Are Your Sales Reps in Their Best Roles?

The NFL draft takes place this weekend, and a lot of the discussion and analysis you’ll hear about the players as they’re picked is whether not they have a proper role and fit within their new team’s system. It’s something that has an underutilized but critical parallel in sales. Although we talk a lot about sports analogies in sales, and about processes and core values as systems, sometimes it seems the industry doesn’t discuss enough the importance of team roles and whether individual members fit their respective positions.

A 2017 Gallup poll highlighted the fallout of failure to consider employee suitability – poor job fit was ranked the second-leading factor of high turnover. Not only can ill-fitting employees lead to increased turnover, but rampant inefficiency and massive loss of revenue.

“We’re doing just fine,” you might say. But even if that’s the case, looking at roles and fit within your sales organization can put your employees in their best spots, thereby maximizing productivity and sales. As with most higher-level reviews, this involves a multi-step process.

Step 1. Determine who you are and what you need.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu notes that if you don’t know yourself, you will lose every battle. While war metaphors for business have declined in recent years, this bit of wisdom still applies to every aspect of your organization and sales force. Just as you have to understand who customers are and what they need to complete a sale, so too do you need to be aware of yourself as a business entity.

To come to that self-realization, ask yourself the following four questions:

  1. What are the cultural values of our organization?
  2. What traits and skills are needed to ensure continuity of those values?
  3. What needs do our clients have, and, more importantly for this review, what *roles* are required to meet those needs?
  4. In the confluence of cultural values, customer needs, and necessary roles, what competencies and skills emerge as absolute must-haves in each role?

Step 2. Assess your team to determine if their current competencies and skills match their roles.
Once you’ve determined what your needed team roles are, and the skillsets each position demands, you can review your team members individually to ascertain whether or not they’re suited to their present job. If they are, fantastic! If not, then you need to decide whether the competencies can be taught, or if the employee should be shifted to a new, better suited role.

As a basic example, let’s say your company sells smart widgets (this is the 21st century, after all – one would think widget tech has evolved). After figuring out your values, client needs, required roles, and needed skills, you determine that you need a business development rep, an inside sales rep, and a customer success manager (the person responsible for nurturing and growing relationships with existing clients). You have 3 people on your team – Alfred, Bella, and Charlie. Currently, Alfred is your business development rep, Bella is your inside sales rep, and Charlie is your customer success manager.

Let’s say you discover Alfred is prone to trying to close the deal when he’s merely supposed to sell the meeting and make a first connection with potential customers. Do you move Alfred to an inside sales position, setting off a sequence whereby Bella also shifts, and possibly Charlie, too? Or do you try and use sales coaching to help Alfred get in the mindset of prospector? The answer, of course, will depend on a host of factors, including Bella and Charlie’s own suitability to their roles, and/or any potential new positions within the team. But these are the kinds of questions and situations you’ll face as you’re ensuring your employees are in their best places to succeed.

Step 3. Develop future processes to maintain best fit practices.
Now that you’ve crystallized your team’s roles and the positions’ attendant skill requirements, you can and should follow up with a matching overhaul of your hiring and onboarding processes:

  1. Rewrite job descriptions and future postings to align with identified core competencies and skills.
  2. Train HR staff and other interviewers in asking specific questions related to the essential abilities required by each respective position. These tailored queries should be worded in such a way as to elicit measurable data to compare candidates against each other and the opening’s skill benchmarks.
  3. Explore the idea of behavioral and competency testing, as it provides quantifiable metrics for measurement. CSO Insights notes that formalized competency and behavioral testing is an excellent predictor of sales performance optimization.
  4. Stick to only bringing on talent that has the necessary attributes for the position you’re hiring for. Hiring managers can sometimes be swayed too much by personal connection, and then they’re left with a new hire who is in over their head, which dominoes into negative effects for the team and company.

While undergoing this review and potential subsequent talent shuffle can pay off immediate dividends, both financial and non, it’s vital not to treat it as a one-off event. At minimum, you should have a fit review and audit once a year – perhaps even twice. After all, as your business changes, the roles and skills you need might also change, and so continuing assessment on a regular basis helps keep your operations running smoothly.