Sales enablement leaders often ask us how they can better measure whether their efforts are truly making an impact. While there are a number of ways to measure sales enablement, certifying reps is a great way to do it. Based on the increasing number of inquiries we receive on this subject, our clients seem to agree. Here are some key points to keep in mind when putting together a certification program for your sales team.

Certify at Three Levels

The first step is to determine what should be certified (e.g. company knowledge, product knowledge, selling approach). You should then develop a program that will certify reps at three levels:

  • Level one: content mastery. At this level, we’re looking to answer the question: “Did they get it?” This is typically done through simple testing. For example, a rep completes a multiple-choice test on the features and functionality of a new product, or on the components of a value-oriented sales call. You determine what constitutes a passing grade; reps who pass are level-one certified.
  • Level two: application. It’s one thing to know what to do, and another to actually do it. At level two, you are assessing reps’ ability to apply what they’ve learned in a simulated sales environment – for example, presenting to a group or role-playing a sales call. Here, we’re often looking at both mastery of content and skill usage (e.g. conducting an effective new product presentation), so it’s important that the people doing the assessing have the expertise to recognize effective execution. At level two, the judging criteria must be crystal clear. An assessment guide should be provided to the judges (typically sales leaders, sales managers, enablement leaders or sales trainers) and shared with reps in advance so they know how they’ll be judged (e.g. opening a call using the company’s four-step call opening process) and prepare accordingly (e.g. watching a video that models a perfect presentation or call). This is not American Idol, where the feedback for why one contestant makes it and another doesn’t can seem arbitrary. Feedback on why a rep passed or failed should be based on a combined score from the assessment guide, should be specific and, in cases where a rep does not pass, should be actionable for improvement. If conducting role-plays, where the rep will be selling to a buyer or groups of buyers, the people playing the roles of buyers must be well prepared and scripted (e.g. not to share a certain piece of information unless asked). Allowing the buyer in a role-play to just “wing it” and improvise can take an assessment off track and fail to elicit from the rep the skills and knowledge you’re looking to assess.
  • Level three: field execution. Level-three certification involves witnessing reps demonstrate the ability to effectively execute (e.g. skills, knowledge, processes) in the field; this is typically certified by their sales managers. For example, reps might be certified on their ability to successfully navigate a sales call on a new product by demonstrating strong product knowledge, managing customer questions/concerns and executing a call using the company’s sales process. Again, an assessment guide should be used to score the rep to ensure that feedback is specific and constructive.
  • Some additional pointers

    After explaining these three levels, SiriusDecisions is inevitably asked by harried sales managers: “Are we expected to certify all of our reps, on all of our products, at all three levels?” Unless you really want to, the answer is no. You can decide to assess them in certain key areas, such as depth of knowledge regarding a few key products, effectiveness in articulating the company elevator pitch, or ability to deliver your differentiated value message. What you ultimately want to assess is the rep’s “readiness” to sell your solutions to the appropriate buying audiences (what one client calls “customer ready”).

    The certification process should not be punitive. We have seen cases where capable reps are crushed after being humiliated during a level-two assessment in front of peers. The rep should be set up for success, with clear expectations established in an assessment guide.

    Lastly, we see clients beginning to segment their field force based on “certification gates.” For example, “bronze reps come out of new-hire boot camp fully level-one certified on all products; “silver” status goes to those closing their first deal and reaching level-two certification on specific offerings; while “gold” is reached when reps obtain a certain threshold of sustained revenue and have achieved level-three certification for presenting to a senior executive.