More than 80% of sales leaders believe they don’t have the right talent to succeed in the future, according to CSO Insights’ 2018 Sales Talent Study—a talent gap that’s disrupting most sales organizations. Using a talent strategy to ensure you’ve got the right people is one of the top 12 practices that distinguish world-class performers from everyone else in the 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study. Leading organizations have a talent strategy that incorporates not only hiring the right talent but developing that talent so they achieve their potential.
Yet when the economy suffers, the budget for learning and development is often one of the first to be slashed, particularly if it isn’t tied to a clear strategy for growing sales. This is a short-sighted strategy. If you stop developing your team’s skills and reinforcing your sales process and methodology, your employees will become less engaged and your seller retention will drop, which creates a vicious cycle when your sales organization already struggles with sales talent strategy.
The key to an enduring learning and development program is to view training as an investment in your employees—not as a cost center—and to build it into your culture.
Looking to ensure that continuous development becomes a core element of your company’s culture? Follow these strategies to implement that culture, no matter your budget.
Build a Culture of Continuous Development
A culture of continuous development recognizes what employees bring to an organization—both their current value and their capacity for development. It gives them easy access to the resources they need to continue developing themselves, offers achievable opportunities for advancement in the near- and long-term plus a management structure that reinforces the importance of improvement.
This emphasis on development permeates the culture; training is not a one-time event upon joining the company or when a performance problem arises. It’s an everyday pursuit and tenet from everyone in the organization, top to bottom. It’s the foundation of the organization’s talent strategy.
To start building a culture that supports continuous development, the sales organization needs to ensure that the chief revenue officer or the chief sales officer takes responsibility for the talent strategy. That leader must create a clear vision for the talent that the organization needs to sustain itself and the support system required to recruit, develop and engage that talent.
Next, the organization must link learning to doing. Sales enablement can help create a coaching plan that emphasizes onboarding concepts, so all sellers speak the same language in their sales conversations. Sales enablement should continue to play a role throughout the seller’s career, providing the content, coaching and training that sellers need to succeed.
Finally, use assessments to highlight areas for your team’s growth. Behavioral assessments focus on improving what sellers say and do, so you can determine how to strengthen their approach to buyers. Predictive assessments identify the seller traits that lead to success in your organization, so you find the best ways to coach your team and identify sellers who are good candidates for sales management roles.
By investing in continuous learning, sales organizations will experience higher seller competency and engagement, which leads to better results and lower seller attrition—a factor that ensures perpetual growth even if your organization undergoes a hiring freeze. For example, the 2018 Sales Talent Study found that organizations with strong onboarding programs helped sellers reach full productivity two months faster than those without such programs—and when sellers carry quotas of $1-$2 million, those two months can make a huge difference.
Stretch the Learning and Development Budget
If you can’t secure additional funding for budgets, you’ll have to figure out how to squeeze as much as you can to continue supporting ongoing learning and development. We suggest adopting the following:
- Use digital training modalities to reduce travel expenses. Instructor-led training may work well for training sellers because it is face-to-face and offers hands-on skills development, but it can be cost-prohibitive. Online training helps fill the budget gap by offering anytime, anywhere high-quality training.
- Co-invest in strategic initiatives. Multiple departments can share the cost of implementing technology that improves seller development. For example, sales operations and sales enablement could split the costs of an analytics platform like Scout. It builds core selling methodologies into selling activities, and gives leaders insights into top performers’ behavior, so they coach other sellers more effectively.
- Combine product training with methodology training. When sales organizations blend product training with training on sales methodology, they ensure their sellers use the same language and follow the same selling processes, resulting in a consistent, scalable approach that wins more deals—and they train sellers in less time.
- Optimize your coaching plan. Develop a formal coaching plan with clear guidelines tied to specific, measurable goals. That way, you’ll be able to demonstrate the return on your investment and secure executive buy-in to continue—and even scale—your coaching efforts. Organizations that implement formal coaching plans have seen a 16.6% increase in their win rates for forecasted deals over those that do not.
Today’s Development Leads to Tomorrow’s Success
Now is the time for learning and development leaders to engage sales leaders to understand how you can work together. Collaborate to create a training strategy that incorporates a menu of coaching and technology investments that meets your budget. To highlight the need for training, take the Sales Performance Meter from your sellers’ perspective, then focus your attention on the strategies and tools that will satisfy their areas of greatest need. The more proactive you are now about managing your sellers’ end-to-end development, the more successful your sellers will be, regardless of the state of the economy.