Anyone that has ever led a sales organization of any size has probably experienced the feeling of realizing you are not going to make your number. As a sales leader, this is your primary objective; it is what drives any and all actions that you take. Realizing you are not going to meet that objective is one of the most unsettling sensations you can feel in your professional life. After the initial shock, you sit down and think to yourself, “Is this due to the capacity or capability of my sales team?” From there, you probably gathered data from your Sales Ops and Finance teams and went to work on figuring out what is the root cause that led to not making your number. After reviewing the data and talking to your team, you took action to either hire additional sales reps or start the process of replacing poor performers.
The details may vary, but I am sure everyone reading this has experienced the situation described above. The systematic, data-driven approach of uncovering root causes and taking appropriate action sounds like an effective way to resolve your problems—right? Wrong. This is a sound approach but has a major flaw; it is reactionary and attempts to solve problems after the damage has already been done. A proactive approach is needed to minimize the impact of common productivity issues, such as lack of capacity and poor rep performance. Read on to learn how to build your talent pipeline, make timely investments in your people, and maximize the productivity from your A, B, and maybe even C players.
Key Concept: The Talent Pipeline
The first step towards ensuring you never again find yourself in the situation described above is to start to think about your sales team as your talent pipeline. Just like opportunities in your actual pipeline, you need to ensure you are properly qualifying candidates and nurturing new hires at the top of the funnel. Instead of nurturing prospects with relevant marketing content, you are nurturing new hires with the sales enablement material they need to maximize their productivity. Instead of qualifying the strength of a deal, you are qualifying the strength of candidates’ competencies against your ideal candidate profile. Don’t have an ideal candidate profile yet? Start here to understand how to use the Top-Grading Methodology to identify and hire the right sales reps for your organization. As you are probably thinking, building a talent pipeline is only half the battle. The other half is retaining your A-Players. Use this simple talent retention checklist to ensure you are taking all the right steps to retain your best performers.
The Sales Rep Lifecycle and Maximizing Productivity
The nature of sales and the type of personality it typically attracts leads to a lifecycle that is inherently ‘up or out.’ A high performing rep will eventually be tempted by greener pastures, and a low performing rep will ultimately find themselves looking for a new role through voluntary (or involuntary) termination. This underscores the need to develop your talent pipeline and continuously replenish the top of your talent funnel.
Looking at the lifecycle above, one thing should be clear. Onboarding is a key inflection point in the development and productivity of a sales rep.
Your objective as a sales leader is to both minimize time-to-productivity and minimize the ‘leveling out’ period. Of course, there is a productivity ceiling (there are only so many hours in a day). Still, the key is to invest in your talent pipeline so that even your best reps productivity curve continues to increase instead of leveling out.
How to be Proactive and Build Your Talent Pipeline
- Develop Your Ideal Candidate Profile
Each of the sales roles should have a role scorecard that lists and weighs the key characteristics you are looking for in each role, such as industry knowledge, prospecting skills, closing skills, etc. Each of these competencies should be defined in terms that are customized to your industry and organization and should be refined continuously. Use these role scorecards to assess potential candidates and their fit with the role and organization.
- Always be Looking for Talent
Just like building your sales pipeline, building your talent pipeline begins with ‘prospecting.’ If you wait until you have a hiring need, you are giving yourself a time constraint. Develop ‘We’re Always Looking’ LinkedIn posts and encourage your sales team to share with their connections. As it is in sales, referrals can often be one of the most fruitful ‘lead sources’ for finding great talent.
- Make the Hiring Process a Two-Way Investment
Your hiring process should be a differentiator. Gone are the days step 1 – phone screen, step 2 – in-depth interview, step 3 – background and reference check, step 4 – hire. Get creative with your hiring process. Develop a unique assessment based on your role scorecards. Use interviews to understand the person and their goals, objectives, and dreams, not just their background. The key is that a potential sales rep should want to invest with the organization, just like the organization should want to invest in them. This concept of a two-way investment was developed by Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. His book, The Alliance, is a must-read for any sales leader looking to build their talent pipeline.
- Focus Your Onboarding on Sales
This may seem obvious, but time and time again, we see sales onboarding programs that are focused on administrative or generic organization training. As demonstrated in the graphic above, the onboarding period is the single most important time for impacting the future productivity of a rep. You must arm new reps with the tools they need to be successful before they have any interactions with prospects or customers. Yes, basic organization training is important, but that can be covered in one day. At least one day should then be spent on each of the following: educating the new rep on your products and solutions, sales process and buyer personas, and your market and competition.
- Develop Enablement for Both New and Tenured Reps
To avoid the leveling out effect, you must develop useful sales enablement for both a new sales rep and a tenured A-player. Training and development should never end after the onboarding period. You don’t need to necessarily teach your tenured A-players how to prospect, but they need to be educated on how to position a new product just like everyone else. Side note, if you’re having a hard time getting tenured reps to sell new products, this short read helps you overcome that hurdle. Another good way to continue to develop tenured sales reps is to include them in the actual development of the materials themselves. Task them with interviewing customers, developing a job aid that will help others overcome common objections, or simply sharing their lessons learned with more junior reps. Including them in this way continues the concept of the two-way investment and also contributes to their development as teaching is one of the most effective ways to master a subject.
How Do I Develop a Proactive Approach to Talent Development?
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Ok, great, this all makes sense, but where do I go from here?”. It’s important to remember that going from a reactive to a proactive approach to talent development is a marathon, not a sprint. The best way to start is to sit down with your sales leaders and determine just what an ideal rep looks like for each of your selling roles. Those role scorecards then become the foundation for developing a best-in-class talent development program that helps you proactively mitigate and overcome capacity and capability challenges that every sales leader has to face. Start maintaining your talent pipeline by downloading SBIs Talent Retention Checklist