When my company first started developing sales training content, we grouped skills into five buckets:
- our markets
- sales skills
- strategy and tools (business information systems)
- sales scenarios.
Over time these categories were formalized and loaded into a competency assessment tool. Within the tool, each competency broken into five levels, with a score of three representing basic competency. Although the supplier we used offered some off-the-shelf sales competency descriptions, we opted to create our own because we had invested significant effort developing highly customized sales training. We didn't feel the more generic competencies were the right fit. We weren’t alone; reportedly, about 20 percent of their clients write their own competencies.
Here’s how it works: employees rate themselves on each competency, along with their manager, yielding a composite score. Sales leaders can then look at any individual, team, region, or the entire salesforce to identify skills gaps and develop data-driven learning activities. What’s more, for the inside sales team, one benefit of the competency model is that it minimizes debate between quality assurance managers and sales managers about what constitutes good performance.
In addition to the competency descriptions, we also loaded formal and informal learning activities into the tool so employees can choose what they want to work on. It’s worth noting that the learning activities have to be either bought or built in order to implement the tool. In our case, we already had about 25 microlearning courses covering the competencies that we supplemented with some off-the-shelf content and informal learning activities (for example, call a SME, survey five peers, pair up with a buddy, read a whitepaper and present the knowledge to the team, attend a conference, and so forth).
So, how often should an employee be rated? For us, we chose every six to 12 months, with periodic updates as progress on performance is noted.
Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. As you implement your own competency-based assessment tool, be sure to consider these critical success factors:
- Include both competency descriptions and related learning activities. This assumes a sales methodology is already in place. The technology won't help you until you have these elements.
- Collaborate closely with sales leaders to ensure the competency descriptions are relevant, precise, robust, and shared.
- Be aware that employees typically rate themselves higher than their managers do.
- Coordinate with human resources to clarify whether this type of tool will impact formal performance reviews or compensation. Develop messaging proactively and anticipate some pushback.
- Ensure managers are fully calibrated on every competency and that salespeople take the time to thoughtfully consider each one before they rate themselves.
- Be prepared to formalize and measure competencies. This will require significant change management activities across silos.
Next up is chapter five on customer-facing sales tools.