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How to Develop, Retain & Attract

High-Performing Salespeople

Part 1

First rule of a Sales Talent Strategy? Change your perception of Sales Talent


Blog Series

There is a global sales talent & skills shortage. Your business cannot win by avoiding that fact. It can win by how it responds to it. 

Over the coming weeks, ESI will share a step-by-step guide to developing, retaining and attracting high-performing sales talent – drawn from the experiences of our customers and partners all over the world. Their wisdom, their expertise, their successes and their not-so-successes.  

When ESI hosts webinars and events with business leaders worldwide, a striking paradox emerges pretty much everywhere. As a bit of an icebreaker, we like to ask business leaders how highly they rate sales as a business function on a scale of importance. It will not surprise you to learn that, without exception, sales is regarded as an important if not the most important function in their business. Obvious, right? 

We then like to ask those same leaders how many of them chose sales as a professional career. Or how many have guided their children into sales as a career choice? Curiously, these questions typically draw a blank – sometimes even in an audience of sales leaders!  

This is striking: so everyone clearly knows the importance of sales as a critical business function but…no-one wants to do it. Think about that in any other context: I play soccer and know the importance of scoring goals but someone else can do it. I’m a musician but someone else can play lead. I’m a lawyer but someone else can be Partner. A little less obvious, right? 

We see this paradox in existence all over the business world – irrespective of geography or industry. It may look like little more than a curiosity but this pretty simple diagnosis is actually the starting point for addressing the sales skills shortage and fixing your sales talent strategy.  

Think about it: while they recognise its importance, senior business leaders don’t choose sales as a profession because they don’t respect it. For decades, irrespective of its importance, sales has been perceived as a low-skilled/no-skilled ‘job’ – certainly not as a highly-skilled, aspirational and lucrative ‘profession’. There are no (in reality relatively few) sales degrees – undergraduate or post-graduate. To be brutal, the perception has been that people end up in sales largely because they cannot do anything else. And yet these are the people to whom organisations consistently entrust the most important function in the business?  

The good news is that these perceptions are changing…at a dramatic pace. There is a global sales talent shortage quite simply because businesses worldwide have identified that the skills required of high-performing sales people today have evolved and not enough people on the talent marketplace have those skills. We know this because we looked: detailed analysis of commercial job specifications and competency maps confirms it. While employers worldwide continue to look for core functional skills in their people (the things they would like salespeople to ‘do’), they place a premium on higher-order cognitive skills (how they would like salespeople to ‘think’). And they struggle to find people with the latter. 

In our experience, your business most likely suffers from this talent deficit. You may even have started on the journey to address it. It may be of little comfort but the first thing is to realise that you are not alone. The second is to understand that Sales has evolved – from a low-skilled job into a highly-skilled profession. Start here and you can develop a sales talent strategy that works. 

Next up:  exploring some of the mistakes employers can make when it comes to sales talent strategy. 


Develop Internal Sales Skills

Like many ESI customers, one way you can address this challenge is to look at your internal resources and upskill the entire sales team. You may even be able to identify talent in other functions and convert those best suited into highly skilled sales professionals. In other words, work with the talent that you already have. By introducing a new sales training & skills development programme that the entire team can take – available virtually and self-paced  –  a new, standardised and highly effective approach can be introduced across your organisation. This access to new sales skills will help both drive your business forward and motivate staff.

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