Ugh. I get it. When I was a first-time sales enablement practitioner, just the mention of “competencies” made my eyes glaze over and my attention immediately wane. I believed that competency mapping was a theoretical exercise invented by human resources or learning designers to test my last nerve. I was certain that the exercise would never impact our organization’s sales outcomes.

Luckily, I changed my thinking and my approach to mapping competencies for sales organizations. I’m sharing this because I’ve been working with quite a few clients lately who are revamping their sales onboarding and learning programs. Part of the revamp includes better metrics that speak to better seller job performance and the business impact of enablement initiatives.

It’s going to be extremely difficult to measure sales effectiveness if we haven’t clearly defined and articulated what skills and knowledge are needed to be successful in a particular role. Many times, clients tell me they measure a successful sales rep as one who achieves quota. While that is the ultimate goal, quota attainment is a lagging indicator. If they don’t hit quota, how could we have made them successful? Hitting or not hitting quota as a success factor is much too late to help!

The very concept of mapping competencies is to ensure you are setting your sellers up for success by providing the right hiring, onboarding, learning, development, and assessments that target very specific business outcomes. Those outcomes need to be aligned with your organization’s overall strategy for success. By mapping competencies, we create a systematic and organized approach to defining those key, observable behaviors that will lead to overall success.

Let’s break down competency mapping and understand why it’s critical to your sales learning and development programs and the success of your entire sales organization.

  1. Define seller competencies. First, let’s clarify what we mean by a competency versus a skill. A skill is task-related — like being able to present key differentiators of your organization and/or product to a buyer persona. A competency is a set of skills, plus knowledge, plus process expertise — and then the integration of all these areas into observable behaviors and leading indicators of success.

Too often, we see clients go through a mapping exercise and stop at defining what a sales role must do at the competency level without detailing what skills, knowledge, and process expertise makes up that competency. They must go further to build measurable sales and learning development programs. It’s important that each competency is clearly defined and aligns with what behaviors your reps need to demonstrate as the outcome.

For example:

Competency: New business development



Process expertise

Lead generation in an assigned territory Buyer identification Pipeline management
Prospecting Portfolio of offerings Forecasting
Presentation Portfolio messaging Sales force automation system
Objection handling Sales process and sales stage criteria Configure, price, quote
Industrywide business challenges and impacts on prospect accounts
Common buyer persona objections

Example of leading indicator of success

Health of pipeline

(Specificity for new hires is recommended, i.e., 30-day milestone: five new qualified prospects in assigned territory)


  1. Competencies should be mapped to business goals. A competency map is not just an arbitrary list of skills and knowledge. Competencies should be mapped to your organization’s business goals.

For example, your organization is fantastic at client retention but recognizes it must get better at acquiring new logos to increase market share. As in the example above, there must be a competency for “new business development” to achieve this overarching business objective. Competency maps, therefore, define the key observable behaviors, by sales role, that help to achieve designated business objectives.

  1. Identify and define competency proficiency levels. Not every individual in a specific sales role will be at the same level of expertise or proficiency in context of the defined competencies. Use a scale of proficiency to help assess individuals and encourage growth. For example, three levels of proficiency can include: foundational (individual has been exposed to the knowledge and skills); emerging (individual can apply the knowledge and skills); and mastery (individual can apply the knowledge and skills in challenging circumstances and can even teach/mentor others).

It’s helpful to have levels of competencies to not only help sales progress in their roles, but also to help manage expectations for role changes and career advancement.

  1. Assess seller competencies. Remember, competencies encompass a set of skills and knowledge resulting in observable behaviors. To elicit useful assessments, you must leverage the right kind of test for each. A common mistake sales enablement leaders make is to use knowledge assessments to test for a skill.

I can watch a YouTube video on how to build a birdhouse. I can then easily repeat back all the materials needed to build that house, and the steps required to complete the task. Am I now able to build one? Nope. Just because I can list the components needed for the task doesn’t mean I can perform it. Similarly, assessing sales skills requires a task-based test. A rep should perform a real job task either as a simulation or in a real-world environment — a stand-and-deliver presentation, for example.

Scenario-based tests are especially useful when assessing complex competencies where it’s difficult to isolate a single skill from related skills, knowledge, and process expertise. For example, having the rep present — a required sales skill — to a team of buyers and having the ability to pivot and answer common objections from various buyer personas is a skill that requires knowledge about buyer personas and handling objections.

Skill assessments are most useful and reliable when they are mapped to the job role and mimic real-world job scenarios, like conducting a customer discovery meeting or a walking through a product demo.

By taking the time to map the required competencies for each sales role, you’re ensuring that reps who have those defined competencies are more productive, efficient, and, as a result, more successful.