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Who’s On First? Why Identifying Sales Roles is Essential Before Sales Training

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Written by John Doerr
President, RAIN Group

I have been truly obsessed with baseball lately. My beloved Red Sox folded faster than the deck chairs on the Titanic in one of the greatest meltdowns in all of baseball history. And the talk shows are full of Danny from Quincy and Al from Everett suggesting changes that need to happen in the off-season. One fan suggested freshening up the pitching staff by having relievers start games, starters come in to relieve, and closers (generally relegated to the ninth inning) pitch from the seventh on. What a disaster that would be!

Moving pitchers around from role to role without acknowledging skills, commitment, and past experience is much like hiring and training salespeople as if they were completely interchangeable parts. I hear things like:

“Bill has been a great salesperson in his territory for eighteen years. He grows those accounts like no one ever has. Let’s move him to Santa Fe to open up our new office (middle reliever to starter).”

Will anyone be surprised when Bill comes home a defeated man? He has proven to be a great manager of his territory and his accounts, but he has not had to prospect in a new market for years. What a way to end a great sales career.

Selection and assignment are among the key factors that must be considered in building and sustaining a high performing sales team. All too often this aspect is overlooked as sales executives search for the superstar salesperson without first asking what do we truly need to accomplish? Do we need the person to prospect? Build accounts? Close new business? What makes a person successful in one aspect of sales (closing) may make them a disaster in another (cross-selling into existing clients).

Neglecting to be clear about expectations for the sales role then spills over into training. Account managers are trained in sales prospecting techniques that they will never use and closing techniques never get on the agenda for the closers in the mix. The results are an end of quarter swoon…no playoff berth and no World Series trophy (or the sales equivalent).


Define Sales Roles and Set Yourself Up for Sales Training Success

The first step to overcoming this game of mixing and mismatching sales roles is to take a hard look at your sales pipeline and see where you need the help.

  • Do your leads need an energy boost?

  • Plenty of leads, but too much time wasted on people who will never buy?

  • Low average sales per new account?

  • Good client retention, but no growth within existing accounts?

  • Under-scoped solutions that leave thousands or even millions of dollars on the table?

  • Great at closing, but no one to open doors and start the relationships?

  • Cannot get to the real decision makers?

  • Many or all of the above?

Once you have identified what you need to change, you can now concentrate on which skills you need bolstered. Our friend Dave Kurlan, researcher, sales trainer, and equally avid Sox fan, has identified seven sales roles – hunter, closer, qualifier, consultant, farmer, account manager, and ambassador.  While a few sales superstars can move from role to role, many salespeople will have very successful careers concentrating on the things they do best. 

Do you truly know for which roles your current team is suited? The best way to find out is to assess their current sales skills through a validated sales assessment.

Finally, once you have figured out what you need to improve and who you have to make it happen, you can design a sales training program that will get you the results you are looking for. Without taking the time to go through the first two steps, you are very likely to join the 90% of managers who are disappointed in the effectiveness of their sales training endeavors.  

Unlike the Sox, most of us cannot go to our constituencies, and say “wait ‘til next year.”

Topics: Sales Management Sales Training