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The Sales Maturity Model explained. Part 1: Your sales operations

By June 1, 2020 No Comments

Models accelerate implementation. The sales maturity model is one of those amazing designs that, no matter if you are a single startup founder, have 2 people running your sales and marketing, or run a complex sales operation with many people, it will help you win.

The Context

Most startups are tremendously challenged by the COVID-19 related downturn. Prospects are pulling back, your incipient sales pipeline has been wiped off, and you realize you don’t have (in place) what it takes to bring it back. If you can take care of your short term goals, stay in the game, and consider a serious move in your sales operations, with this model you’ll be off to a good start.

When implementing it take your particular case and develop the necessary components that will make you win. I hope you do. 

A model is a roadmap. How can you get where you want if you aren’t able to articulate where you are? Not being clear on how success looks like and what are the stages to get there, makes it very hard to develop a vision, and without a vision -as you may well know- there is no way you can move forwards, or lead others.

The Challenge

When it comes to sales operations, the problem many startups and scale ups face, is to implement systems that work. I mean that really work. If you aren’t quite there yet, and you can’t describe your operation in terms of processes, workflows and specific approaches, plain and simple that is what is holding you back from scaling, growing, consolidating and expanding (these in particular order).  Think of it: what’s going on with your sales operations? What is NOT working and why?

Without a model companies depend on luck and individual performance of sales and marketing people and sales managers. If this is your case, favourable market conditions, a few customers ready to buy “despite” what you do, and your sales and marketing team getting inspired to get things done, are your luck factors. When it comes to sales performance, you’ve probably discovered this: a wrong hire is a terrible mistake, not being able to develop an average sales person into a champion is a terrible thing, not being able to retain a star is awful. Is this happening to you? Either way, depending on individual talent and inspiration of your sales and marketing force translates in erratic performance, which in turn translates in poor forecasting, unpredictable revenue, false promises, disappointment, stress and anxiety. Yeech.

Once you have a model your challenge is implementing it. Taking the time to understand your reality and designing the steps forward is no easy thing. Most founders and managers know that the real challenge is executing a strategy.

It’s true that technology evolves overwhelmingly fast, and no one can really tell the marvels we’ll see tomorrow. But hey, despite the great speeds everything is moving at, on the sales and marketing side there are a few well established notions and best practices for you to use.

The problem here is, scenarios are generic, and not sharp enough to adapt to specific contexts, industries, geographies. Most importantly, to the specific context of the buyer (a person) in question. This is one of the main reasons you lose deals.

There are exceptions, but that’s why they call them so. To me it is dramatic that smart, action driven and talented people able to create value for their buyers with great solutions, fail to deliver on their promises when failing to execute a consistent go to market strategy. This is called market risk (as opposed to the product risk).

The model.

So, the Sales (Operations) Maturity Model has been around for a while, it’s amazing and it stands the test of time. Have things changed since it was designed? Absolutely. For me the 3 most critical changes are.

First, today sales can hardly be understood with a high degree of integration with the marketing function. For successful companies this is evident, yet many startups and scale ups set sail with an outdated “business template” where sales teams work independently from marketing teams, and are measured by very different sets of metrics. 

Second aspect is that -you guessed it- today more and more of the customer journey happens on the digital space. Gone are the times when the sales organization had “all the information” about product, market, competitors and advantages. If digital transformation accelerated this, the COVID-19 outbreak is really pushing things forward: the whole customer journey can happen online, or at least remotely.

Third, numerous digital solutions enable marketing and sales today, more than we’d be able to see and test! The so-called Martech Stack is growing and evolving overwhelmingly. Understand this though: technology is amazing for automating processes, but if you don’t know and understand the process you’re dealing with, technology will hardly give you that. Automating chaos is not, and has never been a good idea.

Level 1: Chaos

Poorly defined processes – unpredictable results

Sales Environment

Processes are ad-hoc and undocumented. Confusion


  • Over-commits and under-delivers
  • No sales process in place
  • Inconsistent performers are the norm
  • Unable to repeat sales process
  • Don’t know why what works, works (or doesn’t)
  • Zero or minimal support from a marketing perspective

Sales Management

  • Crisis-driven, operations are reactive, and look improvised, no efficient planning or organized execution
  • No consistent hiring process
  • Expense budgets exceed
  • Unpredictable forecast with pipelines off  by >25%
  • Zero or little notion of a customer journey
  • Unclear channel strategy, target segments or Ideal Customer Profile
  • Stick to what we already know

Level 2: Defined

Standardized & documented processes – Some repeatability

Sales Environment

  • Some processes are developed and documented
  • Adoption is low, if tracked at all
  • Environment a mix or optimism and dealing with the unknown


  • Success and execution varies widely from rep to rep
  • Sales accomplishments are repeatable with similar campaigns and scope but managers cannot depend on outcomes
  • Performance/Success depends on personal skills and motivation
  • Still depends heavily on cold prospecting with no marketing support.

Sales Management

  • Performance tracking largely qualitative
  • Whatever quantitative analysis in place is unreliable and not tied to decision making
  • Processes in early inception, probably not properly documented
  • Testing and learning but with no “scientific approach”, not in a systematic way
  • Strategy still broad and fuzzy, including metrics
  • Sales and Marketing disaligned, inefficiencies, disconnect and wasted resources start to become evident.

Level 3: Reportable

Basic Sales Management – Adopted Processes – Lagging indicators

Sales Environment

  • Processes are thorough, adopted and use is evident
  • Organizational commitment to driving process improvement
  • Many processes run on manual or “spreadsheet” mode.


  • Sales Force is aware of measurements and data needs
  • Sales force changes in response to marketplace development without organized resistance
  • If there is a marketing department or team, still fighting their own fight.

Sales Management

  • Quantitative measurements drive performance, but majority of metrics still lagging indicators
  • Strategy defined but not comprehensive or balanced, e.g. new business vs. cross-selling/up selling
  • Aware of best in class methodology but not executing.
  • Limited knowledge or vision to find tools to automate processes
  • Increased awareness own limitations, but not compelling case to increase Sales Ops budget
  • Sales and Marketing incipient alignment start making the case for a transformation
  • Awareness of the impact to switch to an ABM framework, but still done by exception.

Level 4: Manageable

Quantitative Sales Management – Leading Indicators – Early Problem detection

Sales Environment

  • Leading sales indicators connected to sales process
  • Sales and corporate strategy aligned
  • Sales, marketing and customer success strategy and goals aligned: awareness that the team is stronger than any individual.


  • Best practices proactively found & shared: a learning organization
  • Rep-provided data quality consistently improves
  • High energy, sense of achievement and frequent wins.

Sales Management

  • Data and quantity increase in depth and complexity enabling a degree of business intelligence
  • Some execution of best practice methodologies
  • Management shifts focus to identifying future improvement opportunities, not reporting on the business
  • Sales and Marketing are aligned, share goals but still act independently. As integration progresses Marketing starts taking a leadership role
  • Manage campaigns and sales projects, not fragmented deal based efforts.
  • First version of an Account-based marketing (ABM) framework in place
  • Awareness of the value of developing individuals
  • Awareness of the value of balancing short/long term initiatives.

Level 5: Predictable

Casual Sales Management – Change tolerant – External benchmark

Sales Environment

  • Shift in emphasis to continuous process improvement
  • Processes are nimble, adaptable & innovative
  • Innovation cycles in place to automate and streamline processes.
  • Precise and clear feedback loops.


  • Efficient and expedite onboarding
  • Sales Force is empowered and aligned
  • A Player retention over 90%
  • Adapts fast, implements fast according to strategy
  • Is proactive, does not need to be managed, but led
  • High proficiency in getting the most of a periodically updated mar-tech-stack.

Sales Management

  • Management understands causality and predicts performance
  • Leading indicator sales metrics are benchmarked against external data & against peer groups
  • Best practice execution of all methodologies
  • Solid Account-based approach implemented
  • Sales and Marketing are orchestrated, deploying well designed plays
  • Strategy implementation is effective to cope with new products, geographies, target groups, or with seasonal cycles
  • Sales and Marketing are integrated, working as a single team in a “customer acquisition/success cycle”.

Take Action!

Use this model to assess your operations today. There is no shortcut on mastering sales operations! Involve your team, your board and your customers, and assess your metrics. Need help? Get it with no delay, from me or a mentor you really trust. This is about process, people, metrics, systems, this is about your target market getting the solution your company want to offer the world… Get hands on and get your way out of the downturn.

Want to drill down on this topic? Check out these…

The Sales maturity model explained. Part 2: Your sales communication

Take the SALES MATURITY SURVEY and benchmark your Sales Operations