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Tim MacCartney, APAC Managing Director, Miller Heiman Group

Dear HR, the sales team needs you

On the surface, sales organisations are in reasonable shape. Revenue attainment is up for the third consecutive year, meaning it’s more than likely sales are hitting their targets.

Look more deeply, however, and the reality is a little less sparkling. New customer win rates and retention of the existing customer base is flat to falling.

Additionally, attrition among sales teams now averages 18 percent globally.

That could be a problem when you consider the top 20 percent of salespeople often account for more than 50 percent of an organisation’s revenues.

While there isn’t a direct correlation between this top-performing cohort and those exiting, there are certainly risks that, if left unaddressed, could result in a substantial amount of sales revenue and experience just walking out the door.

That’s partially on the sales manager. But HR also has a role to play.

The CSO Insights 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study research shows that the most successful organisations do not treat sales as an island. They don’t leave the business of selling to the sales team alone.

Rather, cross-functional teams work together to provide sales the support they need to have consistently positive, mutually valuable interactions with customers.

Forward-thinking HR teams need to be part of that cross-functional structure. It has plenty to offer around talent strategy and management, org structure, behavioural assessment and coaching.

These are key areas where sales teams want to make improvements.

For more than two decades, CSO Insights has collected data from thousands of sales organisations around the world to assist sales leaders in making decisions. This year, CSO Insights examined 53 practices to see which would have the most impact when applied to the sales team, and from that they came up with this year’s top 12.

Two of the top 12 sales practices invite HR’s involvement: having a talent strategy that ensures the right people capability exists to achieve business goals, and continually assessing why top performers are successful, so that others may learn from their experience.

An integrated approach to talent

Only 16 percent of sales leaders believe they have the right talent to succeed in the future.

That’s a pretty astounding number, but one that underlines the importance of having a good talent strategy in place.

A talent strategy ensures the sales organisation has the right mix of roles and responsibilities; the right staff are recruited and developed (through onboarding, coaching and training) to achieve their potential; and that staff remain engaged – with a view to keeping them for as long as possible.

All these practices are likely to exist but often as distinct, tactical activities rather than as an integrated strategy.

Where HR fits

In world class organisations, the head of sales owns the talent strategy, but that doesn’t mean he or she is personally doing all the interviews or that they’re not leaning on HR. Talent strategy has typically been jointly handled by sales and HR, and we see that continuing.

In particular, HR is likely to be of assistance in stemming attrition and in building sustainable – and realistic – retention strategies.

Sales attrition runs about 18 percent a year. At the same time, organisations plan to grow their sales force by an average of 9 percent. That results in a lot of hiring.

We recommend hiring based on future needs rather than people who fit the mould of your current organisation. For example, most organisations look to hire salespeople with industry expertise, whereas learning agility may be the key skill that makes the team more agile and adaptable to change.

It’s important to also be realistic about retention. A good salesperson might not stay for a decade, but you might have three or four good years with them. The best organisations invest to get the most out of their people in those three-to-four years. They work on developing better, more professional, more capable salespeople.

That’s helpful because future opportunities may arise from having good salespeople in your broader social network. It’s also often the case that people often boomerang back to good employers.

Additionally, the best organisations study what makes top-performing salespeople successful. Most organisations are over-reliant on a relatively small percentage of the salesforce contributing a disproportionate amount of sales. They don’t know how to replicate that success through hiring, coaching and development activities.

World-class sales organisations, on the other hand, know what drives success in their organisations and use that insight to drive hiring, coaching, development and succession planning. They also do so on a continuous basis, as what leads to success today will change as customer expectations continue to escalate.

We recommend that organisations critically consider what “top performer” means. This means recognising the importance of traits like learning agility, intellectual curiosity, the ability to relate to others and more. Predictive assessments and diagnostic tools may be used to identify traits that lead to success.

Tim MacCartney is the APAC Managing Director at Miller Heiman Group. 

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Tim MacCartney

Tim MacCartney

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