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5 Steps to More Effectively Assess Your Sales Team's Skills

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Identifying Sales Competencies to Enable & Empower Your Team

Amid tight schedules and rising competition, sales leaders must focus on developing only a handful of key skill sets at one time.

Therefore, it’s crucial to identify the skill improvements that will yield the highest return. However, too often, selling skill gaps are identified based on hunches, random observations, and instincts.

Moreover, the prevalence of these gaps is clear. In 2014, the World Economic Forum published research findings revealing that “an average 34% of employers cite a lack of technical competencies, while 19% believe that candidates [also] lack workplace competencies.” Leaders can work with sales professionals to overcome the gaps, but only if they’re aware of their existence.

Today, more companies are becoming proactive. In fact, “mature companies spend 34% more on training and development than their less mature counterparts,” according to research from Bersin. These more experienced businesses understand the value of investing in their workforce. The result: “They earn a profit growth three times that of their competitors,” according to the same research.

Here, we look at some specific steps leaders can take to identify, enable, and empower sales professionals.

1. Keep It Concise

Assessments should get straight to the critical questions. Leaders have only so much time to bring their team up to speed. Therefore, it is important to identify which improvements will produce the highest return on your organization’s investment.

Moreover, a lengthy process keeps sellers tied up and slows the sales cycle as sales professionals step away from their pursuits. Many leaders will learn that participating employees rarely need more than one hour, at most, to complete a self-rater format assessment. Shorter survey times optimize response rates.

Remember, understanding the gaps is only part of the process. Leaders will need to review the findings, determine how to follow up, and check back in on progress. This chain is long. Therefore, each component must be built for speed so that the seller can return to developing relationships and closing.

2. Use an Appropriate Benchmark

Assessment results require context. Therefore, the most effective assessments reveal how participants compare to a cross-industry benchmark of other selling organizations. Benchmarks are particularly effective when they involve a large data set. The reason: leaders often need to examine results at the sub-level unit, which includes aspects like role, territory, and market segment.

The goal of assessments is to drive competitiveness in the field. When the benchmark entails the competition’s capabilities, leaders can be confident that the resulting training will drive skills that match or exceed those of other sellers. A wider benchmark is also important because, over time, leaders will need to analyze the skills of various sellers from differing markets. A diverse benchmark leads to a more relevant measurement process.

3. Balance Qualitative with Quantitative

Numbers provide an aerial view, while qualitative measurements offer a ground-level view. With two means of assessment, leaders are better suited to triangulate the sales team’s skills. Reliable qualitative measurements come from interviewing high-performing sales professionals and sales managers. The goal is to create a clear understanding of how the sales professionals compare to the best practice benchmark while revealing the greatest skill deficits. The discussions in a qualitative setting seek to answer a variety of questions. For example, leaders need to understand what dialogue skills are strong and which need further development. Also, it is critical to understand the consistency of key dialogue skills across the sales organization. The answers to these questions help clarify where the business should focus its investment.

4. Provide Context

Sales professionals often feel self-conscious when participating in an analysis. While this can spark healthy introspection, leaders must remember to explain that the purpose of the assessment is to make a well-informed investment in training solutions. A publication from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School explains, “Studies have found that employees at all age levels want to acquire and use new skills — and that they are more likely to stay with employers that offer rich training and development programs.” Therefore, leaders should provide context to the assessment by providing the complete picture. They need to outline their plan to not only assess but to provide training that empowers the team.

5. Communicate Findings

Employee engagement drives growth. A Gallup meta-analysis covering 1.4 million employees determined that engaged employees had up to four times the success of disengaged employees. In fact, other critical measurements in these high-engagement workplaces increased, including profitability, productivity, and turnover. Therefore, leaders need to share their findings with participants. Doing so creates a transparent environment in which sales professionals feel at ease with the process. 

Additionally, this involvement underscores the intent to work towards a mutually beneficial goal. Communication creates a sense of agency within the sales professional. That is, to reach a goal, they will need to own part of the process. Sharing results and discussing the meaning accomplishes this outcome.

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Optimizing the Right Skills Builds a Competitive Advantage

Commoditization is eroding competitive advantage. However, the sales team that understands, then optimizes their skill profile and how to improve will create a competitive advantage that’s much more difficult for other businesses to replicate. The customer will see the difference. 

However, in a robust business cycle, more companies are allocating budgets and resources to assessment and subsequent training. The leaders that act early will be ahead of the curve.

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