Top 12 World-Class Sales Practices | Talent Strategy Supports Goal Achievement

Little in the world of sales is static. Customer requirements are ever-evolving and, in response, most sales organizations are in the midst of change, be it a new CRM, a new methodology, a new product launch, a new coverage model, etc. Too often, however, these major changes result in minor impact because they fall down at the point of individual execution and behavior change.

Talent is the missing element that commonly derails sales transformation. (click to tweet)

It’s not surprising, then, that talent is on the minds of most sales executives. According to our 2018 Sales Talent Study, the vast majority (84%) agree that they lack the talent they need to succeed in the future. Yet, while broadly acknowledged as a challenge, fewer than 1/3 of sales organizations that participated in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study agreed that they have a talent strategy that would close such a talent gap and support achieving their business goals.

If asked, most sales executives could describe the key tenets of their go-to-market strategy without batting an eye. But there is often little definition regarding a talent strategy needed to underpin the approach. This results in key inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.

  • Talent practices are disconnected. Hiring, onboarding, training, coaching and development all occur in some form or another. But they are disconnected practices and do not align around a talent data set, success metrics or talent profiles.
  • Accountability gets diluted across departments. By their nature, talent processes will need to be executed by a range of departments. But unless the talent strategy is owned and defined by sales, it will be too generic for optimal success. Specifically, it’s the CSO who needs to own the strategy in order to ensure that it fuels the goals of the sales organization.
  • There is a lack of talent-oriented data. Without a clear set of talent data that is tracked from hiring to off-boarding, there is no closed loop to improve the talent approach. Hiring profiles don’t get better. Onboarding is off target. Coaching is one size fits all. And success is measured only in terms of lagging and historical metrics such as quota achievement.

In World-Class sales organizations, however, a formal talent strategy is put in place. Such a strategy is owned by sales, is data-science driven and aligns major talent processes in the context of an integrated seller lifecycle.

85% of World-Class sales organizations have a formal talent strategy. (click to tweet)

Those looking to take a more strategic approach to talent should start by closing the three common gaps noted above.

  • Define the scope of the talent strategy. Talent strategies start with the coverage model and a sales operations exercise for determining what volume of sellers is needed and within which roles. From there, hiring, onboarding, coaching, ongoing enablement, engagement, succession planning and transition all need to align. Defining a talent strategy starts with understanding what each of those processes looks like today and how well each one is working.
  • Agree on cross-functional roles and responsibilities under the direction of sales. Assign roles and responsibilities for each of the major processes you identify within the scope of the talent strategy. For example, you may need sales operations to define the exact staffing required, sales enablement to guide hiring profile creation, and HR to manage applicant tracking and legal defensibility of hiring decisions. In addition to assigning responsibilities, ensure formal collaboration. Sales management may see a change in the field that is an early indicator that hiring profiles need to change, but this information may not get shared without a formal avenue for doing so. Given the nature of collaboration required across the enterprise, the CSO will have to play a large role in driving the strategy and making the case for sales ownership.
  • Define a set of key performance indicators. Sales organizations have tons of data, yet they rarely measure talent with anything beyond quota achievement. Instead, organizations can mine behavioral indicators (i.e., competency demonstration), productivity measures (e.g., conversion rates, win rates, time to productivity) and lagging indicators outside of revenues (e.g., customer satisfaction) as well as data on attributes and traits collected during the hiring process. By nature, some of these will change over time, and some will not (your tendencies and traits vary little over time). Therefore, you need a range of data to use for a range of purposes: refining hiring profiles, designing onboarding approaches, coaching individuals, determining training needs, etc.

This is just the beginning. Starting up a sales talent strategy isn’t a project. It is like any other part of the annual (or semiannual) planning process. It needs to be constantly refined and evolved. As noted in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, organizations that do this well report much higher revenue plan attainment, higher quota attainment, higher win rates and lower attrition than their peers.

Questions for you:

  • How confident are you that you have the talent you need to succeed in the future?
  • What are the major elements of your sales talent approach?
  • How well aligned and integrated are the major elements of your sales talent approach?
  • Who owns your sales talent strategy? Who else is involved?
  • How is collaboration handled?
  • What metrics are used to judge progress and refine the approach over time?

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