The Elephant In The Room, Sales Talent Management


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Ask any sales manager or executive their number one challenge in the future, it’s likely they will say, “Making our numbers….”  That’s the perennial answer that inspires a response like, “Wow, how inspired, why didn’t I think of that?”

Only a handful of executives really understand the question.  Making the numbers is a result of the things you put in place and execute within the organization.  These things include your overall strategy, the systems, processes, tools, programs, and training.  And for those parts of buying that don’t move to e-procurement, the complex buying journeys, talent becomes the cornerstone of making our numbers.

But as one looks at many organizations, it would be hard to discern they recognize talent is the cornerstone to their success, or that they have a talent management strategy.

Simply stated, the way we make our numbers is through our people.  As managers, our responsibility is to maximize the performance of each person in the organization.  We put structures, processes, systems, tools, programs, training, metrics, incentives in place to help enable sales people to perform.  Ideally, we coach people, improving their ability to execute, and developing their capabilities.

But most sales organizations don’t have a rich talent management strategy:

Rather than building rich competency models to know what attitudes, behaviors, skills experiences, capabilities they need; they recruit what they can get, or let “personal chemistry” drive candidate selection.

Onboarding consists of giving people their log on credentials, pointing them to a lot of eLearning about products, training them on the scripts, telling them where the bathroom is, and asking for a forecast next Tuesday.

Rather than addressing performance issues, managers ignore them, focusing on their top performers.  They are happy that 94% of organizations make plan, while only 54% of their people do.  They don’t recognize the dramatic overspending or underperformance.

Alternatively, they have a mentality of people as disposable resources, hiring/firing/churning through people, without recognition of the opportunity cost and reputation costs.

They are ignorant of the increasing scarcity of quality sales talent, so developing the capabilities of their current people, growing them, retaining them is not on their priorities.

And coaching…..simply pitiful.  CSO Insights data shows that 47% of managers spend less than 20 minutes coaching per week—period, not 20 minutes per person, 20 minutes spread across all their people.  The majority spend less than 2 hours a week, total.

Voluntary and involuntary attrition is about 15.7%, lost productivity in finding and onboarding new talent is about 13 months (That’s at least a year of lost revenue potential).  Growth and backfill means we may need to replace 23% of our team every year!  (CSO Insights Sales Talent Study)

On top of all of this, sales people don’t have the skills most valued by their customers–curiosity, business acumen, critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, project management….

Probably one of the top two most important things for sales managers to focus on is Talent  (The other one isn’t making the number, I’ll let you guess what it is).  Top management needs to answer the tough questions:

  1.  What are our talent needs today and into the future?
  2. The skills competencies critical for success tomorrow are different from those we currently need.  What are we doing to address this?
  3.  How will we meet those needs through recruiting, onboarding, growing, and developing our current talent?
  4.  How do we become the “sales employer” of choice for the people that fit our competency models?  How do we attract, retain, and grow the best talent possible?
  5.  How do we provide opportunities and challenges to retain and grow our best people?
  6.  How do we walk the talk if we say “people are our most valuable asset?”  And if we aren’t saying that, why aren’t we?

Talent is the elephant in the room for the majority of sales organizations.  What are you doing about it?


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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