Understanding the critical competencies of your reps is fundamental to hiring, onboarding and developing a best-in-class sales team. The most successful sales leaders are able to identify, document and measure the skills required for their reps to perform at the highest levels based on their unique product set, customer profile, and market focus.

A comprehensive set of sales competencies should include both functional or operational proficiencies (such as prospecting methods, presentation ability, and closing skills), as well as behavioral proficiencies (active listening, ability to accept rejection and demonstrate resilience, etc.). But if you’re new to sales management or sales enablement, where do you start?

If you’re charged with developing sales competencies for your team, there are some critical questions to answer first. Thoughtful answers to these questions can help uncover the nuances of both the operational and behavioral skills necessary for your team and help ensure your recruiting criteria and enablement programs are aligned to develop the sales competencies that matter most for success.

1.  Are you in a mature market, or an emerging one?

Selling in a mature market, where requirements, competition and adoption processes are well established, is miles apart from selling into an emerging market where market dynamics are in constant flux and sales reps are often required to evangelize business need and create opportunities—and budgets—where they don’t exist. The maturity level of your market, and in many cases, your solution category, can have a dramatic impact on the required skills of your sales team.

2.  How well do you understand your ideal customer profile, and would everyone on your team agree?

Aligning the skills of your sales force with the needs of your customer base is a given, but often there can be disagreement within an organization about precisely who the sales team should be targeting and why.

Documenting your key personas and their business characteristics is Step 1, and will drive downstream decisions about your required sales competencies. For example, if your average sale is $3K, with a 30-day sales cycle targeted to one low/mid level decision maker at a Fortune 1000 company, you don’t need a highly skilled enterprise sales person who is used to closing $500K deals over 6-9 months with multiple buyers.

3.  How complex are the products and services being sold?

The more complex your product and services offerings, the more information sales personnel need to become educators and trusted advisors to your customers. This is also directly related to the complexity of your target customer organizations and the length of your sales cycle. The more complex the customer, the greater the potential difficulty in identifying and influencing a decision-making network. The longer the sales cycle, the greater the need to nurture and nudge, both the sales process and the people over time.

4.  Is specific industry domain experience required?

Many products and services are truly horizontal, and can be sold to professionals in a variety of industries and geographies. In those cases, understanding your buyer personas and their unique purchase drivers is more important than any specific industry expertise. But for many sales teams, the business audience and value proposition is extremely specific to an industry (for example regulatory and compliance products in the pharma industry versus the financial services industry). In these cases, where quickly establishing credibility with prospects and demonstrating that your reps can “speak their language” is essential, reps with past experience in that industry can be an important accelerator for both hiring and onboarding, and allows your sales enablement to focus their efforts on company-specific messaging, features and benefits.

5.  Is your sales process transactional or consultative?

Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their purchasing transactions without talking to a human. Therefore, if your business strategy relies on your sales force targeting numerous, small accounts, your sales strategy should drive your sales force to become the most efficient and effective transaction processor it can be. In the B2B world this is typically done online, through a portal, a store or an inside salesperson. With this approach, your company is valued less for the salesperson’s specific knowledge, but for how quickly, accurately and cost-effectively it is for customers’ to do business with you.

6.  What degree of technical proficiency is required of your reps?

While most of us are experts at using our personal mobile phones, when it comes to accessing –and troubleshooting -- enterprise technology platforms, experience and comfort levels will vary. Will your reps be supported by sales engineers or other technical resources for demos, integration support or developing SOWs? If not, your reps need to comfortable with the technology requirements of your solution, the applications and scripting required to demo them successfully, and have the knowledge to field questions as they arise.

Are there other critical considerations you feel are missing from this list? We’d love to hear your feedback! Tweet it to us @Qstream #SalesCompetencies.

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