What’s your company’s most important competitive edge? The thing that no one else can copy? The most unique aspect of your business?

It’s not patents, products, or processes. It’s your people. The sales talent you hire, develop, and retain makes your business stand out. Companies spend a lot of time (and money) determining their differentiators and improving their operational processes, but relatively little attention goes toward their in-house sales talent.

With the amount of information and options available to us constantly growing, consumers value their time. Relationships matter more than ever before — hence, your sales talent can be a clear distinguishing factor. In particular, sales talent has perhaps the biggest potential to affect both top-line and bottom-line margins. Hiring and onboarding the right people to staff your sales team will affect your overall financial health more than any other variable.

Hiring and Onboarding Sales Talent

It’s not always easy to find and cultivate the best people for your company’s needs, and current economic conditions are only increasing the degree of difficulty. In 2018, the U.S. unemployment rate was the lowest it had been in 49 years. As a result, employee retention topped the list of concerns for CEOs.

When you consider that 20% of turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, the groundwork for retaining employees needs to start from the very beginning. Investing in onboarding pays off: About 58% percent of employees who had a structured onboarding experience are more likely to be with the company three years later.

In a competitive hiring environment, focusing on your internal talent pipeline is critical. Most companies have several different buyer types and a range of distinct sales roles. Understanding the buyer conversation and matching it to a seller’s strengths, style, and motivation is key to effectively scaling a salesforce. Doing this successfully requires data and analysis — not just gut feelings.

Talent analytics can help companies better understand the strengths of each salesperson. Data and analytics inform decisions and shed light on questions. Suddenly, an important decision regarding a new hire or an employee’s potential can be fact-based rather than relying on intuition and hoping for the best.

3 Essential Elements for Optimizing Sales Talent

Most of the time, hope isn’t a viable strategy. At the very least, it’s not a good method for motivating and retaining a successful sales team. Instead, incorporate three essential elements into your onboarding and development programs.

  1. Let sales employees design their own training.

Encourage your sales team to create and develop its own training. That might sound like the recipe for a blown training budget, but it won’t be. Modern sales employees don’t necessarily want or need formal training. In fact, 89% of employees say they’re looking for training whenever and wherever they can get it; 80% prefer frequency over formal training sessions. In other words, employees want bite-sized sessions that allow them to learn as they go.

By allowing your sales team to design its own training, you are sending a message that you trust, support, and are willing to invest in your employees. Plus, your sales team members will likely thrive thanks to the added sense of agency over their career and learning.

  1. Connect sales to other departments.

It’s essential that salespeople feel connected to other people in the company. They’ll connect to a broader range of issues and interests, which helps increase their engagement and understanding of your company. About 68% of executives believe employee engagement and performance would improve if employees take on purpose projects inside or outside the company. Ask your salespeople to lead projects beyond the boundaries of the sales department, and you’ll likely see an increase in motivation, purpose, and overall connectivity.

  1. Create learning exchanges.

Nearly nine out of 10 HR leaders agree that peer feedback and regular check-ins have a positive organizational effect. In a team setting, soliciting feedback about what’s working and what isn’t is the best way to learn and adjust development strategies. Use tools such as closed Facebook groups or Slack channels to set up conversational feedback opportunities, but don’t neglect tried-and-true practices such as lunch and learns or meeting up for drinks after work. The learning exchanges might feel uncomfortable at first, but this strategy allows for the sort of real-time learning that’s vital for developing skills.

In a world where relationships make all the difference, your salespeople should be your company’s prized asset. You must cultivate your talent to stand out from the competition. It will pay off by giving you resources to invest in hiring, onboarding, and developing for maximum motivation and retention.

Want more tips on sales talent management?  Check out this blog