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Competencies: We’re Bringing Sexy Back | Jim Ninivaggi



Not exactly the sexiest of words.  For many, it may bring to mind building job descriptions or taking the dreaded assessment test for a position.

The truth is, if you ask ten people to define exactly what a competency is, you’re likely to get ten different answers. At Strategy to Revenue (STR), we have a definite opinion on competencies, what they are, and why every sales organization needs to understand the critical competencies that will be required for sales management and reps to execute your growth strategy.

So what exactly is a competency? We view them as the DNA – the building blocks — required for a specific role to do their job well.  We have broken competencies into the following categories:

  • ACT: How do you want your salespeople to act – especially when they are engaging with buyers? For example, you may want your salespeople to be able to effectively sell the business value of your solutions when engaging with buyers. – This is key as it is a specific activity that drives towards the outcome you are expecting from your people
  • DO: What is it that you need your salespeople to do? What skills are required “to do the job”.  For example, since a majority of client interactions today happen via email, possessing strong writing skills would be a required competency. – The skills required to deliver the outcome
  • KNOW: What do your salespeople need to know in order to maximize their buyer engagements? This typically includes product knowledge, knowledge about your buyers, the industries you sell into, knowledge about the specific buyer you are calling on. But this would also include business acumen if you expect reps to be able to sell business value. – The knowledge required to deliver the outcome
  • THINK: Some might call this attitude, aptitude, behaviors – it’s the mind set you want your reps to demonstrate. For example, thinking like a business advisor, looking for ways that your offerings can help buyers run a better business. – The underlying approach that you want your people to have to deliver the outcome

Competencies need to be defined and developed with a clear understanding of what is required for the role and the environment they are working in.  For example, the level of business acumen needed for an inside salesperson selling office supplies will likely be very different from a strategic account manager selling multi-million cloud solutions to one to two large accounts.

STR recommends that you map the competencies against the key activities your reps are performing at each stage in the buying/sales process. It is then critical that you map each competency against the following:

  • Activity: What activity(ies) does this competency support? For example, presentation skills would be needed for a rep to deliver your company’s elevator pitch to a buyer.
  • Assessment: How will the competency be assessed for mastery? This could be in the form of a test or “exam”, a simulated sales call with a sales manager, or actual observation in the field when engaging with a buyer. You’ll also want to assess against required levels of mastery (for example adept, expert, master).
  • Learning Content: Unless you have assessed for mastery in the hiring process (and have confirmed the new starter posses a competency prior to joining your company), EVERY competency should be mapped to learning content to develop the competency. This would include attending a workshop, taking an online course, or receiving targeted coaching from their manager.
  • Timeframe: When should a rep be able to demonstrate a competency? This would include competencies to be assessed in the hiring process (some refer to as “day one” competencies), week one, week two, day 90, day 180, etc. This will help you in sequencing how competencies are developed, and track which reps are on target with their learning paths and those that are behind.

A parting word of advice. It’s easy to over-engineer the mapping of competencies, to the point where it can lead to “paralysis” in trying to deploy and develop them. STR’s advice is to focus on those competencies that will have the greatest impact on improving the interactions – the conversations (both real-time and via channels like e-mail) that your reps will have with buyers. After all, these are the competencies that will eventually mean the difference between success and failure in your ability to execute your growth strategies.

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Jim Ninivaggi is the Chief Strategy Officer for Strategy to Revenue.