Top 12 World-Class Sales Practices | Continuous Development as a Cultural Trait

Much has been made of the difficulty of obtaining and retaining talent in global markets where job opportunities for sellers abound. Yet the real issue goes deeper. Our 2018 Sales Talent Study confirmed that the majority of sales organizations were not confident that they provided sufficient enablement for their sellers beyond onboarding. The results can be very damaging.

Organizations that win the attrition battle may lose the talent war as their sales teams become increasingly stagnant. (Click to tweet)

To overcome this challenge, the World-Class Organizations identified in our study put such an emphasis on continuous development that it became part of their culture.

In recent blogs, we’ve been reviewing the results of our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study of nearly 1,000 sales organizations around the world. Specifically, we are highlighting the 12 organizational practices that were shown to have the greatest positive connection to sales results. “Our culture supports continuous development of customer-facing professionals” is one such practice.

What sets this practice apart from the other 11 is that it is a bit less tangible than its peers (e.g., rigorous forecasting). Few organizations measure cultural traits, yet most would agree that “they know it when they see it.” In our study, 90% of organizations that we deem to be World Class (excel at the full set of 12 practices and achieve substantially higher-than-average results) agree with this statement. On the flipside, only 38% of the overall study population agreed that this trait was present in their culture.

What does it look like? Having continuous development as an integral part of your culture means that there are opportunities for sellers not only to gain a better understanding of your products and processes, but also to become better salespeople. It means that leaders demonstrate visible support of enablement. It means that, structurally, there are opportunities for sellers to be exposed to new content from different disciplines. And it means that there is never a feeling that “we got that;” rather, there is an acceptance that because of ever-changing markets and customers, transformation of both people and sales organizations is a journey without end.

As you look to embed continuous development within your organization, beware of the oversimplifications that can hamper your efforts:

  • “It’s about millennials.” Ever since millennials entered the workforce in many global markets, there has been talk of how they will (or won’t) change the workplace. Many sociologists point to the shift in the compositional makeup of the workforce as a reason to focus more on development, as millennials are considered to have a great desire for growth. That may be true (and it also may just be a function of career stage). The bigger issue is that sales, by its nature, is a multigenerational discipline. Unlike an industry where people move in a linear fashion from job to job in a distinct career path, many salespeople happily remain frontline sellers throughout their entire careers.

 

In most industries, it is extremely common to move sales jobs over the course of a career. Drop in on your next “new-hire” class, and chances are you will see sellers of all ages. Be careful dismissing the need for development within your more senior ranks. It’s not about age, it’s about profile.

  • “We hire experienced people.” In our 2018 Sales Talent Study , we asked sales leaders what they look for when hiring. Despite the fact that 84% of leaders said they were not confident that they had the talent in place to succeed in the future, most reported that they hired to a static set of attributes, usually led by industry expertise.

 

When asked how they had changed their hiring profile in the past two years, the No. 1 response from sales leaders was “we haven’t.” (click to tweet)

World-Class Organizations are more likely to use data science to identify their hiring profile. And those that do are increasingly finding that traits such as “learning agility” are more differentiating when it comes to predicting seller success than industry experience or interpersonal skills. It’s no surprise that more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors find themselves in sales jobs. People who profile with these kinds of attributes require that their intellectual curiosity be fed – and that won’t happen through product knowledge workshops in onboarding.

  • “Our managers are too busy.” You’re right, they are. Our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study  shows that managers spend twice as much time on internal reporting and forecasting as they do on coaching. Today’s managers are legitimately limited, with most only able to devote 14.2% of their time to coaching. (Click to tweet)

 

But managers aren’t solely responsible for development; sales enablement plays a huge role as well. Not only can sales enablement build out the framework for continuous development, but they also can build out playbooks that ensure managers get more results from the limited time they have.

In addition, development comes in a range of forms. It isn’t always a formal coaching session or a formal training session. Some of the most powerful learning comes from peer networks, action learning assignments and just-in-time support systems. Be sure you are creating enough opportunities for informal learning to occur.

You can’t change a culture in a quarter. But the metrics associated with this practice merit starting the journey sooner rather than later.

 

Questions for you:

  • How frequently do your leaders demonstrate a commitment to learning?
  • What percentage of your enablement resources are devoted to new hires? Incumbents? Sales managers?
  • How would you describe your hiring profile? What expectations do these candidates have for investment in development?
  • How much time do your sales leaders spend developing reps on their team each week?
  • Where can more time be found? What role does sales enablement play? Sales operations?

 
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