Guest post by John Kenney
Turnover is a fierce headwind for leaders of Sales and HR. It is impossible to outrun the drag of vacant territories. Recently, I spoke with two Steves who faced this challenge and developed a sustainable solution. Here is their success story and an invitation to learn more best practices from SBI’s “Make the Number 2013 Tour.”
Steve Storer is a seasoned business leader at Cincom Systems, Inc., a provider of software to simplify and improve business operations and customer communications. As the strategic HR partner to multiple sales leaders, Steve is responsible for recruiting and retaining top talent. Two years ago Cincom faced a serious talent issue: they could not find and keep the professionals they needed to manage their complex sales cycles.
Something Had to Change
Conventional wisdom told Steve that a ‘hunter’ had the right stuff – an aggressive, results-now rainmaker. Steve told me, “Hunters have little tolerance for shepherding customers through the 9-12 month decision making process. They prefer to work solo and don’t effectively engage resources like presales or product marketing. We weren’t very good at keeping the successful ones.”
The traditional ‘farmer’ role didn’t work either. Farmers patiently nurture relationships, but lacked the assertiveness and independence to push decisions. For Cincom to compete with 800-pound gorillas like Oracle and SAP, they needed a high-touch, high-tech approach. Cincom turned to Profiles International for help.
Enter Steve #2
Steve Deighton is a Strategic Account Manager at Profiles International, a global leader in talent management solutions and assessments. Together, they assessed Cincom’s people to identify traits of successful sales reps. They initially looked at the performance of two dozen individuals to determine 3 or 4 they would “clone” if they could. They included a handful who were unsuccessful, too.
The composite characteristics of candidates with a high degree of “job fit” included:
- The ability to coordinate a team to solve a customer business problem
- Detail-oriented; able to manage multiple priorities
- A sense of urgency to complete project tasks on time
- Unrelenting focus on the customer’s needs
Deighton said, “Picture a person with sleeves rolled up, wearing a construction helmet with blueprint in hand listening intently to a customer.”
The goal was to define a total fit to the job. The focus was not just on experience or education. It was most important to understand how they adapt and process new information on the job, relate with clients, colleagues and boss. The degree of job fit was paramount – a combination of culture, relationships and competencies. They called this unique role a “Builder.”
Too often sales leaders want to hire “somebody like me.” Storer found that utilizing more objective information allowed hiring managers to supplement the interviews and background information with a third vantage point. He noted that “the result is not totally predictive, but it improves the probability of a good match. There’s no substitute for interviews and experience. The assessment can be a great objective tie-breaker.”
The Results Are In
The results after 2 years are overwhelmingly positive. Using Sales Pipeline as a leading indicator, Cincom has seen revenue potential grow by over 300% in one division. Turnover is down – significantly. The metrics show that if the sales rep has a weak fit (less than 73% match to the Builder profile) turnover is a problem. Remarkably, there has been zero turnover with Builders who match at 83% or more. Builders are comfortable in the role and may not yet be highly compensated. But they are patiently persistent.
With his background in sales management and general management, Storer admitted, “I wish I had these tools when I was a senior manager.”
The assessments also produce better functioning teams. Sales teams collaborate, sharing ideas and information. They are more coachable because the teams are built based around a match to the sales operating environment and the manager. Teams have fewer problems and less finger pointing.
Take the Next Step
The success at Cincom followed 7 steps below. Steve Deighton notes that “the Builder model will not work in a fast transactional sale; it’s customized for Cincom.” Job fit profiles vary depending on the buyer and the sales process.
- Start with the buyer persona. Do your customers prefer being hunted or farmed? (Most likely neither!)
- Find out what your sales team does that brings value to your buyers through factual research.
- Assess your current players. Top and bottom. Do an optimization analysis. What are the implications of moving the middle to the top?
- What are characteristics of top performers? Take a snapshot that is refined over time.
- Recognize that it is stressful for your sales reps to behave in ways that do not fit their individual personalities.
- Once you know what success looks like, use a customized job fit profile for sourcing.
- Move people into roles where they fit better. Take action when there is a poor job fit and make adjustments.
Success in any organization is 50% talent and 50% performance conditions. Steve and Steve’s best practice proves that talent assessments can make a huge difference. Get the facts about world-class best practices by registering for the SBI Research Tour. Elevate your sales organization’s performance to the next level – starting today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Kenney serves as Senior Consultant at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a professional services firm focused exclusively on sales force effectiveness. In addition to more than 25 years of direct sales and sales management experience, John has led a variety of Lean Six Sigma initiatives with verified results in improving sales productivity. He is a certified Black Belt and a Master Lean Six Sigma instructor.