• With new confidence in the economy and the need for greater growth, the demand for top sales talent is outstripping supply
  • If sales leaders are to achieve their growth objectives, they need to make talent a top priority
  • Winners of the sales talent war keep a fanatical focus on executing the essential elements of recruiting and onboarding


At our second annual Sales Leadership Exchange, Mark Levinson and I shared the findings from our international study of sales leaders focused on growth. Big surprise – 100 percent of our sales leaders who took the survey shared that they aim to grow this fiscal year over last. What was surprising was how few of those leaders felt highly confident in their ability to hit their growth target – only 38 percent.

We then shared findings that explored what these sales leaders saw as their biggest challenges to growth. We wanted to understand what kept them up at night. One of the top challenges can be summed up in a single word:


The war for sales talent has just begun. With new confidence in the economy and the need to accelerate and push for greater growth, the demand for top sales talent will quickly begin to outstrip supply. If sales leaders are to achieve their growth objectives, they need to make talent a top priority.

Our study highlighted four key challenges that every sales leader will likely face when looking for the best sales talent:

  • Attracting and hiring the right talent. Most likely, the best sales talent won’t be looking for a new job – they will already be producing for someone else. Just as in sales, where we often need to move a buyer off the status quo (meaning they are happy with their current situation) into a buying cycle (by showing them that living with status quo is not acceptable), sales organizations need to create cultures, provide support and establish competitive compensation structures that can lure the best sales talent away from their current employers. However, a successful track record is not the only valid indicator of a sales rep’s future success. To ensure that prospective reps are a right fit for your organization, sales enablement leaders need to work with human resources to build detailed competency models for each sales role. At the Sales Leadership Exchange, Lee Cooper, VP global sales and marketing leader for GE Energy Management, discussed how this was an integral part of his transformation efforts, helping the sales enablement team to identify those critical competencies required for success. In building a competency model, sales organizations need to decide which competencies they will hire to – and how they will assess these competencies through aptitude tests, the interviewing process, and having candidates demonstrate their abilities through mock presentations and writing samples.
  • Onboarding: measuring time to competency and time to productivity. Sharon Little and I kicked off day two by introducing the SiriusDecisions Onboarding Model, which takes a competency-based approach to building and measuring a sales onboarding system. The model helps sales organizations move beyond measuring the typical measurements of productivity (e.g. time to first deal) to include assessing reps against their ability to master foundational competencies, and to ensure they are performing the right activities at the right level. Rather than assume new hires are progressing at the right pace, our model takes a “trust but verify” approach. The model allows new hires to test out of each competency at any time, allowing the organization and the rep to ensure they are on target. Later in day two, Iain Urquhart of Rackspace shared how his organization leverages the SiriusDecisions’ three-level competency model, by assessing reps for content mastery, the ability to apply what they have learned in a sales simulation, and observations of successful execution in the field.
  • Ongoing development and retention. With a keen focus on onboarding and getting reps productive as quickly as possible, some sales organizations fail to realize that the onboarding process is never truly done. Our benchmark research shows that the highest turnover rates (both voluntary and involuntary) happen in years two and three for reps – costing sales organizations considerable money in lost revenue, fallow territories and lost sunken costs in hiring and training. Sales enablement leaders need to have ongoing development plans – looking beyond foundational competencies, leveraging online learning, in-field coaching and gamification.

The war for finding, onboarding, supporting and retaining the best sales talent must be led at the top. And the winners of this war will be the sales organizations that keep a fanatical focus on executing the essential elements in each of these areas.