HR Hanna learns how to help sales better.HR and Sales leaders who need better collaboration must read this post. It includes a tool: a profile of the Sales leader (Hanna’s advantage!) The profile lists the CSO’s fears, needs and questions. The profile will be useful for HR Business Partners to become outside-in. Sales leaders can also leverage the profile to understand their peers.


Hanna started her approach by becoming outside-in.  She didn’t go to Sales with a traditional “here is what HR can do for you”. Instead, she took time to deeply understand Sales’ perspective.  That made her a better partner – by proposing that she work on Sales  priorities.


First Things First

Hanna first tried to understand what Sales thinks about HR.  Once she knew this, she modified her approach to contradict these ‘myths’. She found that there are 3 main faults  of HR – in the eyes of Sales:


1. HR is all about compliance

Yes, HR is the main responsibility for workforce compliance issues.  However, rigid police action against offenders doesn’t build partnerships. Some complaints we’ve heard from Sales organizations:


  • Forced to fill out old employee review forms on paper.  The forms don’t have the new skills we are coaching to.
  • Can’t hire a candidate that lives outside the metro area where the job was posted.
  • Can’t promote a sales manager to a director. They don’t meet the criteria of having 20 reports under them.
  • Can’t vary the comp plan based on market cost of living – it’s outside the comp rules. This caused us to lose a top performer.


2. HR bureaucracy slows everything down

Sales’ mantra is speed to results. HR wants to help.  They also have some processes they need to follow.   Don’t let inflexibility delay progress. Worse, don’t use HR power to inject HR into a department project.  We’ve seen this occur especially in Sales talent/recruiting efforts.  This sometimes happens because HR wants to “prove their existence”. Instead, agree to give quick compliance reviews to any pending Sales projects. More Sales complaints we’ve witnessed:


  • Can’t engage a world-class external training program. It has to go through internal Learning and Development for approval and branding.
  • Can’t start searching for sales reps. HR says we need bids from at least 3 search partners before commencing.
  • Can’t hire an external Sales star – until opening has been internally posted one month.
  • Can’t change the Compensation plan until HR’s partner does a 90-day benchmark


3. HR is not a strategic partner

HR doesn’t always take time to proactively partner with Sales on strategy. They get busy with the tactics of recruiting, onboarding, training, evaluation, etc.  Sales needs this support. But during the tactical work, HR should use data to improve Sales support. For example, look at successful past hires to refine hiring profiles. Or listen to Sales feedback on recent hires to modify recruiting approaches.  Consider embedding an HR Business Partner as a Sales Rep – to get a Sales perspective. Here are some strategic questions Sales asks that HR can help with:


  • Should the overall skill set of our Sales Reps change? Is Social Selling a necessary skill?
  • What is the best profile to use when looking for candidates of the future? What competencies should we look for? Where are the best places to look?
  • What greater alignment is needed between Sales and Marketing?
  • How should we structure for a multi-national/multi-cultural sales force?
  • Do we even need an outside sales force? What impacts would dropping field sales have?
  • How should compensation/rewards change for the different generations involved?
  • What components of sales, if improved, will drive the greatest success?


What’s Important to the CSO?

Second, Hanna had to know what was personally important to Sales leaders.  She started at the top with the Chief Sales Officer (CSO).  She wanted to know what fears he had, what personal goals he had. She also wanted to know what questions he had. Download the CSO profile to learn what SBI has found during CSO interviews.  For example, CSO traits include speed to results and team acceptance.  A common CSO fear is to have weaknesses revealed.  A common CSO question “What happens to me when a new CEO starts?” (Or new board members.)


Sales Top Priorities

Third, Hanna learned of Sales top priorities – and how HR can help with them. She researched online, called some peers, and talked with Sales personnel.  Here is what she learned (and what SBI research confirms):


  • Sales recruiting – Sales leaders do not want open territories. If they have them, they want them filled fast.  Having a virtual bench of Sales personnel helps here.
  • Sales leader development – Sales wants to ensure they are grooming the right personnel for promotion to leadership.  Are there effective competency models and leadership development programs?
  • Sales compensation – Can top talent be retained and attracted with the current comp plans?
  • Sales structure – How can Sales most efficiently/effectively go to market?
  • Social selling – Can Sales take advantage of Social Media? What kind of training and development does Sales need?
  • Sales metrics – Need to know all about the Sales pipeline, market and account trends. Also need Sales rep metrics on accountabilities and competencies.


Call To Action

To be a better business partner to Sales, HR leaders should emulate Hanna. Follow these steps:


1. Read these posts to understand about some of Sales priorities

Developing Existing ‘B’ Sales Reps

Developing Sales Leaders

Attracting Top Sales Talent

Compensation Benchmark – Waste of Money?

How HR Gets a Seat At the CEO Table


2. Interview Sales personnel to know what they think of your HR support


3. Download the Chief Sales Officer profile to find out what makes him/her tick


4. Be proactive: help reveal areas where Sales can improve


5. Plan for and propose some HR+Sales improvement projects



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