We Measure Everything Else, Why Not Talent?

Most complex B2B sales organizations have embraced “sales as science.” They have adopted (if not yet fully formalized) sales process and sales methodology. They have invested significant money into a CRM system to collect large volumes of structured and unstructured data about contacts, opportunities and accounts. Many are experimenting with new predictive AI tools to recommend the right content at the right time, score leads, recommend next best actions, refine forecasts, select accounts and more. There is not much in a sales organization that isn’t quantified, bucketed, collected or analyzed in some way… except talent.

“Talent” is the inherent abilities within the individuals in your sales organization. Everyone is talented (has talent of some kind). But of course, some talents and combinations of talents are going to be more fruitful than others in your specific sales environment. Do you know which ones they are?

Many leaders see traditional criteria such as hard-working, resilient and people-oriented as drivers of success. They aren’t wrong. High performers usually have all of those attributes. The problem is that your low performers usually have them too. So, those aren’t usually the key attributes that make the best the best. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of organizations, according to our 2018 Sales Talent Practices Study don’t assess why their best are the best.

This is further complicated by the fact that their view of “the best” is usually limited to lagging indicators, such as making quota. This leaves organizations in a vulnerable place, because they can’t say for sure that their best are really the best (perhaps they inherited a flush territory, or have a market where a competitor is failing. Perhaps their quota was set wrong). And, even if they can point to “the best,” they don’t really know why they are the best. That makes it difficult to replicate that success. And that is a tough place to be when the top 20% of salespeople are generating 54% of revenues.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like most aspects of selling, data-driven tools exist to help sales leaders with the tasks of measuring talent and predicting success:

  • Start with identifying who “the best” are. Look at performance as a combination of both leading and lagging indicators. Yes, making the number is really important. But start judging performance by conversion rates, sales call skills demonstrations, and customer satisfaction. Take into account margins and costs. How much effort does it take to manage the rep’s book of business? You might have a slightly different view of who the best are or who you would want to replicate and which best practices you want to propagate.
  • Assess all of your sellers (best, mid-pack, worst) using a data-driven predictive assessment tool to identify the specific attributes driving success. What exactly separates the ideal profiles from other less successful reps or less desirable profiles? (If you are going to loop that tool back into hiring, make sure that it is legally defensible).
  • Use the data to drive the coaching, development and succession planning of your sellers. What kinds of activities will generate the most engagement? Which areas will need the most formalized instruction? What kinds of action learning will be most beneficial? And if you need to restructure your organization to adapt to (get ahead of) market conditions, use the data to determine who has the right profile for new roles.
  • Don’t forget actual behaviors. Predictive assessments will tell you how someone is ‘wired’. It doesn’t mean that they will automatically live up to that potential. Periodic behavioral assessments (whether 180 degree online instruments, documented ride-alongs or AI-analyzed web meetings) can provide helpful insights into what is working and what isn’t to refine coaching and development.
  • Measure applicant talent too. With a better (and more quantifiable) handle on your existing talent, you can not only get more from what you have, you can also start filling your talent pool differently. A “proven track record” in one organization doesn’t guarantee future success in another, especially when different knowledge or skills sets are required. Use the ideal profile as an assessment of future selling candidates. In our study, organizations that used such tools consistently were 30% more likely to say that they had confidence in the future success of their talent and had 10.9% more of their salesforce meeting or exceeding their goals.


Talent doesn’t have to be an “I know it when I see it” concept. It can be measured, analyzed and optimized just like any other aspect of selling today.

Questions to Ask:

  • What measures are you collecting to assess your current talent? job candidates?
  • How effective are those measures at identifying success? How effective are they are predicting success?
  • How much business do your top sellers generate? How fine-tuned is your understanding of why?
  • How does talent data impact decisions over the course of the seller’s or sales manager’s career with you?
  • How scientific is your approach to hiring new sellers, promoting into manager or account manager roles?
  • Do you have a predictive assessment? If so how consistently do you use it? Keep it calibrated?

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