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How to Develop, Retain & Attract

High-Performing Salespeople

Part 3

There is little point in defining the right skills – if you don’t hire [and manage] for them

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 3 of ESI’s 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. In Part 1, we discussed the transformation of sales from a low-skilled job into a highly-skilled profession. Part 2 explores those more complex skills in a little more detail. Here, we continue 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.

By now you have probably begun to define and codify the skills underpinning all your commercial roles. It is a non-trivial task that takes some time, thought and likely a lot of collaboration with your senior colleagues. Equally, the process really just draws out what your business has probably known – but not formally written down – for some time. In any event, the accurate definition of your commercial skills and competencies is a major milestone in the development of your sales talent strategy.

At this point, many organisations – quite understandably – take time to bask in the reflective glory of this achievement on the basis that the heavy lifting is done. That’s the hard part out of the way: just post the professionally defined specs and wait for the candidates to tumble in, right? Wrong!

Discipline Drives Success

It is hard to state how often employers get the next step so wrong. Having defined the complex skills they want to bring into the business, so many organisations just don’t hire for them. This can be down to several reasons: a misalignment between Talent & Sales leadership perhaps; it could be down to the practicalities of hiring from a talent pool that just doesn’t have the skills you need; most of the time, however, the issue is simply one of corporate discipline.

Throughout the hiring process, the organisation forgets to assess candidates for the skills they have gone to the trouble of defining. Hiring managers get charmed, go back to dated interview techniques and habits or simply rely on their gut. Almost anything other than coldly and calmly assess candidates for the skills the business has decided it is looking for.

This isn’t easy. It takes a real collective will and discipline to stay true to this skills-driven process. And it is made harder by the fact that, typically, people will fall short of your requirements. Sometimes it is just easier to avoid that cold hard truth and gamble that they are worth a try or will simply ‘work out’.

3 Simple Steps

That isn’t fair. It’s not fair on the business and – worse – not fair on the candidate. In a global talent shortage, the expectation needs to be that there will be skills gaps in almost every candidate. The point of the discipline is to identify areas for skills development – after recruitment. Don’t try and justify a hire based on gut feel. Instead do 3 simple things:

  • Assess against your defined skillset
  • Expect to identify some gaps and
  • Plan to address the gaps


Don’t Forget Your Existing Team

Implicit in all of this of course is that your newly-defined skills are only relevant to the new people that you want to bring in to the business. The other step that employers often get wrong is to forget to assess and manage your existing teams to your new skillset.

In fact, addressing the gaps in your existing team is as – if not potentially more – important as recruiting correctly. If you are struggling to find new people on the open market with the skills you need, there is a really good chance the people you already have are missing some of the core skills you require.

The same simple process (Assess-Expect-Plan) works wonders for existing teams in which you have already invested. The dividends here can be huge: freshly supported and, therefore, re-energised sales teams; structured career and professional development; higher performance and higher talent retention. What’s not to like about that?

Your skills definition project [link to blog 2] is a great start. But it is only a start. You have likely decided that you want sales people with focus, discipline and attention to detail. The best way to get them might be recruitment and management processes that demonstrates the same qualities.


Next up on Talent Strategy mistakes that can be made:  debunking the myth that salespeople are born and not made.


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