by Wendy Mack & Tracey Wik / January 28, 2020
Do you have a sneaking suspicion that the sales talent that got you to where you are today won’t be the same talent that gets you where you need to be in the future?
According to the CSO Insights 2018 Sales Talent study, “Determining whether you have a talent gap, or determining how significant it is, begins with an understanding of your current talent pool and pipeline.”
So how do you understand your sales talent pool? In our recent blog post, we introduced you to GrowthPlay’s Triple Fit approach to sales talent management. We talked about the power of considering strengths, style, and skills when selecting, motivating, and developing your sellers. In this post we outline three categories of tools that align with our Triple Fit approach. Used together, these tools can help you diagnose performance issues and determine whether you have a significant sales talent gap.
Predictive Strengths Assessments
In his book, The Talent Delusion, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes, “Few people are talented in every area, and talent is always the product of fit between a person’s disposition and the requirements of the task.”
Predictive assessments (such as GrowthPlay’s own Chally Assessment™) gauge a seller’s disposition and potential to perform the tasks required of specific sales roles. When used appropriately, these assessments can reliably and accurately predict whether a person’s inherent strengths align with the competencies or attributes that have been shown to correlate with success in that role. Like the way a DNA strand identifies the genetic makeup of an individual, predictive assessments give us a way to measure attributes that are not always apparent on the surface and that can’t be gauged through interviews and observation.
While predictive assessments are most commonly used for hiring, they can be also be powerful tools for evaluating the capacity of your entire sales talent pool. For example, we frequently create Talent Audits for clients – illustrating on one page who on the team has the natural strengths required for a variety of different sales roles. Seeing their organization’s “Sales DNA” at a glance provides sales leaders and their HR partners with data to inform and implement a focused sales talent management strategy.
Personality Style Indicators
For centuries, observers of human behavior have noticed that there seem to be patterns of differences in how people interact with the world around them. Interpreted broadly, personality style is simply a term used to describe these patterns. There are scores of style tests and quizzes on the market, ranging from communication style to social style to team style. Unfortunately, most personality tests haven’t been shown to be statistically predictive or valid for hiring or promotion decisions. This may be because most of these tests are easy to game.
Despite their lack of predictive validity, we think personality indicators can be useful for other applications. Instruments that gauge and/or describe style can be useful for both self-awareness and understanding others. Identifying personality styles can also get you started on the road to understanding what makes your sales talent pool tick. In other words, results from personality quizzes and more robust style instruments can help you understand which sellers will enjoy and be motivated by certain selling approaches. For example, in addition to identifying competency strengths and gaps, our Chally Assessment also produces insights into a seller’s motivations and habits. Many recipients of our reports find great value in understanding not only what their sellers CAN DO but also what they WANT TO DO. This matters because, quoting Chamorro-Premuzic again, “It is possible for someone to have the necessary skillset to perform well in a job or role, but be utterly devoid of motivation to do so.”
In our work with clients we frequently see talented salespeople who have been placed into a role that requires a sales approach or process that runs counter to their style. Even when these sellers have the “can do” competencies, they may find it draining to work in environments that don’t energize them. For example, some complex consultative system sales have deal cycles that take months or even years and require great patience coupled with diligent attention to close. A seller who prefers quick action and fast wins will likely become frustrated when such deals drag on – potentially resulting in disengagement and even unwanted turnover.
Always remember that personality indicators alone won’t tell you for certain if that seller will succeed in a role. For that you need to formally assess strengths and skills.
Demonstrated Skills Assessments
We’ve discussed ways to gauge potential (strengths) and personality (style). The third category of tools in our Triple Fit approach gauge performance (skills). Skills assessments evaluate how well an individual seller is performing on the job. Most assessments of this kind are multi-rater— often referred to as 360s. This means that both the seller and sales manager (and possibly customers and peers) rate the seller to get multiple perspectives on the behaviors and skills the seller is demonstrating day-to-day.
To be most useful, the skills assessment you build or buy should be targeted. Rather than assessing your sellers on how well they perform one hundred generic selling skills, use your dollars and your managers’ time wisely. Assess and act on skill gaps that tangibly impact performance. If you aren’t sure where to start, study high performers to identify the behaviors they use to accelerate sales cycles, increase topline, improve margins, and ensure customer retention. Interview your customers to learn what behaviors most support their buying decisions. Don’t assume that because a seller had “the same job” at another company they will have all the skills you require. Our favorite quote here is from Harvard Business School professor Frank Cespedes who writes, “You need to develop salespeople so that they are good at executing the sales tasks that are aligned with your specific strategy, not what they learned at another company that made a different set of strategic choices.”
Skills assessments are powerful tools for identifying training needs for individuals and teams. They can also be repeated after a training program or coaching intervention to determine whether the program improved performance.
Of course, training won’t necessarily solve skill gaps unless your sellers also have the strengths (natural aptitude) needed for their jobs and the style (motivations) to perform. Taking all three into account (Triple Fit) gives you comprehensive view of your organization’s sales talent.
Click here for more information on the GrowthPlay Chally Assessment.