As a sales leader, it’s difficult to help your sales team overcome the complexity around them. When buyers change and market forces change as well, there is no doubt that salespeople need to change their approach. In fact, many salespeople are recognizing that they need to adjust their approach to the buyer and change the way they sell in order to stay relevant. And, let’s face it, changing the way the sales team sells isn’t easy. As a sales leader, you have some choices to make. On one hand, you can retool sales processes, content, or tools to focus more effectively on the customer. On the other hand, you can retool the skills of your sales team members to have more effective sales conversations with buyers. The best approach may be to accomplish both. Either way, retooling the skills of the sales team requires a strategic approach.

Retooling the skills of the sales team can be broken down into two phases. One phase is the pre-hire phase, where your strategy should help you identify, select, and hire the right people into the right jobs. The second phase is the post-hire phase, where your strategy should help you develop and retain the people you hire. In an ideal world, both of these pre- and post-hire phases would be aligned to a solid understanding of the customer. Working backward from the customer’s needs, challenges, and business drivers, a sales talent management strategy can more effectively link business objectives to individual results.

So, what is a sales talent management strategy? Simply put, sales talent management strategies help sales leaders drive individual capability, like the skills and competencies as well as the organizational processes like succession planning and performance management. Driving individual capabilities as well as organizational process helps you create a sales culture where salespeople can manage the complexity around them. 

Your sales talent management strategy should provide a customer-focused design point for all these processes. For example, your organization may need to focus on helping the sales team leverage consultative selling or solution selling processes in order to gain access to buyers. The first place to start is through thoroughly understanding what the buyer needs are. Then, you need to develop a common customer profile that includes their key business drivers. Finally, you will need to list the behaviors required by sales team members to have valuable sales conversations with those buyers. Only then should your talent management strategy come into play. By clearly working backward from the customer and creating a list of sales team behaviors, you can hire and select new people and then develop and retain them for the long term (we'll be covering a lot more detail about sales team behavior change in our annual forum coming in February, where I have a keynote talk on this subject).

To carry this example forward, let’s say the new sales strategy requires your team to sell a more comprehensive solution. Accomplishing this strategy would most likely mean the average deal size needs to increase. So, what should you do? Resist the urge to roll out negotiation training or product training. You need work backward from customers and then develop a list of critical sales team behaviors required for success of that new sales strategy. Only then should you look at the challenge from the lens of your talent management strategy. 

To help your sales team succeed despite the complexity around them, your talent management strategy should help the sales team respond to change by working backward from the customer through the following processes:

  • Retention: How do you keep the top-performing salespeople who have an ability to understand the customer’s business strategies and business drivers, while navigating complex accounts?
  • Sales team assessment: How do you assess in both the pre-hire and post-hire phase to make sure the salespeople develop into the right salespeople who support the customer’s problem-solving processes?
  • Career planning: How do you help all generations within the sales team take advantage of career advancement opportunities that are right for them, while at the same time helping them contribute to the organization? 
  • Team and individual development: How do you align sales training, sales coaching, onboarding training, and leadership training to the customer?
  • Talent acquisition: How do you identify, source, and select salespeople for each type of sales position?
  • Succession planning: Which sales positions are the most critical to communicating value to your most important accounts, and how do you ensure these positions remain valuable?
  • Performance management: Which metrics drive the right performance to the customer?
  • Organizational development: Which sales processes need more efficiency and alignment to the customer?

Answering these questions can help your sales team respond to change. A solid sales talent management strategy can help you decrease sales team turnover, help salespeople learn on their own, and improve adoption of newly changed sales models. Remember, just because a new sales strategy is communicated to the sales team doesn’t mean they will have the ability to execute. To help sales team members achieve the new strategy, focus on both the pre-hire and post-hire needs of the sales team, and build your sales talent management strategy to work backward from the customer. With this approach, you will help the sales team focus, improve the quality of sales conversations, and improve the cadence and tempo of the sales process.