Current Sales Talent vs. Future Growth

To say that markets are changing rapidly in response to many forces is an understatement. For example, we described in our recent book, The Collaborative Sale, how buyer behavior is changing dramatically as a result of easy access to information, increased globalization, the rise of Millennials in business, the shortening time of competitive advantage, and other factors.

New disruptive competitors, backed by deep-pocketed venture capitalists, can pop up overnight. Take the example of HR software start-up Zenefits, which recently announced that it had just raised a whopping $500 million in VC funding. That gives them a total valuation of $4.5 billion. Zenefits is bent on disrupting this sleepy and regulated industry, just as Uber disrupted the taxicab trade.

As a sales leader, you know that you need to constantly evolve in the face of these kinds of dramatic changes. Or else, you will be left in the dust. As you adapt your sales strategy to align with your changing corporate strategy, have you also adapted your sales talent strategy to follow suit? In other words, can your team, that got you to your current state, also fulfill your new growth strategy?

Defining Sales Talent

We have observed that most sales organizations struggle to define what “good” and “great” salespeople should look like. They typically default to the characteristics of people who have succeeded in the past. This isn’t a bad idea. However, as your business requirements change, your sales roles and definition of excellence in these roles are also likely to change. And, in the face of dramatic business changes, your previous definitions based on what worked before, may quickly become dead wrong.

For example, we have a client in the software industry that grew primarily through acquisition. Acquired entities operated autonomously and were usually left alone, as long as they made their respective growth and profitability numbers. Although the profile of top performers varied somewhat across divisions, many of their sellers were strong product specialists who excelled by really knowing their product and positioning features and benefits to technical buyers.

As valuations for software companies skyrocketed, fueled in part by bubble-like conditions in the VC market, good acquisitions became much more costly. Our client’s leadership team hired a well-known strategy consulting firm to evaluate their direction and then decided to transition from growth through acquisition to organic growth. Slowly but surely, they started to integrate divisions under a common go-to-market strategy that focused on selling a comprehensive enterprise solution to C-level buyers.

Some previous top-performers continued to deliver good sales results, while others struggled badly with the transition. We used our sales talent assessment expertise to help them understand why. We started by developing a competency model for their future-state, C-level solution seller and supporting roles. While each model will be unique for every organization, we leveraged our competency library and pre-existing profiles as a starting point. Then, we refined it to develop a valid competency map.

We then identified the target proficiency levels for each competency in each role. We used a proficiency level scale of one to four,  four being the top. Not everybody needs to be level four. One may only need to be level three in a competency in order to perform a role sufficiently. Then, we assessed each incumbent to determine their proficiencies and identified gaps to close.

Once we gathered the data, our industrial and organizational psychologists crunched through the statistics to build performance models. This enabled them to determine which competencies make the most impact on sales results and isolate the behaviors of top performers – the critical sales competencies. Out of more than fifty sales competencies, we identified the four most critical ones, enabling our client to focus on what mattered the most.

By identifying the critical sales competencies and proficiency levels for the roles necessary to support the new strategy, our client was able to take the guesswork out of their hiring decisions. It also enabled them to provide individually tailored coaching and development to current salespeople, based on their true needs. They now have a much more systematic way of ensuring that their sales talent is able to deliver on their new business strategy.

Ensuring Strategy and Sales Talent Alignment

When you make significant changes to your sales strategy, it is important to define your new sales roles clearly and to develop accurate competency models for these roles. The bigger the strategic shift, the more likely the model of a top performer will be different from what it was before. Assessing your team against a competency model that is aligned with your new strategy will help you determine where people need help to make the transition successfully. It will also give you a benchmark for hiring new talent into these roles.

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