How do you accurately identify this mix of sales talent and selling skills to ensure that you know the “secret sauce” that makes someone a high-performing salesperson in your organization?
Begin with Your Strategy
It has to begin with your go-to-market strategy. A go-to-market strategy that is based on bringing in net new clients with a large national or global footprint by offering truly innovative solutions is different than a go-to-market strategy that is focused on harvesting a broad array of new opportunities through deep customer intimacy. Both strategies are equally valid ways to achieve your revenue target but the sales talent and selling skills needed to execute them successfully will be different. This is crucial to get right – the mix of sales talent and selling skills that makes someone a high-performer within the context of the first go-to-market strategy will probably make them only an average performer or even mediocre in executing the second go-to-market strategy. If your sales organization is pursuing a hybrid go-to-market strategy, make sure you know which of the mixed strategies you are trying to enable at a specific time.
Figure Out Your Team’s Natural Strengths
Sales is about playing to the strengths of your salespeople in order to win in a competitive marketplace. If your go-to-market strategy is changing or you are a new sales executive coming into lead a sales organization, you need to understand your team’s natural strengths. Over time, sales organizations tend to hire sales talent similar to the talent that already exists in the organization simply because people like to hire people that are similar to themselves. As a result, the salespeople in many organizations tend to be highly concentrated in a specific part of the sales talent spectrum and this can be limiting. If you are changing your go-to-market strategy or you are a new sales executive, you need to know what your team is inherently good at even if you do not spend time and effort to train them – the team’s raw sales talent. Conducting a sales talent audit using a highly valid and reliable assessment will enable you to make this raw sales talent visible and quantifiable. You can then determine if there is a misalignment between your go-to-market strategy and your team’s natural strengths. If there is good alignment between your go-to-market strategy and your team’s natural strengths, invest in training to super-charge those strengths. If there is misalignment between your go-to-market strategy and your team’s strengths, you have to make some hard talent management decisions about how to get alignment.
Identify Key Interactions
Sales is not B2B, it is people to people. That means most of your sales team’s wins and losses are going to occur in their sales dialogues with clients. As a sales executive, you are going to focus on the quality of these sales dialogues like a laser. This is often where you will want to invest time and resources to refine and develop specific skills such as: resolving objections, exploring needs, and positioning insights. But in any sales organization, there are going to be more “skill gaps” than you have time and resources to develop in a single training program. So you will need to prioritize which “skill gaps” are having the greatest negative impact on your results and address those first. In order to not degenerate into factional fighting about what is and is not emphasized in the training, conduct a skill assessment that benchmarks your sales team’s dialogue skills again a robust database. Not only will you see how your team compares to other sales teams’ dialogue skills, you will be able to identify those “skill gaps” that fall significantly below the benchmark and invest heavily in training on those specific skills in your first training program. As a bonus, the skill assessment can measure the results of training by comparing pre-training scores on specific skills with post-training scores on those skills. Measuring behavior change is critical in order to know that your investment in training is paying off.
Where to Start
Sales talent and selling skills are two sides of the same coin. Inherent strengths that naturally exist and dialogue skills that can be developed both “co-habitat” in the same salesperson. They are different and require different assessments. However, sales talent and selling skills are also both necessary to sales performance. If you are changing your go-to-market strategy or have inherited a sales organization that you do not know well, the first best move is to check the alignment between the sales team’s talent and the go-to-market strategy so that you can make wise talent management decisions. If your go-to-market strategy is stable or you have been leading your sales organization for a while, assessing your team’s dialogue skills should be sufficient to wisely invest in their skill development. Most sales organizations need to clearly understand both the talent and skills that are in front of clients every day. By properly sequencing both talent and skill assessments over the course of multiple years, a sales executive gets a complete picture. The strategic decision is to know where you want to start.