2020 marks the start of not just a new year, but a new decade, which makes it an excellent time to revisit the challenges that have plagued the sales industry and find new solutions. For many sales organizations, that means taking a good look at your talent and determining if your talent strategy aligns to your business goals. If your company resembles the average sales organization, getting hiring right is a concern that’s not just keeping you up at night–it’s literally costing you.

For the past few years, the average sales organization struggled to develop a world-class talent strategy, from creating a pipeline of highly qualified candidates to growing and retaining existing talent. The 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study revealed that just 32% of organizations believe they have the right people in place to meet their business goals, and only 24% assess why their top performers succeed.

Talent gaps like these threaten to derail sales organizations. What we recommend instead is focusing on the potential to rethink hiring to build a deep bench of talent, create onboarding programs that result in better performance and lower attrition and focus on a strategy that improves sales effectiveness. Sales leaders and chief revenue officers must solve these talent challenges to succeed—and here’s the roadmap for making it happen in 2020 and beyond.

Buyers Want More—and That Makes Selling Harder

Korn Ferry research shows that sales is the most difficult role for recruiters to fill. Many organizations look for consultative salespeople who combine deep domain expertise and relationship skills with the ability to help customers understand and clarify their unrealized needs. Consultative salespeople must be agile learners and problem solvers who can enlist the resources of their organization on behalf of the customer across every touchpoint and through post-sale. Sales is less of an art and more of a science, and it’s getting harder to meet expectations, much less exceed them.

Part of the difficulty sellers face comes from buyers growing far more knowledgeable about vendors, products, pricing and competitive offers than ever before. The traditional role of the salesperson as a product educator is largely gone—Miller Heiman Group found that less than one-quarter of buyers see sellers as an important resource to help them solve their business problems, which is why sellers need to focus on exceeding buyer expectations over and over again.

“Everyone has information about products and services they require at their fingertips,” noted William Sebra, global operating executive at Korn Ferry RPO & Professional Search in Korn Ferry’s Talent Forecast whitepaper. “It’s difficult for a salesperson to surprise a customer with a fact or feature. And because it’s harder, people are less inclined to go into sales.”

This is why it’s critical for sales executives to focus on building a better talent machine—and they have internal partners willing to help. Thirty-nine percent of talent acquisition professionals told Korn Ferry that they want to invest more time becoming a stronger partner with business and hiring managers.  They also want to use hiring technology more effectively, which can make a strong impact on sales.

For example, Miller Heiman Group’s research shows that organizations that use data-driven tools to select candidates have 13.6 percent higher quota attainment versus those that rely on “gut.” If you’re not using these tools, you’re not alone—only 23% of talent acquisition professionals reported using an analytics tool or dashboard.

This sounds like a crisis. But it’s also an opportunity. Organizations that focus on getting sales hiring right set themselves up for long-term success. By defining precisely the skills, abilities and experiences that are critical to succeed in sales, organizations can create an in-depth talent strategy using data and analytics to measure the strength of candidates and identify career paths to use to grow them.

The Solution: A Sales Talent Strategy

A sales talent strategy governs an organization’s hiring, development, coaching, performance management and seller engagement. While many organizations have some elements of a strategy, different departments handle different elements, resulting in inconsistencies. Instead, sales must drive the process, under the leadership of the CRO, with sales enablement, sales operations, HR and other departments all playing a part.

To achieve an effective talent strategy, the CRO and sales leadership need to coordinate anyone invested in sales talent in following these eight components.

  1. Build a validated success profile. Assess the successful sellers on your team and create the ideal seller profile using that data. During the hiring process, a  hiring assessment guides you toward candidates with critical sales competencies identified in your profile.
  2. Design a comprehensive sourcing strategy. Work backward from your coverage strategy to determine the appropriate staffing levels by roles. Then, using your hiring profile, look for sales talent in unconventional places. Don’t be afraid to look for candidates outside the verticals you sell to or competitors; great sellers may be already working for you in other roles, like customer success.
  3. Create a measurement-based selection approach. Behavioral interviews are important, but they’re better at finding candidates who match your successful profile when paired with  a data-based assessment. To refine your approach, continue to monitor your new hires’ success.
  4. Refresh your systematic onboarding process. Effective onboarding reduces the lead time to full productivity by two months. A strong onboarding process minimizes costs by reducing the amount of time it takes new hires to buy in to company culture, understand sales processes and build their product knowledge.  Use all the data at your disposal to help customize the onboarding process for new sellers.
  5. Institute a formal coaching process. Nearly two-thirds of sales organizations rely on informal coaching or allow managers to come up with their own coaching strategies. Coaching drives results, and when implemented properly, can lead to a 16.6% increase in win rates for forecasted deals.
  6. Offer continuous development. Formal seller development shouldn’t end with onboarding: Organizations that offer their customer-facing professionals continuous development see 26% more of their sellers make their goal than organizations that don’t. A culture of continuous development recognizes what employees bring to an organization—both their current value and their capacity for development. Use behavioral assessments to discover what sellers do well and where they should improve.
  7. Mine data for succession planning and engagement. Succession planning is essential for salespeople who hope to become sales managers, but that career path may not fit every seller. To determine which sellers are a good fit for advancement and to keep the remaining sellers engaged, you need a variety of tools for career paths and growth. Use data to identify management candidates and to pinpoint the best ways to engage sellers who prefer to remain in selling roles, whether it’s mentoring a new hire, participating on a product board or evaluating new sales enablement content.
  8. Plan for transitions. Few sellers remain with one organization throughout their career. Ensure your process for managing transitions, both voluntary and involuntary, is fair and transparent, and create a process for handling open sales territories during transitions.

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