Why You Should Replace Your Sales Reps with Ambassadors

Are you building a new product and growing a sales team at your startup business? If you’re using the traditional sales model, you may be losing a ton of customers. Yup, you’re not growing nearly as fast as possible.

It’s because your sales team isn’t making the impact it could be making. Over the years, its role has become confined to a narrow band in the customer lifecycle. And it’s not just the sales team. Marketers, customer support, and project management have been separated to handle different points of the customer experience. This may help people build deeper skill sets, but it sacrifices one key element that’s critical to growing your business.

It prevents you from educating your customers. Education is the key to getting sale after sale. It helps build trust and relationships with your target market so that customers feel more comfortable buying from you. You educate them about the market and the available options; and you genuinely try to solve their problems, even if it means they might buy a different product.

Right now, your sales reps can’t provide this value.

tiger at the fence

Right now, fences separate your team and prevent them from providing more value to your customers.

To solve this problem, you need ambassadors instead of sales reps.

Ambassadors don’t just fill orders — they’re responsible for the entire customer lifecycle. They handle marketing, sales, and support. They are the face of your company.

That may sound great, but how do you actually implement something like that?

Well, I sat down with Josh Little, who has overcome this challenge as a founder of two companies: Maestro eLearning and Bloomfire. We dived into these concepts, and I’ve distilled them into this report. Josh gets full credit for all insights and awesomeness. Any and all errors are mine.

Markets Have Shifted (and So Should You)

With the rise of the glorious interwebs, customer behavior has changed radically. Historically, gathering information about anything required an enormous amount of time and resources. Talking to sales reps was the ideal way to learn about product features and benefits, learn about the market, and see how everything worked.

As we all know, that’s no longer the case. With Google, Twitter, Facebook, and every other platform we use to connect, we have an unlimited access to just about any topic.

This means we’re more informed as consumers than we’ve ever been.

And this shift has hit the sales team hard.

These days, consumers usually know more about the products they’re buying than the sales person they’re talking to. We’ve become self-serve buyers. By the time we talk to a sales person, we’ve usually already made a decision.

So the role of the sales rep has become super constrained. Customers show up, pick the product they want, and away they go. Often, the sales rep does nothing more than take orders.

Traditionally, sales reps played a very different role. They educated consumers and helped them find the right product. The best sales reps were great educators. And education is still the best way to sell. But sales reps have been pigeon-holed into a role that only closes sales.

learn

Educate first, close second.

It’s time to expand the role of the sales reps once again so that they can truly educate their market.

But before we make that leap, I need to warn you.

In established companies and industries, it might be very difficult to expand the role of sales reps. Large companies with a long track record of success don’t have much incentive to change. After all, they’re already successful. Even if changing will help get them to the next level, they’ve become risk averse since they have so much to lose. A large shift like this one might not be in the cards.

If you’re in a small company or a startup, go forth! Nothing’s stopping you from making a huge impact, my friend.

How to Redefine Sales to Provide More Value to the Customer

At every company, there’s a customer lifecycle. The lifecycle starts when a customer becomes aware of your business for the first time, and it extends to the point where the customer decides to leave. Every purchase, phone call, action, and site visit is a point along this lifecycle. Now, depending on who you talk to, there are all sorts of different names for different stages along the way. They all follow a format similar to this:

  1. Aware
  2. Interested
  3. First-time customers
  4. Regular customers
  5. Passionate customers

Most sales reps interact with customers only between the interested and first-time purchase stages.

But ambassadors take the lead for the ENTIRE lifecycle. Do they build marketing campaigns? Yup. What about closing deals? Absolutely. And do they handle support requests to keep customers coming back? Of course.

sprouts

From beginning to end, ambassadors help the customer.

Now your team can get back to the best method of selling: education.

Why not just have marketers educate, sales close, and support provide… support?

When we break the functions into different silos, we impair our ability to build a real relationship with customers. They get introduced to John on a webinar, talk to Susan to make a purchase, and get support help from Amy when problems arise.

It also makes education (the key to selling effectively) weaker. When John, the marketer, jumps on a webinar and tries to educate his audience, he doesn’t know what’s working and what’s not. All the questions and objections are handled by the sales rep, Susan. And neither of them gets to see what happens when the customer starts using the product and grows into a loyal fan (or decides to leave). That gets thrown to Amy.

Becoming a great educator depends on feedback. You need to know when your methods click with your audience, when they don’t, and whether or not you’re setting expectations correctly. You also need to deeply understand your customers, so you can give them the right material at the right time.

Without a complete picture of that customer lifecycle, your education will never be as good as it could be. And your sales will suffer because of it.

Ambassadors don’t have this problem. They may not know as many closing techniques or marketing strategies, but their ability to understand the customer more than makes up for that.

Bringing Ambassadors to Your Own Company

Great. Fantastic. Ambassadors sound awesome. So how do you go about implementing all this?

There are two main approaches, depending on the size of your company.

1. Brand New Startups

It’s just you and your co-founder cranking away in the basement. Sure, it feels like you have to move mountains with a toy shovel for every inch of progress. But you’re in luck because building out the ambassador role is as easy as it gets in this stage.

As soon as you start itching to build out marketing, sales, or support teams, stop. There’s no need to try to decide which function is more important right now; you’re going to hire all three at once with one person: your ambassador.

Once you find someone who can perform all 3 functions, you’ll hand the whole thing over. That person will be completely responsible for acquiring customers and keeping them happy.

Have your ambassador attend conferences, write blog posts, run your email marketing, close deals, and respond to support requests. If it involves the customer, that person is in charge of it.

This is pretty similar to how many startups grow initially, especially in tech. There’s the technical co-founder that grows the engineering team and the business co-founder that handles marketing, sales, and support. But instead of growing separate teams on the business side, you’ll grow the ambassador team. Find someone who can take the lead, and then add more hands as your customer base grows.

What about scale? How can we keep growing the ambassador team beyond the scope of a single manager? Break up the team in whatever way makes the most sense for your business model. Customer type might work for you. So if you’re targeting startups, agencies, and freelancers, build an ambassador team for each. Geography or company size are other great options.

But don’t break up the team by skill. That’ll put you right back into the conventional marketing-sales-support model.

2. Small Teams

You’ve got traction and you’ve already started building out your marketing, sales, and support teams. How do you backtrack and build out an ambassador team?

First, map the customer lifecycle for your business. Here’s an example:

  1. Find blog post
  2. Sign up for newsletter
  3. Attend webinar
  4. Request a personal consultation
  5. Project proposal from sales
  6. Delivery of project or product setup
  7. Support

Then figure out who owns each step. In this case:

  1. Find blog post – Marketing
  2. Sign up for newsletter – Marketing
  3. Attend webinar – Marketing
  4. Request a personal consultation – Sales
  5. Project proposal from sales – Sales
  6. Delivery of project or product setup – Project management
  7. Support – Customer support

Now it’s your goal to slowly expand the role of sales. The key is to expand slowly. Moving too fast will overwhelm your team and demoralize everyone. Before you know it, you’ll reverse the changes because everyone’s so frustrated with the whole process.

Merging marketing and sales is a great first step. Start having marketing be responsible for some of the leads all the way through to the close. And have your sales team do webinars and blog posts. Over time, you’ll be able to merge both teams together. Once that’s complete, merge other roles one at a time. Feel free to break it up into even smaller steps as needed.

Bottom Line

The key to sales and the growth of your company is education. It enables you to build relationships and truly understand the needs of your customers.

And the only way to educate effectively is to take responsibility for the entire customer lifecycle. You’ll need to merge the roles of marketing, sales, and support into an ambassador role.

If you’re just getting started and are looking to make your first hire, definitely find someone who can be your ambassador. And if you’ve already got a team split into different functions, start with sales and slowly expand that role until you have a full team of ambassadors.

Before long, you’ll be closing more deals and delivering heroic amounts of customer satisfaction.

Would you like to hear the interview? You can listen to the whole thing here. Enjoy! :)

If you’ve experimented with redefining the role of your sales team, definitely let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear how it has worked for you.

About the Author: Lars Lofgren is the KISSmetrics Marketing Analyst and has his Google Analytics Individual Qualification (he’s certified). Learn how to grow your business at his marketing blog or follow him on Twitter @larslofgren.

  1. Excellent post, Thanks.

    How would you handle cross selling though?
    Let’s imagine the company offers products A & B, with 2 distinct Ambassadors, and yet those 2 products are somehow complementary. How to you get to switch from Ambassador A to B and still make sense to your clients ?

    • Glad you liked it Vivien!

      It might be better to train both ambassadors on each product. Cross sells should be split up when there’s two entirely different organizations selling the two products. But if the rest of the team is working on both, so should the ambassadors.

    • Vivien,

      It shouldn’t matter. As long as the client’s needs are taken care of from inception to completion.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. Going to check out the interview. Personally, I am much better and I enjoy the actual operations of my business rather than the actual sales and being the face of the company…but I don’t have a partner/co-founder to do those things.

    I was thinking of hiring sales, account managers, support etc. but having an “all in one” employee, the ambassador, sounds like the better idea.

    Do you think it’s better to have someone with the sales skills and teach them the technical side of things or get a technical person and train them with sales skills?

    -Amir

    • Hi Amir!

      The one instance where it might make sense to look for tech skills first is if you’re selling a VERY complicated product. This can happen with enterprise deals where you’re selling to the CTO.

      Otherwise, I would look for someone with a strong business background that communicates exceptionally well. They don’t need to have deep skills in sales (they’ll pick it up with enough practice and a few books) but they should definitely know how to persuade those around them.

  3. This makes a lot of sense!

    @Vivien
    I know in large companies (like Google and Intel where I used to work) it was always a problem having too many points of contact. The customer always wants just a single primary point of contact!

    Even if there are other resources that happen internally (like at Google, someone managing SEM, someone managing display), the customer doesn’t care. They want someone who can make the stuff happen.

    It was also bad when something would be happening with a customer on one side that the other side wasn’t aware of. With this single point of contact, you should be able to avoid these situations!

    And I don’t know, this might just be my personal preference, but I think it’s useful to have people wear multiple hats. This should allow people to not get as bored and there will always be new areas to develop in.

    @Amir
    Well, as someone that comes from the tech side that moved over to sales and marketing, I think it actually depends on your product. For most consumer oriented non-technical products, I don’t think you need a technical background, and to be honest some sales skills can’t really be “taught”. Yes, you can learn them, but some people are just natural relationship builders and sellers. I think that’s actually true for myself – I conceptually understand the concept of building relationships etc. (I did BD at Google for 6 years) and I’m not terrible at it, but I could quickly recognize other people in that role who were just natural at it. [I personally am really bad at small talk]

    On the other hand, if you’re selling chipsets or something technically complex, it could be beneficial to have a technical background so you actually know what you’re talking about.

    Just my 2 cents!

    -Sam

  4. Wow! That’s a lot for an ambassador to take in! But I get your point. It’ll be a lot easier to handle customers that way. Better choose wisely on whom you will give that responsibility.

  5. It really is much, maybe even too much, for an ambassador to taken in. I understand that this way, it could be much easier to cooperate with customers and fulfill their needs. But you will have to be really careful, who you will choose to fill that position, because this position requires a lot of responsibility that you cannot just give to anybody. Great article though, thanks for writing it, Lars.

  6. What a great article! I’ve been in sales for over 10 years and agree that the relationship with the customer thins out and starts to weaken when too many points of contact are involved with the account. One of the issues of implementing this new model is that it can be difficult for one person to be focused on so many aspects of marketing and selling. Also, while marketing and sales are heavily linked, most sales people do not have deep knowledge or marketing tactics (or experience successfully implementing them). I think the best of both worlds would be to encourage (incent) both marketing and sales to work very closely together.

  7. This post has made me more excited about (working in) the future than any other blog I’ve read in the last two weeks. THANK YOU.

  8. I’ve been looking for an ambassador! Not easy to find, but I’m sure the right person will come along.

  9. Good food for thought… I have been a road rep for 30 years. The last 5 years I took my business off the road and on to the computer using V-By technology. Now the company I’ve repped for has asked me to become their “Sales Manager.” Neither of us really knew what that meant in todays climate… My work has been all about re-engaging with their clients, handling questions, selling & trading back product and just being a support in every way possible. After reading this article, I think I’d say I’m an Ambassodor!

  10. Lars, I really enjoyed this article and was hoping you could provide some additional insights into your experience on how companies such as KISSMetrics have made this transition.

    I have been in sales for 10+ years and have found that companies struggle to measure a salespersons performance with anything other than revenue. When a sales person’s compensation and metrics are all focused on signing up new customers, the behavior of your salespeople is focused almost entirely on signing up customers regardless of fit and not customer success.

    As someone that is a strong advocate for focusing on customer success and consider myself an ambassador, I have found that a majority of sales roles measure success only by revenue generation and the additional value an ambassador adds to a customer relationship through education etc is not valued internally.

    How does KISSMetrics measure its ambassadors? What metrics are important other than revenue generation? How does a company quantify the value of having ambassadors vs. traditional sales people?

    Any insight is greatly appreciated.

  11. If I bring you the wrapper from my last roll of Mentos from my artmapent could I get an ambassador card? I would settle for a Mentos Canal Dredger title or even Mentos Monkey Cage Cleaner or Mentos Janitor General . . .I never leave the country (well, unless you count metaphysics, and even then I have a hard time proving it with souvenirs.)

  12. I am building a new product and growing a sales team for my business and i have the same problem what you told in your post.
    After read out your article now I’ve been looking for an ambassador! and i am finding a right person hope i find him/her soon.

    Thanks!

  13. Hey Lars !
    very effective post by you. specially “Bringing Ambassadors to your own company” is literally interesting.
    Thanks.
    Matt

  14. This is a good article, however, I don’t think you should replace sales people w/ ambassadors (customer success managers), but I absolutely think you should implement ambassadors in addition to sales. By adding a customer success team in addition to your sales team you can help free up sales to focus on new business while your customers success team can own the customer to help increase retention, maximize their use of your product, & overall education. This article touches on this point, but I disagree it is one vs the other. In my opinion both are essential. If your sales team is forced to also operate as a customer success team they lose the selling time needed to drive new business.

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