams. All of them. Made up of different roles and positions.

With teams all around you, it’s easy to get caught up thinking that assembling one is easy. But, while grouping people together and labeling them a team isn’t all that difficult, doing so in a way that ensures success is an elusive skill.

When it comes to deciding on your sales team roles and their incentives, three actions will get you headed in the right direction:

  • Specialize responsibilities
  • Understand the context
  • Compensate accordingly

Specialization with each member is key because, without it, you become one-dimensional, falling short of your team’s full potential. We all love Seinfeld, but would it have been as big of a hit if every episode featured only Jerry playing the parts of George, Elaine, and Kramer?

In terms of context—what is the ultimate goal and what are you trying to accomplish given your current standing? A new startup should use five team hires a lot differently than a well-established company would, given that each organization probably has very different needs.

Lastly, if you want to keep your team performing (and on your team, away from competitors), you’ll need to implement personalized compensation (learn more with our complete guide to sales team compensation). If Tom Brady’s sole compensation was tied to something he had no control over, like the Patriot’s defense grabbing interceptions, he’d probably opt for a more lucrative offer elsewhere; one that rewarded him for actual touchdowns thrown.

  1. There should be a number of specialized sales positions that together, tackle the needs at the time.
  2. Tasks vary in importance throughout a company’s life cycle, and the sales team roles should adapt accordingly.
  3. Each sales team role should be compensated in a specific manner; in a way that keeps them personally motivated.

So, where to start? Which specialized sales roles should you have on your team?

What is a Sales Team?

Your sales team is the group of individuals responsible for selling your organization's offerings, both products and services. As a whole, the sales team (or sales force), works together to hit quota.

Sales Team Roles & Responsibilities

Sales roles include the Account Executive, Sales Development Rep, Sales Specialist, Customer Success Rep, and Sales Manager. Just as a sports organization places individuals in specialized roles to give the team the best chance to succeed, so does the sales team, utilizing roles to complement each other as the group strives to reach their goals.

Account Executive

The Account Executive is your traditional sales person, charged with closing deals and bringing in new business. This is the person working with those prospects who have already been qualified with an established interest in the product or service. Given their responsibilities, Account Executives have more impact on the ultimate outcome of a deal than any other member of the sales team.

More details on compensation to come, but depending on how personalized your compensation plan is, a well-rewarded Account Executive can be incented for increasing revenue, market penetration, profit, or improving product mix.

Sales Development Rep

It’s the Sales Development Rep who finds new leads for Account Executives to track, enabling Account Executives to remain focused on finishing deals. Sales Development Reps are able to do so by uncovering leads from a variety of sources, building contact lists, and then reaching out to contacts to gauge their interest.

So, if a person in this role is working efficiently, they are teeing up qualified leads for Account Executives to close more easily. In addition, this is often an entry-level position that acts as a “stepping stone” into other areas of the sales organization. Here are more differences between the Sales Development Rep and the Account Executive.

Building an incentive plan centered on finding new leads to chase is critical to company growth, and will keep Sales Development Reps motivated more than they would be chasing other metrics.

Sales Specialist

The Sales Specialist supports sales by presenting demos and developing proposals. The more complex the sale, the more important it is to have a Sales Specialist present to help with any in-depth industry specific questions and challenges that may arise.

Customer Success Rep

When a sale is made, the Customer Success Rep focuses on renewing that sale, and up-selling current customers with different add-ons, etc. A team of Customer Success Reps guarantees you aren’t losing on-going revenue by tending to your current customers and reducing churn.

A well-built Customer Success Rep incentive plan will recognize the daily consultative outreach and up-selling activities that keep the Customer Success Rep harvesting.

The Sales Manager

Last but not least, every sales team needs a leader, and the best sales teams rely on a Front-line Sales Manager to keep them focused on the deals that matter.

Incentive Structure for Sales Team Members

As mentioned, it’s not enough to put a specialized team together…you need to give careful consideration to how each member is compensated if you want to keep the team together, and performing at high levels.

Account Executive

With the success or failure of the deal hanging on this closer’s abilities, they need to be rewarded for getting the deal done, and held accountable for not bringing it home. 

Things to consider in constructing incentive compensation plans for Account Executives:

Pay Mix

You want to ensure there is sufficient investment to incent Account Executives to pursue new business. Among Xactly customers, we typically see the pay mix for Account Executives as 50/50 or 60/40.

Upside & Plan Mechanics

There should be sufficient acceleration to get the attention of the Account Executive and reward them for landing new customers. As mentioned previously, we often see top performers (i.e., top 10%) earn 3x more incentive pay than those performing at target.

Sales Development Rep

In some businesses, the sales reps who search for qualified leads may be known as cold callers, in others, they are called Sales Development Reps. Whatever the position is titled at your company, this role creates the opportunity for the sale, but is not the actual person closing the deal.

Things to consider in constructing the compensation plan for Sales Development Reps:

OTE and Pay Mix

Sales Development Rep roles will typically have lower on-target earnings than Account Executives or Customer Success Reps due to the entry-level nature of their role. In addition, their pay mix should be less aggressive than an Account Executive because they have less influence over the final result. 

Plan Components

Consider utilizing a portion of their incentive pay on passing leads to Account Executives, and a portion on the amount for which final deals close. That way, you are rewarding for your ultimate goal and the part of the Sales Development Rep in the process, which is to generate leads.

Sales Specialist

Because Sales Specialists aren’t the ones closing the deal, their pay mix should be less aggressive than that of the Account Executives on which they depend. However, in some cases they may be the final presenter of the product to the customer, so you will want to consider a more aggressive pay mix than you have for your Customer Success Reps.

Things to consider in constructing compensation plans for Sales Specialists:

  • How technical is your product vs. your potential customer?
  • Is it a difficult demo? Is the product or service you are selling to perspective customers new or established?
  • Will the support person need to respond to competitive claims during demos?

Customer Success Rep

Instead of focusing on the deal “right now,” Customer Success Reps need to make mid-term and long-term plans for their accounts. A team of Customer Success Reps can focus on keeping customers happy and finding new ways to do business with them. However, because their role in the decision-making process is diminished compared to the Account Executive, Customer Success Rep’s plans should reflect their role in the selling process.

Things to consider in constructing compensation plans for Customer Success Reps:

Pay Mix and Upside

Customer Success Reps manage existing customers and thus their role is not as risky as an Account Executive who must get new business to get paid. Given this, it is natural to have Customer Success Reps utilize a less aggressive pay mix as well as less upside. This incentive plan design recognizes the lower risk nature of the Customer Success Rep position.

Incentive Plan Components and Weights

You also want to reward Customer Success Reps for their harvest, that is upsells or add-ons to orders. Yet if rewards tilt too much in this direction, you may be encouraging unnecessary upsells that could be a disservice to customers. Maintaining balance between the retention and the upsell ensure you reward their primary goal as well as recognize exceptional efforts.

The Sales Manager

The Front-line Sales Manager is typically measured on similar measures as the team they manage, with potential additional components that are relevant for a managerial role. This alignment ensures that the Sales Manager is steering their ship appropriately (one of many top sales manager qualities) and that all the reps they manage row in the right direction.

Things to consider in constructing compensation plans for Sales Managers:

Pay Mix and Upside

Part of being a Front-line Sales Manager is accepting responsibility for a team. As a part of that responsibility, they need to focus on improving sales coaching skills and bettering reps versus closing business. Because of this, a manager’s pay mix is typically less aggressive than the reps that report to them. Also, it is not unusual for top sales reps to earn more than their managers. 

Plan Components

As previously mentioned, Sales Managers should be well-aligned with the components of those above. At many companies, reps may not have control over pricing and discounting policies. In these cases, often it makes sense to have the rep be measured on a revenue plan component while the Front-line Sales Managers should be measured on a margin or pricing component.

Moving Forward with Your Sales Team

With all of this, putting together your sales team requires more than hiring individuals to fill titles. It’s crucial you consider the specifics of each person’s tasks, how those responsibilities move the team towards the given goal, and how to properly reward each member for doing so.