Mapping sales competencies in a team

  • Some salespeople’s plans always seem to work out. How do they do it?
  • How can we judge the strength of our team?
  • Is there a universal formula for the perfect salesperson?
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What makes things easy for some salespeople, while others struggle to ‘deliver’ results every month? You’ll probably think of several factors: experience, the areas the salespeople operate in, the strategies, processes, and tools they use, their expectations, and their skills and competencies. For sales directors, the last one is the biggest mystery. That’s because if you could copy the best, the problem with sales would disappear. But is that certain?

Mark Roberge, the legendary creator of the successful HubSpot (a company offering inbound online marketing services) had no sales management experience when he became the Vice President of Sales. As an MIT engineer, he relied on his analytical skills to create a sales management system based on metrics and quantitative analysis. And although one of the elements of the start-up’s success is innovative technology, team building is another important factor in the company’s success. Roberge based building and managing the sales team on analysing key competencies from the perspective of selling the product itself. He took the position that if you have a team made up of average people, it will be difficult to make up for the losses that causes. On the other hand, no matter what the circumstances, a team of the best people will always find a way to succeed.

For sales managers, the modern world is a constant journey towards increasing their team’s effectiveness - a constant search for ways to improve existing processes, develop tools to manage sales opportunities, and find new ways to generate valuable leads. In addition, you probably keep hearing about the digitization of sales opportunities, automation, and multi-channel sales. All these activities offer great value. However, we often forget about one key element - specific people are still responsible for implementing of these processes. Managing the contact process, taking advantage of sales opportunities, client relations, and designated sales areas - all these activities are the responsibility of specific salespeople. To be effective, they have to have the right competencies. That’s why managing your team’s competencies can give you a head start - an advantage over the competition. You can assess your team’s strengths, how to effectively manage resources (which roles to assign to whom), and how to plan development activities. See the box for more benefits of mapping your team’s competencies.

A universal formal for the perfect salesperson

Anyone could easily name what competencies a good salesperson should have. However, the question is, to what extent are our own beliefs about the importance of individual competencies accurate? To what extent do they actually translate into effectiveness as a salesperson? If you ask your fellow sales executives what skills an ideal salesperson should have, you will probably hear a few answers over and over again (communication skills, listening, and presenting solutions). Many people also have certain beliefs about what other competencies are of key importance to salespeople. Perhaps you do as well. In other words, each one of us has our own image of the ideal salesperson. When we add to this a study on the accuracy of recruitment forecasts (which show that there is only a 14% correlation between a candidate’s forecast success in a given position and their actual results)1, the conclusion is obvious. We place too much trust in our own ability to judge candidates based on our observations and beliefs. The situation is more complex. In fact, there is no one universal recipe for an ideal salesperson.

Many salespeople have unique advantages. Some are great consultants. Others have inexhaustible energy. Some people can create and deliver unique presentations. Still others make contacts surprisingly easily. Some people know what to do to make the client feel at home when meeting them.

As a result, many companies have lists of the competencies salespeople need, though these lists rarely include specific sales tasks. When deciding what we need from candidates, we have to consider the results we’re looking for and the goals we want to achieve. Every company has its own sales environment. Some sales processes are transactional, others advisory, and others complex and relationship-based. There are, of course, certain universal sales competencies that increase the likelihood of success, though a lot depends on what sales roles your people play. Properly mapping competencies consists of the following steps:

  1. Describe your sales process, accounting for the type of sales and your salespeople’s roles.
  2. Identify competencies that are relevant at each stage of the process.
  3. Assess these competencies for each team member.

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