This article discusses the challenges that business leaders face when trying to measure the competencies and skills of their salespeople.
You know the old saying that goes, “You don’t really know someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”?
When I was first promoted to a sales leadership position, I believed that the miles I had walked over my 16 years as a commissioned sales rep would allow me to easily judge the sales skills of my team. However, as my management experience grew, so did my understanding of the limits of my visibility into the sales skills of my colleagues and what really drove their performance.
So how, as a manager, can you determine how good your salespeople are?
What you can see
In some ways, sales performance is easy to measure. If someone sells a lot, then they’re good; and if they don’t, then they’re not: simple.
But not quite so simple! For example, one of my sales reps had great numbers, but she looked after China, which was booming. Another of my reps had much smaller numbers, but she looked after India, which was slow. Their relative sales numbers suggest that the China rep was a better salesperson than the India rep, but was that true?
When I dug further into the numbers, a different picture began to emerge. My India rep had lower sales, true, but she also had a much higher win-rate and maintained a higher market share. So perhaps the India rep was the better salesperson after all?
Fly on the Wall
I’m a big believer that sales leaders should do exactly what the title implies – be a sales leader. As such, I spent time out in the field with my team in front of customers. This allowed me to stay in tune with customer needs and, just as importantly, see my sales team in action.
At least that’s the way I wanted it to go. The reality is that sales reps and customers don’t treat sales managers like some fly on the wall. I was often acutely aware that my presence at meetings altered the natural flow of the sales process. Sometimes it felt as though I was a killjoy parent, cramping the style of a couple of kids who just wanted me out of the room.
The upshot was that I found it challenging to accurately observe my sales team using their skills in action.
The reality for many sales leaders is that they are simply outnumbered by their team and overwhelmed by the breadth of their responsibilities to get close enough to their sales reps to determine the minute details of their competencies. I led 35 salespeople spread across 7 offices – Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore and Sydney. If I had had a teleporter, and no other meetings or claims on my time, I could have spent about 1 hour and 8 minutes with each sales rep per week. And even then, would I had caught them demonstrating their skills? Not likely.
Sadly, I didn’t have a teleporter. Though I was in regular communication with my reps, I still lacked the capability to get a full picture their sales skills and why some reps were succeeding while other reps were struggling.
The Magic Ingredients
Even if I could be a teleporting fly on the wall, how easy is it to spot what makes one salesperson more successful than another? To answer that, let’s look at what factors drive sales success.
I believe that sales success comes down to three general types of competencies. Firstly, salespeople need the will to succeed – they need competencies such as desire, commitment and motivation to drive their actions. Secondly, they need a strong DNA for sales – competencies connected to beliefs and behaviours such as how they take rejection, whether they are comfortable talking about money, and how much they need their clients to like them. Finally, they need the classic selling competencies – such as hunting, reaching decision makers, selling consultatively, overcoming objections and gaining commitment.
Considering my sales team, if I could have had an accurate ranking of each sales rep based on their selling competencies, it would have been extremely valuable for me as a manager. Firstly, I could have finally figured out whether relative sales performance was down to the individual or down to their market situation. Secondly, I could have identified weaknesses that could be improved with proper training. Finally, I could have correlated key selling competencies with high performance and use these findings to make the hiring of new salespeople more effective.
Finding the Answer
After 25-years in sales and sales management, it’s great to see tools for understanding sales teams and evaluating their potential for sales success have come a long way. There are three types of tools that have made a big difference: teaching tools, tracking tools and assessment tools.
By teaching tools, I mean models of behaviour and skills development. We’ve come a long way from the days of ABC: Always Be Closing. Books like The Challenger Sale, SPIN Selling and To Sell is Human have provided new strategies, thought processes and techniques that give salespeople and sales leaders guidelines on what skills they need to develop for success. This material has provided me with valuable insights that I’ve used to teach and guide salespeople in their development.
With tracking tools, the most common advancement has been the advent of CRM systems. CRMs allow salespeople and sales managers alike to gain visibility of the sales process. They provide data points on sales activities and performance in moving opportunities from genesis to goal line. I regularly use Salesforce, HubSpot and Pipedrive to monitor the sales performance of sales teams I work with.
Finally, sales skill assessments and sales management assessments are the third tool that have vastly improved business leaders’ abilities to “know” their sales teams’ competencies. Sales assessments are available to measure performance, personality, behaviour, cognitive ability and other attributes. These tools provide “fly on the wall” insights that are otherwise so difficult for managers to determine. I recommend The Objective Management Group (OMG)’s tools for assessing sales skills and competencies. OMG have assessed over 2 million salespeople from more than 30,000 companies and boast a very high degree of predictive accuracy. I use OMG sales assessments in Hong Kong and across Asia to both evaluate the sales skills of existing teams and for assessing selling competencies when hiring salespeople.
In conclusion, I still try to be a teleporting fly on the wall as much as possible, but with much improved teaching, tracking and assessment tools at my fingertips, I now have the insights that allow me to know salespeople far better than ever before.