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Updated Jun 25, 2024

Changing the Game: How Deal Desks Are Shaking Up Sales Organizations

Deal desks are specialized sales teams focused on high-value deals. Learn the pros and cons of deal desks and how to utilize them to drive sales.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Not all sales are created equal; some require specialized processing and approval. When the stakes are high and closing the sale is complex, deal desks can help. Deal desks help drive sales engagement, performance and results by providing a centralized department to handle deals that don’t fit into your organization’s traditional sales process

Sales organizations have been using deal desks for several years, but this resource is gaining popularity by creating sales team efficiencies and offering creative solutions for customers. We’ll explore deal desks, their benefits and disadvantages and share how to maximize them to their full potential.

What are deal desks?

A deal desk is a centralized team that facilitates special, high-end deals. It often works with complex cases using a cross-functional team to find solutions slightly outside the box of the standard sales channels. Its goal is to increase sales by ensuring high-value deals quickly move through the sales funnel

Deal desks play a crucial role for companies by providing a mechanism to support nonstandard deal requests. Deal desks also noticeably impact sales-adjacent activities, such as pricing and contracts, that support the deal process. 

Deal desks don’t handle all sales deals. Standard deals should still go through the typical sales process, saving deal desk resources for high-value, complex situations.  

Bottom LineBottom line
To build a positive sales culture in your company, recognize your team’s successes and offer opportunities for continuous growth.

What are deal desk responsibilities?

Deal desks need a high level of authority and empowerment for business decision-making. They must have the information, power and authority to cut through approval red tape and make efficient pricing and contract negotiation decisions.

These are some other deal desk responsibilities:

  • Creating deals: Deal desks assist with complex deal creation, beginning with the proposal.
  • Managing deals: Deal desks manage complex deals through the entire deal process. “Complex” is defined as anything outside the guidelines provided to the sales organization for pricing and contract authority.
  • Approving deals: Deal desks review and approve all deals that pass through your business. 
  • Outlining standard parameters: Deal desks provide and manage “standard deal” parameters and tools the sales organization can leverage. 
  • Handling internal issues: Deal desks serve as the point of contact for contract negotiations and internal deal issue resolution on behalf of the sales organization.
  • Finding solutions: Deal desk participants must be creative and solution-oriented. Deal desks are empowered to find solutions to nonstandard deals that still align with your company’s brand.
  • Making efficient deals: Deal desks reduce a deal’s cycle time from opportunity to execution.
  • Collaborating with other departments: Deal desks actively engage with multiple business units, gathering input to facilitate the deal process.
  • Supporting the sales department: Deal desks allow the sales organization to focus on selling so it can find and close more deals.

Deal desks and your finance team

Before you begin building your finance team, you need to be clear on the relationship it has with other departments in your business, specifically the finance department.

Sometimes within firms, there is conflict between deal desks which are motivated by wanting flexibility on pricing and contract terms and finance teams wanting to manage cash flow and protect profit levels.

This is when leadership is needed from senior and C-suite teams. Decisions on who has operational authority over the other often come down to the skill levels and histories of deal desk teams and finance teams.

For example, if you are confident that your deal desk team will make sales that respect your minimum profit requirements, you might give them authority instead so they can operate with greater flexibility when handling complex sales. If you’re not confident of that, you might want to give authority to your finance team on aspects like pricing decisions and payment terms.

Whichever team you give authority to, set clear guidelines for each team on their responsibilities. Set up a structure where both teams are compelled to communicate with each other on issues of importance as well as a mechanism for resolving disagreements which could involve both sides presenting to the board for a final decision.

Encourage regular progress meetings as well as ongoing ad hoc communications between the deal desk and finance team when deals are in motion for greater collaboration and cooperation to minimize the chance of misunderstandings and misalignments.

Which teams and staff members should be in a deal desk?

Your deal desk should consist of people from the following teams in your business:

  • Sales team: Your sales staff are experts in building and maintaining relationships with prospects and customers. They have the experience and insight needed to guide deals through various sales stages right through to the point of closing and are best placed to tailor products and services to meet each client’s needs.
  • Finance and accounting: During the sales process, your finance team will offer insights and feedback to the sales team and senior leadership on the financial viability and profitability of each deal. On larger deals where payment will be made in increments over an extended period of time, they can also account for revenue in the most tax-efficient way. 
  • Senior leadership: Senior leaders like chief revenue officers and chief financial officers can provide valuable guidance to deal desk teams on sales in progress to ensure that they attract the support of the C-suite and, when applicable, shareholders and investors.
  • Legal team: The complex agreements that deal desks negotiate often require careful legal drafting. This is so that individual sales comply with regulatory requirements, protect intellectual property and manage liability risks. This can protect firms from future lawsuits and regulatory penalties.
  • Fulfillment team: Large deals may require companies to increase manufacturing capacity, lease extra space for inventory or invest in new business processes to be able to fulfill their contractual commitments. When this is the case, fulfillment managers can provide guidance on production scaling, logistics planning and resource allocation.
  • Marketing team: Marketing teams can help deal desks by providing insights into likely competitor positioning during competitive quoting processes. They can also provide insights into both general and standard use cases for your company’s products and services to help customize your proposition for each individual client.
  • Customer support team: On larger orders, especially those with a high degree of customization, the demand for customer support will likely be significant, particularly when they’re onboarding your product or service. Involve your customer service team to outline the level of support you’ll provide a client from the point of purchase and beyond.
  • Information technology (IT) team: IT teams are a key part of most deal desks for two reasons. First, they ensure that the data and apps the deal desk team needs like configure, price, quote (CPQ) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems are operational. Second and particularly if the product being sold is technology-related, they provide technical support and integration services to ensure that the integration of your product or service is seamless from the client’s point of view.

The importance of CPQ software to deal desks

On many large orders, managing pricing is difficult for deal desks. To help, many use CPQ software.

CPQ apps help sales teams provide customers with live, customized and accurate quotes. They minimize the risk of error by taking in live inputs and feeds from suppliers, automatically adjusting the pricing offered to clients based on this data. This ensures that the price remains competitive and the deal adheres to the profit margins required.

FYIDid you know
CPQ software is available either natively or as a plug-in on many leading CRM systems. Check out our review of Freshworks CRM and our review of Zendesk for more.

Types of companies that use deal desk

The types of firms for which deal desks may be most appropriate include:

  • Software developers: Software developers create one-off solutions for clients that often involve building custom software to meet specific business needs and integrating that software with other apps used by the client. The sales cycle on these types of deals can be long and require a high level of deal desk involvement to ensure the solution being offered is to the client’s specifications while preserving profit margins.
  • Healthcare companies: Selling to healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers is complex primarily because of stringent regulatory requirements that the sector is subject to. Another complicating factor is the need to closely involve medical professionals and procurement teams at the purchasing end to agree on standards and protocols of the product or service being delivered.
  • Professional services companies: Business consultants, legal practices and accounting practices use deal desks to manage the sales process for substantial engagements. They help set the scope of the range of services that the clients can access, the level of service they can expect and the price paid for each service.
  • Technology hardware providers: Hardware providers, such as software developers, use deal desks to manage large-scale and complex sales from system specification to implementation and beyond. Deal desks set prices, outline service level agreements and timetables for installation and, if required, integrate with existing systems.
  • Telecommunications companies: Telecommunications companies use deal desks to manage large contracts for voice and data services. They oversee complex pricing structures, custom contract terms and service delivery timelines. Another important responsibility is to liaise with in-house network operations and customer service teams when implementing a new system and beyond.
  • Financial services companies: Financial services companies utilize deal desks to manage the sale of complex financial products such as insurance and investment management. Their role is to ensure that the products sold meet client needs, are correctly priced and are compliant with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Energy companies: Firms in the energy sector, including those providing renewable energy solutions or utility services, rely on deal desks to handle sales of energy solutions and utility services. They ensure compliance with industry regulations, manage long-term contracts and coordinate with engineering and project management teams. They often also oversee the implementation of energy projects, from initial sales to final delivery and maintenance.

Signs that your company would benefit from a deal desk

Not every business needs a deal desk. However, if you spot any of the following in your company, it might be time to consider setting one up:

  • Trouble managing complex deals: If some of the deals you work on are complicated and require involvement from multiple departments, a deal desk can make the process smoother. That’s because the most relevant people in your company work towards a common goal and allocate tasks based on experience and expertise.
  • Lots of big deals: Although smaller deals may be your bread and butter, expecting reps to manage multiple large deals on the go is unrealistic and will lead to many missed opportunities. Deal desk members can examine your current sales pipeline in real time to find the most important ones to concentrate on.
  • Poor risk management: If too many complex deals end up resulting in legal confrontations with clients, deal desks can take steps to make sure these problems don’t occur following a sale. The same is true if you find that many deals lead to financial or operational problems. This is because the governing contract is legally compliant and favorable to your company. 
  • Extended sales pipeline: Larger, more complex deals take more time to go through. If you believe they are taking too long to close, a deal desk can resolve this by speeding up internal decision-making in your business, keeping customers moving along the sales pipeline and streamlining the approval process.

How are deal desks changing sales?

The impacts of deal desks on revenue generation are notable. The biggest reported impact deal desks have is on speeding up sales cycles. This is because deal desk teams have specific workflows designed to close larger, complex orders earlier. 

This is aided further by the use of tech like CRM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that streamline manual essential ― yet often unproductive ― business processes. This means that teams have more time to spend on getting to know the customer and their needs. 

Teams also use the deal forecasting functionality on these same systems to isolate opportunities that meet their criteria and revenue potential. These factors have led to an uptick in lead conversion rates on larger, more lucrative deals.

TipBottom line
Involve your sales team in the deal desk’s creation to optimize what deals move to the desk and how the desk can support all of your company’s sales representatives.

What are the pros and cons of deal desks?

Deal desks provide enormous benefits, but they’re not without their drawbacks. Here are some pros of establishing a deal desk:

  • It saves time: Deal desks save time during complex transactions by cutting through red tape to make efficient decisions.
  • It enhances deal accuracy: There’s more to lose on bigger deals and deal desks make sure that each sale is thoroughly reviewed, reducing risks relating to pricing and compliance.
  • It makes clients feel valued: A deal desk gives high-value targets preferential treatment, so they know the organization values their business.
  • It eliminates bottlenecks: Deal desks eliminate the bottlenecks that can occur when traditional sales reps are unsure how to proceed with more extensive contracts. 
  • It improves internal communications: Regular collaboration and communication between different teams on deals can lead to a more informed organization.

Here are some downsides of establishing a deal desk in your organization:

  • It takes away from other aspects of the company: A deal desk pulls team experts away from their day-to-day roles, so potentially some work isn’t being completed. 
  • It may snare lower-value deals: Without clearly defining the types of deals that desks are responsible for, they may attempt to take over smaller deals, slowing down the closing process.
  • It causes disorientation with sales reps: Sales reps may be unsure about which deals they should handle and which should go to the deal desk.
  • It can be confusing for clients: Since deal desks aren’t widely used, they may initially cause confusion with customers.
  • It needs a lot of resources: Deal desks can be expensive to set up, requiring CRMs and other business apps as well as training for team members.
Did You Know?Did you know
The best CRM software can help you implement processes and workflows to streamline deal assignments and eliminate confusion.

How to maximize a deal desk

Follow these guidelines to establish a deal desk function in your organization or ensure your existing deal desk is operating at its full potential:

  1. Empower your deal desk: Ensure your deal desk has the authority to set its own sales cadence and make decisions on nonstandard pricing and contract terms using clear guidelines. 
  2. Leverage it to manage the deal cycle: When you put your deal desk in charge of the deal cycle, you allow traditional sales reps to focus on customer-facing activities and develop new business opportunities. 
  3. Specify deal desk regions: Regional coverage eliminates the need for sales to operate outside the process and you won’t risk losing an opportunity.
  4. Ensure the right people are on your deal desk: You’ll want a combination of critical thinking, creativity and attention to detail in your deal desk. Members must also have credibility, excellent communication and relationship-building skills.
  5. Size and staff the deal desk appropriately: A deal desk’s size and staffing depend on the roles and functions you expect to fulfill. There is no right or wrong model as long as it meets your company’s needs.
  6. Set boundaries: The best deal desk results stem from clear rules. Therefore, articulate boundaries and provide documents of these boundaries to empower the deal desk.
  7. Prioritize accountability: Successful deal desks are accountable for their responsibilities and hold others to established standards.
  8. Gather feedback regularly: Hold regular formal and informal feedback sessions to discuss trends and changing conditions so the sales organization can react in real time.
  9. Utilize technology: Try to integrate existing CRM, ERP and CPQ into deal team workflows to streamline the management of leads.

Overall, a deal desk can greatly help your business build and improve customer relationships, drive sales reps’ productivity and execute on deals that make sense for both the customer and your company. 

Kimberlee Leonard and Michelle Seger contributed to this article.

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Mark Fairlie brings decades of expertise in telecommunications and telemarketing to the forefront as the former business owner of a direct marketing company. Also well-versed in a variety of other B2B topics, such as taxation, investments and cybersecurity, he now advises fellow entrepreneurs on the best business practices. With a background in advertising and sales, Fairlie made his mark as the former co-owner of Meridian Delta, which saw a successful transition of ownership in 2015. Through this journey, Fairlie gained invaluable hands-on experience in everything from founding a business to expanding and selling it. Since then, Fairlie has embarked on new ventures, launching a second marketing company and establishing a thriving sole proprietorship.
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