Strategic Human Capital Insights

Sales Upskilling as a Growth Accelerator


3 Competency Considerations - When 
Learning & Development Can Help Accelerate Strategic Growth Goals

Superhero business man flying with jet pack rocket above the city conceptWe hope you enjoyed our blog series on Sales & Business Development.  This is the tenth and final blog in our series. In case you missed the other blogs, you can
 view them here.

The fourth quarter is the strategic planning time for many companies.  This is a perfect time to review your sales force competencies.  For many organizations, the sales function is the front line into the marketplace. Keeping the sales function aligned with strategic goals can and does have a significant impact on growth. So how do you ensure your current sales function is robust, ready and upskilled to accomplish the task? When is it appropriate to determine if it is time for learning & development to play a part in accelerating strategic growth goals? 

1. Going Beyond the Numbers

Sales numbers can only give one part of the total sales story.  Dig deeper behind those numbers to determine what they really mean.

Evaluate each salesperson relative to the potential wallet value of the territory or designated client base: 
Sales numbers are not created equal.  Often, we only evaluate the numbers, for example, salesperson increased their numbers by 10%.  On the surface, that may look good, but the bigger question is, “10% relative to what”?  If the wallet value of a client base or territory is valued at a 30% increase, then the results are really lower than expected.  That missing 20% gap has just welcomed your competition into your client base. If the competition is good and you are outcompeted, your 10% increase this year could drop to 5% next year. Every missed opportunity on the sales side gives your competition an advantage at your expense, and introduces unintended risk into your client plan and ultimately strategic results. 

Evaluate each salesperson relative to the quality of the client base and the quality of the business they are doing: 
All business is not created equal.  Is the salesperson servicing the same clients without prospecting and bringing in new business?  Is the business being done with too few clients introducing vulnerability and the risk of erosion?  Is there an over reliance on ‘client relationships’ to carry the sale?  Has complacency set in?  Is the salesperson self-selecting the clients they want to work with and ignoring those that are more difficult?  Has the knowledge and / or skill base required to do this part of the job eroded over time from lack of use?

Evaluate each salesperson relative to their market / competitive savvy: 
For the most part, the days of simple sales are gone.  There is often overcapacity in the marketplace resulting in product commoditization, giving clients real, alternative choices.  Today, salespeople, to stay current with and relevant to their clients, must have a sophisticated marketing and sales understanding: 

  • Do salespeople understand the pressures overcapacity can have on the product?
  • Do salespeople understand how to highly differentiate the product so it solves the problems for different players in the buying center? 
  • Is the salesperson optimizing every client interaction with the absolute, correct sales behaviors and actions all the time?  
  • Is every action moving the client process forward?  
  • If the sales process is not moving forward, then it is either static or moving backward?  Today, there is no steady state.

2. Results and Learning & Development Actions

If there are negative responses to any of these questions, there is a high probability that strategic targets will not be met. These three considerations highlight real consequential, strategic deficits that can cause serious organizational results.  At the end of the year, it is not a responsible management question to ask, “How did that happen?”  It happens because these operating deficits have been ignored or denied.  Senior leadership and sales management must ask the following two questions: 

  1. Is this a knowledge deficit?: The market is constantly changing. What was relevant a year ago or 3 years ago is often no longer relevant.  Therefore, the knowledge base of salespeople must be continually upgraded. Being stale in a robust market builds erosion into your organizational business model.  This deficit requires learning & development as a strategic imperative.

  1. Is this a skills deficit?: As any athlete knows, continual practice keeps skills at their highest level.  The analogy directly applies to sales.  When simple and complex sales skills are not continually reevaluated, or are taken for granted or assumed, a strategic skills deficit builds erosion in your business model.  A high-performing salesperson must have high-performing skills.  Any skills deficit requires learning & development as a strategic imperative. This skills deficit will not get better by itself.

3. Observation

Even perceived business as usual (BAU) operations, in a changing environment, must be continually evaluated. Deal with knowledge and skills deficits as soon as they appear or you will certainly deal with them later, when the deficit gap may have become an insurmountable abyss.


Download our change management case study to learn about how a strategic change can impact sales function.  When and how could the strategic use of learning & development have created a more positive outcome? 

Download the Case Study >>

Topics: Business Development

Posted by Joanne Flynn

Joanne Flynn

Joanne T. Flynn heads up the human capital advisory group, Phoenix Strategic Performance, Inc. Previously, she was a Managing Director with Phoenix Group International and was Vice President / Director of Global Learning and Development at Goldman, Sachs for nine years. Joanne works with organizations as they face global growth and competitive challenges. She works with her clients to be both externally focused and internally responsive. With her unique background, she aligns competitive strategic efforts with related internal organizational leadership challenges. With the benefit of her career-long focus, Joanne contributes the unique insight of aligning strategy to internal organizational structure and process. She focuses on human capital relative to strategic initiatives, accelerated business growth, value creation, and business development. Joanne holds a Master of Arts degree in Business Management from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she holds a double degree major in History and German from St. Elizabeth University, as well as certificates from a variety of leading universities and professional training and development organizations. Joanne has recently published her latest book, Accelerating Business Success, The Human Asset Management Strategy.

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