In a prior post, we explored the daunting array of possible ideas and solutions that a sales leader could potentially apply to improve the abilities of sales people. Further, we suggested a relevant consideration. Wouldn’t it be extremely valuable to have an objective understanding of what sales people – your salespeople – actually need to be good at to be successful in YOUR company?
As we mentioned previously, broad based and vertical industry research and benchmarks have helped to dispel many common misconceptions about “ideal” traits and competencies of sales people (e.g., extroversion is a strong predictor of sales success). In addition, talent assessment, analytics, and benchmarking have led the movement to a more rational thought process about what it may take to succeed in various types of sales roles.
The premise of this type of research and benchmarking isn’t without value. If the success of your business relies on effectively managing probabilities (what business doesn’t), then understanding practices that have worked across time for similar companies is a significant move away from intuition and toward objectivity and clear thinking. Essentially, we at least have the beginnings of a framework for “guessing better.” We also considered a few limiting aspects of these approaches – weaker analytical methods, many potential extraneous factors, and the possibility that case studies are usually published when things work out in support of a position. So the probabilities of knowing what your sales people need to be best at may be enhanced – or maybe not.
Another interesting development regarding sales talent and methodology in the past several years is that some research has gone so far as to postulate a new and better, “ideal” profile for effective selling in today’s business climate. Across a broad sample size and global corporate audience, a study was conducted to determine “patterns” in the traits and behaviors of high performers. The synthesis of this research yielded a set of seller “profiles,” and their relationship to performance levels. The conclusion; in today’s world of informed buyers, one of the profiles clearly outpaced the others in terms of selling capability. Translation – the code has been cracked – and you should adopt the “new ideal” for your sales organization and probabilities of success will correspondingly go up.
While interesting, many of the findings and conclusions about the “new ideal” weren’t particularly novel or groundbreaking to established experts in the sales performance industry. Most aspects of effective selling (especially for complex offerings) have historically been quite challenging, and very few global companies have mastered high levels of consultative and solution-focused selling acumen on a widespread basis – regardless of what the methodology is called. If anything, the research validated what many companies in the sales performance space had encountered for years – companies saying “we get it,” but then largely practicing product, feature, benefit selling – or reactive needs-based selling.
That is because pre-emptively bringing brilliant new insights to the attention of customers – or effectively re-engineering a highly informed buyer’s pre-conceptions is, for the most part, really, really hard. Some approaches to selling are just flat out easier – and more accessible to the majority of sales professionals (and their companies). Secondly, in world where the shelf-life of new ideas is increasingly compressed, even if you can formulate an incredible new perspective for buyers, competitive advantage is fleeting.
The Demise of One-Size-Fits-Most
But there’s another, even bigger problem. Even if the statistical methodology and research approach of a broad study are flawless, you are inevitably dealing with aggregate data. And even if at this precise moment in time a certain set of characteristics or competencies for sales people correlates to the majority of high performers – that seller profile might not be most effective for your organization in its current situation. Because in probabilistic terms, many cause and effect elements of what impacts success in your company, in your markets, for your products, and for your customers might not have been taken into consideration. For some statistical fun, just read a few political and economics blogs about whose policies are most responsible for economic recovery (spoiler alert: everyone’s).
But even more importantly, what about the specific business goals of your company? What if market share growth was the preeminent strategic goal for your organization? Would it not be extremely valuable to understand which sales competencies were most likely to impact that aspect of your corporate strategy? It would, but heretofore we’ve typically had to live with “macro-level” information that provides “one-size-fits-most” guideposts for our choices. That level of intelligence is useful, but still somewhat of a blunt instrument for our critical decision-making.
The New World According to YOU
But there is an emerging new paradigm that is disrupting traditional thinking with respect to best practices – the world according to YOU. A confluence of new capabilities is creating this innovative, more precise approach to performance improvement, including advanced analytics, refined sales competency and behavioral models, adaptive learning, and multiple forms of technology enablement. When fully aligned, these capabilities create intriguing new possibilities for results-based transformation in highly compressed time frames.
So how does your organization begin to apply the “new way” as an approach to optimize sales performance? It begins with zeroing in on the capabilities of your salespeople that align most closely to the specific goals of your business. I begins by defining YOUR ideal sales profile(s) – taking into consideration the current state and situation of YOUR business. In the next several weeks, multiple expert contributors in the areas of talent analytics, learning and development, and sales enablement will help to “connect the dots” for the new way – the world according to YOU. Stay tuned.
Trevor Byrd, PhD, is a Senior Data Scientist at Sales Performance International. He conducts predictive analytics to provide insight into the complex challenges facing sales leaders. Trained as an industrial-organizational psychologist, he creates psychometric-based assessments used for hiring and developing sales teams. He integrates this data with pipeline and financial metrics to help organizations align their human capital with business strategy.