At first glance, the world of sales might seem simple: it’s all about selling products or services as much as possible.
Start working in any sales role, however, and you’ll quickly learn that’s not the case. Sales is full of written (and sometimes unwritten) rules, and one of the most important in any organization are the sales rules of engagement.
Rules of engagement establish guidelines and boundaries for how sales reps should interact with and approach potential customers and internal stakeholders.
These relationships can make or break an organization’s success, so it’s important not just to get the rules right - but to make sure everyone understands why they’re in place.
This article explores:
- What the sales rules of engagement are
- Common rules of engagement used by sales teams internally and externally
- Best practices and things to remember when establishing rules of engagement
- What to do if rules of engagement are broken
- The enablement community’s view on rules of engagement
Let’s dive in!👇
What are the sales rules of engagement?
In the context of sales, rules of engagement are sets of guidelines that define how sales reps should interact with prospects and customers, with each other, and with other departments within the company.
Rules of engagement are typically created by sales management or leadership, and are designed to ensure that an organization’s sales process is efficient, effective, and aligned with the company's overall goals.
These rules are especially important when it comes to areas such as:
- Lead assignment
- Territory management
- Cross- and up-selling procedures
If you don’t get these areas right, you might end up with friction between sales reps over who gets the credit (and commission) for closing a deal.
With commission often being 50% or more of a rep’s pay, lead and territory ownership can quickly become a major sticking point across your organization.
Rather than focusing on how sales teams interact internally, other rules of engagement may focus instead on how teams engage with potential buyers and customers. These rules could cover areas such as:
- Pricing and discount policies
- Lead qualification
- How (and how often) to communicate with prospects
- Post-sale handovers
While these are areas which rules of engagement frequently cover, anything related to the smooth running of an organization’s sales processes and practices could be included among the rules.
Common sales rules of engagement
As we mentioned, rules of engagement will vary depending on an organization’s needs, growth stage, market, competitors, team size, and more.
However, there will be some common threads across companies to ensure there’s as little friction as possible during the sales process. Let’s dive into some example rules of engagement for each of the categories we mentioned earlier:
Who owns which leads? How are leads assigned to reps? Two big questions that you need to have well-defined answers for in order to avoid controversy and confusion among your sales team.
Rules of engagement around lead assignment might look like:
- Leads generated from the company website are assigned to the sales rep in the territory where the lead is located.
- If a lead is generated from marketing campaign X, it’s assigned to the rep with the highest qualification rate for that type of lead.
- Leads from existing customers are assigned to the sales rep who is already managing that customer’s account.
- If a rep has made meaningful contact with a lead, they own it until the buying process concludes, regardless of who originally received the lead.
- If a lead goes "stale" after a defined period of no activity, it becomes unowned and can be distributed to another rep.
- Contact with high-level executives or decision makers (C-level, VPs) immediately makes a rep the owner of that account, even if another rep had earlier low-level contacts
- Should two salespeople approach the same lead, the rep who logs it in the CRM first gets priority.
Having clearly defined rules surrounding territories, and which sales reps are responsible for certain territories and the leads within, helps to avoid conflict.
Examples of rules of engagement around territories might include:
- Reps are not allowed to prospect or sell to customers in another sales rep's territory without permission.
- Territories are periodically rebalanced based on workforce changes, market conditions, and evolving customer needs.
- When territories are redesigned or reassigned, there will be a transition period of X months for handover of accounts and sharing of contacts.
- If a deal spans multiple territories, commission will be split equally between the sales reps involved.
- Disputes over territories and leads being potentially poached will be mediated by a sales manager.
Cross- and up-selling procedures
Cross-selling and up-selling are powerful weapons in any organization’s arsenal. Increasing the amount that existing accounts are spending is critical, especially in uncertain markets, but it’s important to have some rules in place regarding how reps do that.
Examples of these rules could include:
- Limit cross-selling suggestions to X number of times per interaction or sales cycle.
- Reps should not disparage starter or basic packages while upselling and instead focus on the additional value of higher-end offerings.
- Sales reps must tailor their cross-selling and upselling recommendations to the individual customer's needs and budget
Pricing and discount policies
Pricing and discounting can make or break a deal.
While on one hand a rep might be tempted to keep knocking the number down to encourage a prospect to agree to purchase, offering too many discounts, too often, can devalue your product and make your original price seem inauthentic.
For that reason, it’s important to have rules dictating how pricing and discounting is approached in your company.
Examples of rules of engagement surrounding discounting include:
- Reps must offer all customers the same initial pricing for the company's products or services.
- Reps are not authorized to offer bundled pricing without approval from a sales manager.
- Discounts greater than 10% must receive a manager’s approval before being offered to a prospective customer.
Lead qualification is one of the most important parts of any sales process, but without clear guidelines, what actually counts as a qualified lead can become murky and confusing to reps.
While these details will be part of whatever qualification framework the organization uses, the sales team rules of engagement may detail some of the most important qualification rules.
Examples could include:
- A lead must have a valid email address and phone number in order to be qualified.
- Reps should thoroughly qualify leads within X days/weeks of receiving them to determine their value.
- A lead must be interested in learning more about the company's products or services in order to be qualified.
- Low-scoring leads marked "cold" after qualification attempts should be cycled back to marketing for further nurturing.
- Excessive time should not be spent on leads that clearly fall outside ideal customer profiles (ICPs) or are years away from making purchases.
- There is a limit of X unproductive sales calls to unqualified leads before turning them over.
Communication with prospects
Simply put, successful sales is all about communication with prospects - which means it’s critical to have rules in place that allow for this communication to be ethical, meaningful, respectful, and effective.
Every interaction that a prospective customer has with your organization and its salespeople will leave an impression.
Word of mouth spreads quickly, and if you don’t provide a positive experience, you’ll quickly lose the ability to build trust and gain a long-term reputation among your target audience.
Here’s some examples of possible rules of engagement in regards to how your reps engage with prospects:
- All reps should use the sales team’s email template for initial outreach to prospects.
- Limit cold call attempts to X times per week if unable to make contact. Leave a voicemail no more than once per week.
- If no contact is made after X attempts via email and phone call over the course of Y months, cease contact in order to not pester unresponsive contacts.
- Reply to prospect inquiries within X business hours, even if just to acknowledge receipt and indicate follow-up timing.
- Use ethical sales practices and never make false or exaggerated claims about the company’s product or the potential return on investment it can bring.
- Communication should be personalized rather than generic.
- Sales content shared with prospects should be value-led and appropriate for the stage of the buyer journey the prospect is at.
- Stick to the company’s agreed-upon sales cadence when contacting prospects unless you have explicit permission.
Just because your sales rep closed a deal, it doesn’t mean the work is done! Get the post-sale handover between sales and customer success and/or account management wrong, and your new client’s experience starts off in the worst possible way.
It’s important to have consistent rules in place for how this handover happens to ensure that clients start their journey with you in a positive and professional manner.
Rules of engagement regarding post-sale handovers may include:
- After closing a deal, schedule a handoff meeting with customer success to introduce them to the account within X days.
- Sales reps should attend the first X early renewal discussions to reinforce relationships and reiterate value delivered.
- Disclose any concessions, discounts, or non-standard terms agreed to during negotiations that account managers or customer success should know.
Best practices for sales rules of engagement
Now you know what rules of engagement are and why they’re necessary, as well as having seen examples of common areas covered by these rules.
When establishing rules of engagement for your sales team, there are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure that the rules are understood and followed by everyone in the organization.
Many rules of engagement deal with sensitive topics to reps, such as their commission and crediting. This means that it’s important to involve reps in the process, so that they feel listened to and represented.
The last thing you want is for reps to feel like rules regarding their pay packet have been “imposed” on them without any say on their part.
Make sure the rules are easy to understand and find
Rules can only be followed if everyone knows what they are, and the same goes for sales rules of engagement.
For starters, it might be worth compiling all the rules into a handbook or document that’s easily accessible in your company’s content management system (CMS), for example. If you don’t have a CMS, a Google Drive folder might just do the trick.
Make sure every rep knows where to find them if they need to refer back to them. Perhaps more importantly, ensure that every rep knows that the rules of engagement exist!
Whether they’re incorporated into their onboarding process, or explained by a manager after their first call, reps need to be made aware of the rules of engagement before they can follow them.
Addressing broken rules
It’s important to have processes in place for when the rules of engagement are broken.
The consequences will naturally vary in severity depending on the nature of the rule that was broken, but for fairness’ sake, it’s better to have these laid out than made up on a case-by-case basis.
A rule on lead ownership being broken and leading to a dispute between reps over commission might need to be mediated by a sales manager, whereas a rep who didn’t qualify a lead properly might just need to be coached.
What’s important is that your teams feel these processes are fair, adequate, and not arbitrary.
The community’s view
Our bustling Slack community played host to an interesting discussion on best practices for lead ownership between outbound and inbound sales teams, and how rules of engagement should be structured in these instances:
Whitney Nikander asked:
“How do you define a meaningful connection that determines lead ownership when there are multiple points of entry?
“For example, an outbound AE reached out to a contact on their assigned list three times last week with no response, but this week the contact signed up for a free webinar and was directed to one of our inbound reps.
“The AE never made contact, but the inbound lead is likely attributed to the outbound AE's outreach. Who gets it?”
Nick Ziech shared that he believes the key is just consistency:
“If you do something like 'last rep to touch' then there will be times where it goes the other way as well, if your volume is high enough - if someone stops by a booth and then converts from an outbound rep's touch, for example.
“I'd define meaningful connection as something where you know you have their attention. Three or more emails opened, time spent on a marketing asset, or a long time on a landing page or blog, but it's so tough to really know what's happening that I just lean towards consistency.”
Brett J added his two cents:
“There's a case to be made for having the outbound rep running with it because, in this instance, it's feasible that the customer registered for the webinar based on the email/voicemails the outbound rep made.
“On the flip side, if inbound reps have very few leads to work, this could really sting. One approach I've seen in the past is having the outbound rep 'own' the lead for a certain amount of time (say a week or two) which allows them to work the lead even if the customer reaches out to the inbound team.
“After that, inbound would work the lead if the customer reached out. That approach might be very difficult to implement, but it's something to consider.”
To read more discussions like this one from your enablement peers, and even take part in them yourself, join our Slack community - home to thousands of enablement professionals.