The updated model is based on comprehensive research on evolving trends and practices in sales.

In July 2014, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) began a comprehensive research effort to revise and update its 2008 World-Class Sales Competency Model (WCSCM). Research began with an exploration of evolving sales trends and practices that are shaping the sales profession and influencing the competencies needed by sales professionals today and in the future.

It continued with in-depth interviews with more than 50 thought leaders and leading sales practitioners worldwide in various industries. Validation data were then collected on the new model through one-on-one reviews, focus group discussions, and a large-scale survey. The result is a new architecture with new content and greater value to sales organizations and individual sales professionals.


The new WCSCM, like the original, covers all members of the sales profession and contains areas of expertise (AOEs) that are unique to each role, as well as foundational competencies that are common to all roles within the sales ecosystem.

A major change is the creation of a three-part model by organizing both new and revised AOEs into three groups (sales force, sales management and leadership, and sales enablement). This format makes it easier to locate and use information about each role category. The following is a brief description of each part of the new World-Class Sales Competency Model.

Sales force. These customer-facing sales professionals need skills and knowledge in acquiring, developing, and retaining accounts; defining and positioning complex solutions; selling with and through partners; and managing and advancing the sales pipeline.

Sales management and leadership. These sales professionals need skills and knowledge in setting and executing sales strategies; coaching and managing high-performing sales teams; and managing sales forecasts.

Sales enablement. These sales professionals need skills and knowledge in selecting, onboarding, developing, equipping, motivating, rewarding, and retaining the sales force and sales management to achieve business results.

What's new?

New skills and knowledge are required to manage evolving trends and sales practices. The AOEs and foundational competencies of the new model reflect those new requirements, as the following five examples illustrate.

New account acquisition. When pursuing new prospects, in addition to classic skills in identifying, qualifying, pursuing, and closing opportunities, sales professionals need to be able to:

  • Establish a social media presence as a credible source of information.
  • Use social media to create and leverage new customer networks in new vertical industries and organizations.
  • Harness a buyer's digital footprint and relevant sources of information to gather specifics about a prospect's challenges and potential sales opportunities.
  • Incorporate a global perspective in sales pursuit efforts to accommodate multinational customer decision makers.

The AOE in action: An account manager is in charge of business development for a consulting firm that provides training services to clients in the banking industry. During the past two years, he has used LinkedIn to connect with more than 100 senior executives in banks around the world. He writes weekly posts about the challenges and opportunities in the banking industry, which elicit comments from dozens of executives.

He follows the executives in his network, providing insightful comments and practical advice on their postings and questions. He also has an active presence on Twitter, with more than 9,000 followers. He believes the smart use of social media has been a contributing factor to his success: year-over-year revenue growth in 2014 of 113 percent.

Account development and retention. When expanding an existing account, in addition to classic cross-selling skills, sales professionals also need to be able to:

  • Harness data-mining tools to gain actionable intelligence on customer priorities, needs, past purchases, and key performance indicators.
  • Challenge the customer's status quo and provide insights into hidden challenges and opportunities to offer game-changing solutions and cultivate and achieve trusted adviser status.
  • Use customer relationship management (CRM) as a tool to maintain accurate and up-to-date customer and competitor intelligence to protect the account and pursue growth opportunities.

The AOE in action: An account manager in the PC and printing division of a Fortune 500 company is in charge of growing and retaining global accounts. With help from her sales operations team and the purchasing department of a client, she was able to collect and mine data on the purchase of printers and supplies by the client worldwide.

Armed with details about the patterns of the client's purchases, she challenged the client's ad hoc and distributed purchasing activities. She made a business case for creating a global agreement to consolidate all their spending and provide on-demand online ordering, versus purchasing from local retailers and keeping inventories in multiple locations.

The solution provided the client with an annual cost saving of more than 20 percent, higher quality products, and the convenience of online ordering in all their locations worldwide. The new agreement enabled the account manager to capture almost 100 percent share of wallet of the customer in this area and blocked competitors from the account for at least three years. She is convinced that the data mining and her timely and proactive insights were a catalyst for her success.

Partner sales support. When selling with and through partners, in addition to the classic ability to recruit, onboard, educate, manage, and support channel partners, sales professionals need to be able to:

  • Use more advanced data-mining tools to track investments made in partner selling and to assess the return on investment.
  • Use automated tools (for example, CRM) to provide information about partner sales performance and to expedite partner reporting and communications.

The AOE in action: A channel account manager in the healthcare and insurance industry manages relationships with a dozen insurance brokers and is responsible for their success in achieving revenue targets. In 2013 he started a structured joint business planning effort with his brokers. As part of that effort, he provided them with clear revenue goals and allocated resources and market development funds to them for achieving those goals. Using a newly implemented CRM system, he started tracking and mining data on their revenue contribution and use of market development funds.

He shared the information gained from this analysis with the brokers in monthly review sessions, and they worked together to make necessary adjustments to the use of funds and to perform other needed activities to achieve the revenue goals. There was clear improvement in 2014.

In one case, a broker achieved 120 percent of her annual quota within the first nine months of the year. A majority of brokers have demonstrated greater commitment and loyalty to the company. The account manager attributes his success to the use of joint business planning and the use of CRM data to track and analyze market development funds investment.

Sales team management. In addition to classic sales team management skills, sales managers need to be able to:

  • Ensure use of innovative CRM-based sales planning, management, and reporting tools and systems to establish consistency, promote accuracy, and achieve real-time sales performance assessment.
  • Develop and maintain a solid understanding of generational differences (for example, adeptness with technology, motivating influences, work habits) to manage multigenerational sales teams.
  • Lead remote global teams with an awareness of cultural differences and varied local practices and regulations.

The AOE in action: A sales manager oversees a multigenerational, virtual team of 14 sales reps supporting global accounts in a technology company. After attending a coaching and pipeline management training program, he started making regular one-on-one calls to his team to coach them on disciplined use and management of the pipeline.

He also paired his reps together based on such factors as generational differences, technology fluency, and vertical industry knowledge, and coached them to be engaged in peer tutoring. The results so far are positive. He has seen improvement in the pipeline and hopes to see a higher win rate of high-quality opportunities in the coming months.

Sales talent development. In addition to the classic skills in learning solution definition, design, development, delivery, and evaluation, talent development professionals need to be able to:

  • Use CRM systems and analytics tools to identify and target sales force development needs, and also leverage personalized, timely, and efficient learning and development opportunities.
  • Use innovative learning methods (such as mobile learning, gamification, and work-based learning) and determine when to use each to optimize learning.
  • Apply rapid instructional design methods to ensure timely development of learning solutions.

The AOE in action: A learning strategist in a global accounting firm is responsible for defining, designing, and evaluating sales talent development programs. By using the analytics capability of the CRM system to conduct win analysis for various sales teams, she identified potential skills development opportunities. She used this information to revise the sales training program and also shared details about individual sales teams with team leaders to implement follow-up sales coaching efforts.

So far, the combination of revised sales training and follow-up targeted coaching using real examples from the sales pipeline has enhanced the relevance, efficiency, and effectiveness of their sales training. She also has developed plans to evaluate the long-term business impact of the new program on metrics such as pipeline size, win rate, and quota attainment by using the same analytics used to define the new program in the first place.

Value proposition

The new WCSCM provides sales organizations and individual members of the sales profession with a state-of-the-art competency framework that clearly defines knowledge areas, skills, and behaviors critical for success now and in the future.

The model provides organizations with a powerful tool to guide their end-to-end sales talent management efforts. Examples include:

  • assessment—building and implementing tools to assess the competency gaps of sales professionals at all levels for both competency development and organizational capacity planning
  • coaching—using competency gap assessment results for coaching planning between managers and sales professionals
  • talent development solutions—revising or enriching learning opportunities around a common competency framework
  • impact assessment—monitoring competency development over time in reference to a common framework, to assess the impact of talent development investments
  • career planning—revising job descriptions and building career paths to facilitate vertical and horizontal career movement among sales professionals
  • talent acquisition—building competency-based staffing job aids for screening and selecting sales professionals.

In addition to the new model providing organizations with a research-based set of competencies, it also indicates their relative importance for various roles. Thus, it can be used as a benchmark to assess sales talent and supply insights to guide future investment in talent acquisition and development.

One of the goals of the study was to ensure that the new WCSCM is applicable to organizations of various sizes, in various vertical industries, and in various regions of the world. The new model, therefore, provides sales organizations worldwide with a solid framework for customization and augmentation, based on their unique needs and business priorities.

Finally, the new model provides individual sales professionals a framework to explore critical competencies for their current role, identify key competencies for their desired future role, and define and implement a personalized development plan for success now and in preparation for the future.

ATD is in the process of building a set of tools and solutions based on the new model, which will be available in the coming months.

Sales Roles Covered by the New ATD World-Class Sales Competency Model

Sales Force

  • sales representative:
    • account manager
    • territory manager
    • account executive
    • inside and outside sales representative
  • sales specialist
  • presales technical consultant
  • partner/channel account manager

Sales Management and Leadership

  • sales executive
  • sales manager
  • sales specialist manager
  • presales manager
  • partner/channel sales manager

Sales Enablement

  • sales enablement manager
  • sales enablement executive
  • sales compensation planner
  • sales operations infrastructure developer
  • sales operations researcher or analyst
  • sales recruiter
  • sales training manager
  • sales training executive (director, vice president)
  • sales trainer, coach, or consultant
  • sales training designer and developer
  • sales researcher
  • sales professor/academic

Foundational Competencies in the New ATD World-Class Sales Competency Model

The following four clusters of foundational competencies are shared by all sales professionals.

Collaboration. These competencies enable sales professionals to interact and work interdependently with others. Examples include relationship building, alignment building, strategic partnering, and teaming.

Insight. These competencies enable sales professionals to develop a robust understanding of their customers, and to use this insight to facilitate and guide customer decision making through skills in information analysis and synthesis. Examples include business and financial acumen, business/industry insight, and research/analysis.

Solution. These competencies enable sales professionals to develop strategies for identifying the right solution to customers’ complex problems, generating enthusiasm for the solution they propose, competitively positioning the solution, and negotiating and gaining commitment. Examples include product/service acumen, competitive intelligence, consultative insight, and complex problem solving.

Effectiveness. These competencies enable sales professionals to deal with accelerating change and the dynamic nature of the sales environment by demonstrating personal and professional effectiveness and responsibility. Examples include global awareness, diversity and multigenerational effectiveness, sales process acumen, technology fluency, and ethical decision making.