Terry gave this presentation, titled ‘Sales effectiveness attributes and personal development plans’, at the Future of Sales Festival in June 2022. You can catch the replay here with an SEC membership.

My name is Terry Mitchell, and I'm the Principal and Owner of 180 Enablement, a sales and marketing enablement consulting firm.

Having spent the last five years working for Fujifilm developing and launching a broad sales enablement program, I've decided to go off on my own and help others as they go down the path of improving sales performance.

My goal is to introduce you to some assessment and coaching tools to help you enable your sellers to improve their sales skills and sales performance.

The topics covered in this article include:

  • The five groups of sales effectiveness attributes
  • A system for rating the sales effectiveness attributes of your team
  • How to create a personal development plan for your sellers
  • A coaching framework for personal development plans

The 5 groups of sales effectiveness attributes

In a survey conducted by AAA, 73% of people think they are better than the average driver. Perhaps this is not a surprising statistic when you ask someone to rate their own skill.

If you were to ask your sales team to rate their selling skill, you might get a similar response.

With the following list of sales effectiveness attributes, we’re looking at a system that enables you to help your sales team, regardless of their years of experience, in a period of self-reflection.

There are 25 sales effectiveness attributes which I’ve broken down into groups to make them easier to digest.

Engagement (commitment for time)

In order to get in front of a prospect and be viewed as a value creator and not a time waster, your team members need to effectively open the sales call, execute the agenda, and demonstrate business knowledge and acumen.

They also have to be prepared for and overcome customer indifference. These are customers who express that they’re not interested and don’t see a need for the product or service you’re offering.

This is why sales calls should be opened with some compelling content and reasons why the customer or prospect should spend time with you.

Discover (commitment to explore)

We need effective selling skills to use effective discovery questions, layering in open-ended as well as closed questions to really uncover the need, and then create that compelling case for change.

Get the prospect to understand why they would want to make a change and take them from the current state into a future state.

Much of this relies on effectively conveying the consequence: “If I do this, what's going to happen? If I don't do this, what's going to happen? What's the impact or consequence of the implication?”.

Breaking the status quo (commitment to change)

Here, you're starting to collaborate with the customer to develop a tailored solution, confirm the business solution and value of what you have to offer, and differentiate it from the alternatives.

You also have to include the economic and strategic justification, the emotion as well as the logic behind it, and what the justification is to move forward.

It's likely that the customer is going to come up with objections and express some concerns at this point, so being able to overcome those objections is another key skill.

Enlisting collaboration (commitment to build consensus)

This is the stage where you have multiple stakeholders involved and you're pretty far along in the sales cycle, but you haven't closed the sale yet.

You need to create a plan of action and exchange value along the way.

You also need to demonstrate your skill in storytelling and get the customer to truly understand the proposal that you're making, build rapport with them, enlist their support and trust in you, create engaging dialogue, and maintain professional poise when dealing with objections or resolving concerns.

Building consensus (commitment to invest)

It’s important that you understand the different roles in the buying journey, that you can confirm the purchase timeline, and it meets the expectations of the customer.

You must also understand the buying process once the customer says yes, what happens in terms of final decisions, and who is going to be on the implementation team.

Resolving customer concerns in this phase is another key skill, and closing the deal by asking for the business.

Those are all the sales effectiveness attributes. At this point, we're not talking about behaviors, attitudes, or even aptitude. We're talking about really honing in on sales skills.

And why is that important?

Because ultimately, for a sales team member to engage in any kind of training or coaching, they're going to have to see it for themselves - understand where they're strong, where they're weak, and where they could potentially improve and get better results.

Rating the sales effectiveness attributes

The next step is to take the list of attributes and rate each one from one to five.

One is low skill, where the salesperson isn’t following the steps or being effective. Three is average skill, following some of the steps but not being fully effective. Five is really high skill, high proficiency, and being fully effective.

We now hand the list of attributes and rating system to the salesperson to self-reflect on and determine which areas they're strong in and where they potentially need to improve.

For example, with the first grouping, ‘engagement,’ the salesperson would rate themselves from one to five on:

  • Opens the sales call
  • Executes the agenda
  • Demonstrates business knowledge
  • Overcomes indifference

Each attribute comes with a question. For ‘opens the sales call’, we're asking: how well does the seller open a sales call by setting a meeting objective, stating the value to the customer, and checking for acceptance?

For the ‘discover’ group of attributes, we're talking about using effective discovery questions such as: ‘how well does that seller use open, closed, and layered questions to explore and discover possible business pain points, realized, or unrealized needs?’

Again, the salesperson would rate each one of the attributes in this grouping individually:

  • Uses effective discover questions
  • Uncovering needs
  • Creates compelling case for change
  • Effectively conveys the consequence

Creating a compelling case for change often comes from somebody who’s introducing new technology and really feels comfortable with that technology.

But sellers could rate themselves low when they fail to ask those layered open and closed questions to really understand what the customer's needs might be, despite the benefits that are self-evident to them about this new technology.

Effectively conveying the consequences is being able to explain what happens if the customer does nothing. For example, they might get left behind or not be as competitive.

The salesperson will go through the five groupings and rate all 25 individual sales effectiveness attributes. We would then calculate the total ratings out of 125 and divide this total by 25 to come up with an average score.

How to create a personal development plan for your sellers

You’re now going to use the ratings to create a personal development plan (PDP). Don't wait for the performance to become really poor - be proactive and develop a PDP for the individual seller to follow.

In the PDP we look at skills that were identified as focus areas for improvement on the rating sheet. I would pick one to three areas that the seller wants to work on, but no more than three.

You then want to open up a dialogue with the seller on what they will do to improve these identified skills and set a realistic timeline for when those actions will be completed. You’ll also determine how improvements will be measured to confirm mastery of the skills.

Here’s an example of how the PDP might look:

What skills were identified as the focus areas for improvement?

  • Uses effective discover questions

What will the manager do to improve identified skills?

  • Sales skills videos, provide training materials, develop a list of discovery questions for a current prospecting opportunity in Salesforce, conduct a role play based on those scenarios to help the salesperson practice, develop, and get better at that particular skill.

When will the actions be completed?

  • [Insert specific date]

How will the improvement in each skill be measured to confirm mastery?

  • The ability to identify and uncover the need and the need behind the need in set roleplay exercises.

This is an example of how one particular skill that the salesperson wants to improve can be pulled out and made very relevant and specific as part of a PDP.

The benefits of developing a PDP are that it establishes focus and direction, provides training to help sellers improve their skills, and creates a baseline rating for future comparison.

Now when we look at the rating sheet again after going through the training and mastery of the skill, we come back and rate those areas again in a few months’ time to see if there has been any progress.

A coaching framework for personal development plans

With coaching, the first thing that comes to my mind is the sports world. Even the best in the business have coaches.

They hone their skills, focus in on the areas of their game where they aren't performing at the highest level, and then work on improving those areas to improve their overall game, skill set and performance.

Here's a framework for a coaching session related to a PDP:

Step 1 - Frame the discussion

This is where we go back to the original rating sheet.

It's really humbling for somebody to say they’re a two or a three in a certain area. It's also okay when they rate themselves as a four or five.

It's harder for them to identify the areas of weakness, but we're not trying to beat them up by only talking about these. We want to focus on both their strengths and weaknesses.

A way to frame the discussion would be to say: ‘I'd like to discuss your ratings for the sales effectiveness attributes. I see the attribute list as a way to identify your strengths, and also help you focus on specific skills where you can improve your sales effectiveness and ultimately, your overall performance. Are you open to having this discussion?

Obviously, you're looking for that buy-in and atmosphere of safety where the seller is going to understand that their manager is trying to help them.

This is not a performance review or critique of their performance, you’re simply reaching out to them and trying to help them, so you want to make sure they're open to having the discussion by framing it up as the first step.

Step 2 - Uncover employee perspectives

Here we're talking about the areas the employee rated as a four or five on the list of attributes and giving them an opportunity to acknowledge and talk about their strengths.

If you're in agreement with their ratings as a result of some observable moments, then you can simply concur that it’s a key strength and that you agree with their ratings.

If you've seen enough observable moments to disagree with their ratings, you should ask for more information about their perspective on their ratings, as well as some examples of how they’ve demonstrated their high skill.

This opens the salesperson up to being more self-reflective and introspective on whether or not they really are a four or five in that particular skill.

Another aspect of uncovering the employee perspective is to talk about which areas they rated as a one or a two.

If their ratings are consistent with your ratings, you should acknowledge them as being areas for improvement and ask what they think they can do to improve their skill in these areas.

As a manager, we’re deploying our own skill in terms of discovery by asking questions to uncover the employee's perspective. Whether we agree or not, it's an opportunity to have that conversation or discussion.

Step 3 - Consider the impact

We next ask the salesperson to consider the impact of being weak in some areas of their sales skills.

Ask them what they think could happen if they don't master a high level of skill at [insert specific attribute]. Their response might be ‘I won't establish trust’ or ‘I won't be able to advance the sales process’ or ‘I may end up with a dead no decision outcome.’

In other words, they're going to open up, self-realize and now understand the consequence or the impact.

Step 4 - Clarify the structure (depending on the response)

For this step, we can confirm for example that becoming skilled at effective discovery questions is key to avoiding ending up in a dead no decision outcome and achieving improved overall sales performance.

Ask your salesperson what benefits they see in improving their skill in a specific attribute and get them to verbalize what else they see as beneficial.

Their response could be ‘hitting my sales goal’ or ‘reducing the length of the sales cycle’ or ‘winning more deals.’

Step 5 - explore solutions and next steps

Ask the salesperson what they see as the next steps needed to improve their skill at [insert specific attribute]. The response might be to ‘practice more’ or ‘spend more time preparing for each sales call’ or ‘set more specific call objectives.’

You would then agree on a plan to accomplish this improvement and when, and then how you'll confirm mastery of the skill. You’ll then take the ratings exercise again in three or six months' time to determine the progress that the individual seller is making.

Key takeaways

I would highly encourage you to consider implementing the sales effectiveness attribute ratings list with your sales managers and their sales teams.

As an enabler, I wouldn’t take this on directly, I would instead work with the sales manager who's going to be doing the coaching, and you'll then be able to assist with the training portion as well as skill development.

Create individual personal development plans rather than a flavor-of-the-month type of training exercise; some people might be dismissive of these if they feel they’re really skilled in a certain area and don’t need any help.

The PDP is key to unlocking the enlistment of the seller and their manager in a conversation and going forward to improve their skill set.

Thank you.