Talent is a CSO/CRO Issue


In my last blog, I shared both the gaps and talent opportunities uncovered in the 2018 Sales Talent Study. It is clear, based on the feedback of over 300 sales leaders, that sales organizations have a sales talent problem (many problems in fact). The question, then, is what to do about it.

The biggest step is to retake control of the talent strategy. Of course, sales will rely on HR for applicant tracking, LMS purchases and more. But, sales leaders need to own the talent strategy. Too often we find sales organizations don’t have a formal talent strategy. Instead, they have a loosely related set of talent practices driven by other departments. There are generic competency models disconnected from a sales context, general interview guides, overarching non-specific training curricula, etc. And while some of these tools can be helpful, many become check-the-box exercises.

Sales leaders build and execute a range of strategies. They have visions and concrete plans for coverage, channel usage, segmentation, market approaches, demand generation and so on. Yet talent is often managed by putting out fires: a top performer demands a different compensation plan, there is unexpected attrition, roles become too big and need to be specialized.

A sales-driven talent strategy is an end-to-end view of how talent is identified, entered and exited from the organization – with positive sales results along the way. Elements of a strategy include:

  • Resourcing Model – Use input such as quota/revenue goals, structural makeup, attrition rates and onboarding times to estimate hiring needs by role. The better your data, the more accurately you can predict production and fine tune your needs.
  • Success Profile – Use a data-driven assessment process to determine what attributes are associated with success in your specific sales model. Closely examine the more intangible attributes (e.g., cognitive skills, learning propensity and interpersonal relating approaches) to ensure your profile narrows in on the specific traits that differentiate high from low performers.
  • Sourcing Strategy – Once you have identified an ideal candidate profile, rethink where you are sourcing your talent. Many sales organizations sort to factors such as sales experience in their specific market. This narrows the field drastically and can result in competitors poaching mediocre talent back and forth from each other (with large signing bonuses offered along the way). With a more granular view of success, look for other industries or experience criteria.
  • Onboarding Program – Use the data collected in the hiring process to personalize an onboarding process that will be most effective for a specific candidate (while ensuring that the basics are addressed). Collect data from the field from new hires and their managers and fine tune what people really need to know when. Those who have an effective onboarding process report getting sellers up to full productivity in two months less time.
  • Ongoing Development – Many sales organizations stop the learning process after onboarding is over, aside from some new product launch info. The conventional logic is that sellers are too busy managing their territories to attend training. Yet, the market, product set, and customer need set are continuously evolving, and sellers need to evolve as well. In our 2017 World-Class Sales Practices report, we found that World-Class organizations were much more likely to have a culture of continuous development. Explore micro-learning, leverage mobile tools, and make smart decisions about modalities and time. But don’t abandon learning.
  • Coaching Process – Few would argue that coaching is not necessary. Yet, most leaders say that they don’t have the time to do it. After decades of consistent proof that coaching is linked to better success among reps, our 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that over half of organizations do not use a formal approach to coaching. In an integrated talent strategy, the data collected during the hiring process (or alternatively collected from incumbents during your work to create an ideal success profile) is used to match salespeople up with compatible coaches and to provide coaches with insights on how to best coach a salesperson. In addition, your enablement function will have a specific set of enablement services aimed at sales managers and others who may serve coaching roles.
  • Engagement and Succession Planning Approach – sales is a unique profession in the sense that it does not necessarily have a clear career path. Most salespeople do not want to be promoted to sales manager. And not all inside salespeople strive to be account executives who sell outside. The key then is to ensure that sellers have developmental opportunities, perhaps mentoring a new hire or participating on a product board, early access to new content and more. There is a long-standing myth that all salespeople are “coin-operated.” It isn’t true, as your talent data will tell you once it becomes the backbone of your talent strategy.
  • Exit Transparency – Attrition in sales is high in comparison to other positions. Sellers have a marketable skill, and when gaps in the above areas are large, voluntary attrition takes off. On the involuntary side, it’s an accepted aspect of the profession that not making goals means you will be exited from the organization. But it is important to ensure that such activity is done in a fair and transparent way. And, rather than wait for quota as the end game, leaders need to have a fair and legally defensible way to judge performance.

Most sales organizations will do all of these things. However they are usually not driven by predictive and actual data, not owned by the sales organization, not integrated with each other, and not executed at a mastery level. In fact, when considering the aspects of such a strategy, the only piece that sales leaders reported was a strength for their organization was the last step, exiting. But if all the talent strategy elements are in place, fewer exits will be necessary.


Questions for you:

  • Is there a talent strategy specific to the sales organization?
  • Who owns and drives it?
  • How do you know if you are hiring the right people?
  • What makes your best salespeople the most successful?
  • Why are sellers leaving? And are they the right ones?
  • Which elements of a talent strategy are strengths for your organization? And which are opportunities?
  • As a CSO, how much insight do you have into each of these areas?


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