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How to Develop, Retain & Attract

High-Performing Salespeople

Part 2

Start defining your sales skills by looking at your Buyers

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.

This is Part 2 of ESI’s step-by-step guide to developing, retaining and attracting high-performing sales talent. In Part 1, we discussed the transformation of sales from a low-skilled job into a highly-skilled profession. Here, we begin to explore some of the mistakes employers can make when it comes to sales talent strategy. In time, we will focus on what you can do to avoid those mistakes.

In Part 1 of this series, we spoke about the gradual evolution of sales – and indeed commercial roles generally – from a low-skilled job into a highly-skilled profession. And that is where we start as we begin to explore some of the mistakes employers make when it comes to a bullet-proof sales talent strategy.

Because today – way too often – employers simply underestimate the skillset required to sell – successfully and consistently – at a level of high-performance today. The soundbites are plentiful:

‘Sales is all about relationships.’

‘People buy from people.’

‘Our product sells itself.’

Some of this might be true – some of the time. But this kind of thinking woefully underestimates the complexity of skills salespeople need to draw on every single day to succeed. We wouldn’t dumb down any other role in the business to a soundbite…so why sales?

There is another way of looking at this: think about the buyers in your organisation. Larger companies out there will have professional buyers – perhaps even a procurement function. Smaller businesses might leave big decisions to a CFO, COO or a Functional VP. Whoever performs this function, you need them to consistently make the right investment decisions for your business. Think for a moment about the skills you require of your buyers to make those decisions.

Guess what? Your customers are no different. They too will have employed highly skilled buyers to make the right decisions for their business. Those highly skilled buyers are the same people your sales team has to manage, collaborate and negotiate with. Your sales team, therefore, requires the same skillset – if not a superior one – to win.

The reality is that employers globally are now drafting sales job specifications that demand a longer list of ever more sophisticated skills. More and more, the emphasis is less on what ESI calls ‘functional’ skills – the things they want their salespeople to ‘do’ – and far more on higher order cognitive (or transversal) skills – how they would like their salespeople to ‘think’.

ESI researched this dynamic in some detail, curated and de-duplicated what we found. The result is an industry-leading sales skills taxonomy developed in conjunction with the Global Sales Skills Council – ESI’s independent Advisory Board.

What we found was worldwide demand for commercial resources who, among other things, can collaborate and conduct research.  People with business acumen & creativity. People who are credible, professional but competitive. People who have drive, influence and resilience. The most common requirement in ESI customers? Get this: Sales people who are CONFIDENT.

Know many people with all these skills? No…nor do we.

And that is the root of your sales talent challenge: there aren’t enough people with those skills so they have to be developed and honed – constantly.

The full ESI skills taxonomy is even longer – proving that many employers the world over are getting to grips with the complex skills they need across their commercial teams. They are taking the time to codify and identify specific skills for each commercial role in the business – just like any other function in fact. Make sure that you’re one of them.

Internalising these complex skills requirements is central to the development of a successful sales talent strategy. Moving away from hackneyed and overly-simplified old stereotypes about salespeople is a great place to start.


Next up on the mistakes that can be made:  there is little point in defining the right skills if you don’t hire for them.


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