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Guerrilla style sales in an urban startup jungle

Hierarchy Structures

Tall vs Flat Hierarchical Sytems

It seems to be very en vogue right now for startups to be promoting a "flat hierarchy" approach to business, even in their job advertisements. I am a strong believer that a productive, efficient sales team must have a a "tall hierarchy" in order to maximise results.

So what happens when the two connect?

Unrest, weaker results, and demotivation.

In order to try and solve this issue, we need to look at the underlying benefits of each model.

Tall Structures

Usually found in larger groups, or businesses, Tall hierarchies consist of one long chain of command, similar to what is found in the military. As the number of employees grows, so does the number of managers and the number of levels within the structure.

Pro's
  • Clarity of management, control and ownership
  • Close supervision is easy to achieve
  • It's very simple to reward employees based on success due to clear recording of progress
Con's
  • As the structure grows, so does the difficulty in communication
  • Potential deadline misses due to the need for all DM's approvals
Flat Structures
Flat structures tend to be adopted by small companies, each level within the structure manages a broader group or area. The emphasis here is placed on empowering employees, autonomy and encouraging creativeness to solve problems through collaborations.
Pro's
  • Having more information available to more people, better solutions to tasks can be found.
  • Extremely flexible to change
  • Quick decision making and information flow
  • Increased democracy and employee autonomy
Con's
  • Workloads can easily be overflowing
  • It's impossible to be an expert in everything
  • Distrust in authority due to lack of clear guidelines
  • Difficulty in reporting due to the amount of tasks each employee is working with
So which works best?

Based on the pro's and con's of each model it's easy to see that a telesales team who has tight deadlines, with similar tasks each month, which should be scalable, benefits greatly from a tall structure.

Having said that, a startup organisation as a whole should always be looking to maintain strong creativity and flexibility to maintain a competitive advantage and would therefore benefit from a flat structure.

How do we maximise the benefits of both structures?

In order to run a successful "tall model" within a larger "flat model" it is imperative strict guidelines are place within the C-Level teams. 

My best results in every industry have come from a sales floor with a door that closes during main operating hours. This means there is no interruption from other departments. It's very easy for the business to immediately worry that this disconnection weakens communication and slows down the knowledge sharing between departments. And this can be the case if you do not put in measures to combat this.

When a telesales team is working towards a goal it is imperative they have concentrated working hours. A very uniform approach to call times, call volumes and style has proved effective time and again. Knowledge sharing can be done via a weekly meeting with each department. In fact, I have seen greater results having short, 15 minute meetings with each department on a Monday (sacrificing up to 3 hours of selling time) and then closing the sales department off for the week, than i have with an open door policy.

Imagine if you will, a salesperson having a bad day, three potential sales are lost, three are still on the table. Suddenly they receive a customer care agent at their desk, who has just been shouted at for an hour by an irate customer. After the discussion that sales people will most likely go into the next three sales demotivated, unhappy and lose them all. 

Can your business afford that to happen? 

A sales team must always retain a tall structure. Their sales manager should give the employees time, at least once a week, to solve common issues together, regarding sales and the company as a whole. They should be kept up to date, have the option to offer feedback of each other, and of their manager via quarterly 360 reviews.

A startup with a flat hierarchy must respect the structure of the sales team, and acknowledge it is a different setup, with different pay grades and emphasis than themselves. This starts at the top.

For most employees in a business, the CEO is the boss, #1, head honcho.

The danger here comes when a the tall structure gets challenged, or undermined. It can bring the entire hierarchy into question and has an immediate impact on results.

In my time as a sales person, I have seen, in different business, a stressed out C-Level run into a sales floor and start throwing his weight around. This challenges the hierarchy, it demotivates staff and it makes results worst.

When hiring a Sales manager remember one thing:

In a sales team, the boss, the #1, the head honcho, must be the Sales Manager - King of the Jungle.
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