Solving the Sales Talent Development Dilemma

Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle
VP, Sales Enablement Services, SPARXiQ

Sales Talent Research Paints a Grim Picture

In one of CSO Insights’ sales talent studies, only 16 percent of sales leaders reported being confident that they have the talent they need to succeed in the future.

Sixteen percent.

Meaning, of course, that 84 percent of sales leaders don’t think they have the sales talent they need to succeed in the future.

In a more detailed example of a skills gap, a previous CSO Insights’ study from a few years ago reported that while 67 percent of top sales leaders cited new business development as one of their top three objectives for the year, 65 percent of those same leaders said that their teams needed significant improvement in lead generation.

That’s an example of a “top-three” business objective that isn’t likely to be achieved.

These are just two examples of many skills gaps and talent development disconnects that we see in sales organizations. Sales research like this is intriguing, but what matters most is how the findings relate to your situation or illuminate a path forward for your company.

67%

Sales leaders who cited new business development as a top three objective

65%

Sales leaders who said their teams needed significant improvement in lead generation

What's the Current State at Your Company?

With this in mind, consider these questions:

  • How do these studies and challenges resonate with you?
  • Are they relevant to your situation?
  • Does your sales force have the skills they need to succeed in 2020 and beyond? (As you think about that, include not only your quota-carrying revenue producers and their frontline managers, but also the client-facing employees that support the sales process.)
  • How do you really know if your team is up to the task?
  • And if they aren’t, how do you begin to tackle a challenge of this magnitude?

Despite what research like the above examples tells us, we do not see many companies developing a sales talent development plan that will genuinely address the competency gaps.

The Gartner for Sales Leaders practice just released a report on what Chief Sales Officers should consider when navigating a turn in economic conditions.  It cited the need for:

  • Purposeful sales talent management plans
  • Identifying and closing sales competency gaps
  • Improving business acumen
  • Developing problem-solving skills
  • Improving talent acquisition practices (sales hiring)
  • And, of course, developing effective training systems and managerial coaching capabilities

In fact, establishing effective sales talent development practices was one of their top three recommendations for sales leaders to pursue amid changing economic conditions, to better position their organizations for growth. It is one of our recommendations at SPARXiQ, as well.

Considerations for Sales Talent Development

What does the path forward look like, for leaders who want to establish effective sales talent development practices, close competency gaps, and improve sales force performance? Here are some things to consider.

Define Sales Competencies

Determine the sales competencies that are required for success in each role. You can customize a competency model from various models in the market, conduct a top producer analysis internally and compare your top and middle performers to identify differentiating factors, work with a statistically-validated assessment model from a vendor and adjust the scoring by role, or do some combination. We recognize the potential of all approaches, while favoring a data-driven approach

Assess Your Current State

“Diagnose first, then prescribe” by assessing your staff against the benchmarked competencies. We recommend using a statistically-validated psychometric assessment that is specifically designed for sales and sales management roles.

Address Organizational Gaps

Look for clusters of gaps that you can address on a macro-level (sales force or sales team-wide), through training, job aids, or tools that will support a larger group of people who share development needs.

Address Individual Gaps

Create personalized learning plans to close critical gaps on a micro-level, meaning the specific training, coaching, counseling, job aids, or tools that will help close gaps for individuals.

A Systems Approach to Addressing Gaps

1. Implement a Sales Training System

Prepare for Change
  • Ensure that your training content will get results
  • Design a great learning experience
  • Engage, enable, and empower front-line sales managers
Guide the Change
  • Teach the content; validate learning occurred
  • Sustain the knowledge
  • Develop skills (practice with expert feedback loops)
  • Transfer and apply skills on the job
  • Coach to mastery over time
Cement the Change
  • Get metrics and measures in place
  • Manage to behavior and performance expectations
  • Lead and manage the change until it cements in the culture

Use an approach to:

  • Prepare for the change you want to see (training development and manager preparation)
  • Guide learners through the changes (training/skill development)
  • Cement the changes in place in your culture (adoption/skill mastery)

2. Guide Behavior Change

Consider how you will support reps and managers through the 5 Stages of Sales Mastery & Behavior Change in the above Sales Training System.

3. Create a Coaching Culture with a Competency Development Framework

Establish an ongoing competency development framework to foster a coaching culture and make talent development an ongoing effort versus an initiative. Imagine using the above framework and repeating the process every six months, with ongoing assessments and personalized learning plans, supported by training and coaching to continually develop your sales talent and improve sales results.

Establish an ongoing competency development framework to foster a coaching culture and make talent development an ongoing effort versus an initiative. Imagine using the above framework and repeating the process every six months, with ongoing assessments and personalized learning plans, supported by training and coaching to continually develop your sales talent and improve sales results.

Hopefully this post offers some helpful ideas that you can use.

To read more about the Sales Training System, download our whitepaper, written jointly with our sales enablement partner, Allego: https://sparxiq.com/sales-mastery-behavior-change/

If you have questions or need additional support, we’re here to help.