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Two sales managers review the results of a sales skills assessment.

Sales Skills Assessments: Building Better Training

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Written by Mary Flaherty
Vice President, Research and Thought Leadership


In today's competitive environment of complex sales, an organization's success is heavily dependent on the skills and performance of its sales team. Sales training is a critical component in equipping sales professionals with the knowledge, skills, and strategies necessary to effectively engage with buyers, understand their needs, and close deals.

However, despite the best intentions, many sales training initiatives fail to deliver the desired results. The reasons are often straightforward: sellers either lack the necessary skills or fail to execute them effectively, even when they possess the knowledge.

To ensure the success of training initiatives, sales leaders and enablement professionals must adopt a sales training approach that addresses both the specific skill gaps (capabilities) and development needs (mindset and execution) of their sales team.

This is where the strategic use of sales skills assessments can make a significant difference.



What Are Sales Skills Assessments?



Skills assessments are valuable tools that help organizations identify the strengths and weaknesses of their sales teams, pinpoint areas for improvement for the greatest impact, and develop customized training programs that address those needs. By leveraging assessments, sales organizations can:

  • Optimize their training investments
  • Enhance the effectiveness of their sales team
  • Drive better business outcomes

In this article, we provide sales leaders and enablement professionals with an overview of the sales assessment landscape and offer guidance on how to effectively use assessments for sales training and performance. We'll explore different types of assessments, identify the key skills to assess, and share our recommendations for implementing sales performance assessments to build a high-performing sales team that consistently achieves results and drives organizational growth.


Types of Sales Skills Assessments

Before diving into the implementation of sales skills assessments, it's essential to have a clear understanding of what they are and how they can benefit your organization.

Each of these assessments have pros, cons, and varying levels of cost associated with them along with timeframe to implement. When considering a sales skill assessment, it's important to align your desired outcomes and intended action with the type of assessment you select.

There are several types of assessments available, including:


Knowledge-Based Assessments

These assessments test a seller's understanding of product features, industry trends, competitive landscape, and sales approaches. They typically involve multiple-choice questions, true/false statements, or short answer questions.


Behavioral Assessments

Behavioral assessments evaluate a seller's soft skills, such as communication style, personality traits, and emotional intelligence. These assessments often use psychometric tools like DiSC, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) to provide insights into a seller's behavioral tendencies and how they interact with others. These are often used in the hiring process.


Situational Judgment Tests

Situational judgment tests present sellers with hypothetical sales scenarios and ask them to choose the most appropriate response or course of action. These assessments help gauge a seller's problem-solving skills, decision-making abilities, and situational awareness. These are often used in the hiring process.


Individual Skills Self-Assessments

Self-assessments can help individual sellers seeking to identify areas where they can improve their sales skills. Self-assessment is a useful starting point for individual sellers pursuing professional development independently but unsure of where to begin.


360-Degree Feedback Assessments

360-degree feedback assessments evaluate an individual's skills and performance by gathering input from multiple sources, including supervisors, peers, subordinates, and sometimes customers. This type of assessment offers a “360-degree” view of a seller's strengths and areas for improvement, as it incorporates perspectives from those who interact with the individual in various contexts.


Sales Capabilities and Execution Assessments

This is the type of sales performance assessment we recommend to our clients seeking to build and sustain a culture of top sales performance that gets results. This assessment type not only looks at seller and sales manager capabilities, but also addresses mindset and execution, which are critical for sales success.



Benefits of Using Assessments in Sales Training

Incorporating sales skills assessments into your sales training initiatives helps with:

  • Identifying skill gaps: Assessments help pinpoint specific areas where your sales team will benefit from improvement, allowing you to develop targeted training interventions. By knowing the specific skill gaps of your teams, you can confidently develop a training curriculum that will move the dial.
  • Benchmarking: Based on the assessment you use, you may be able to benchmark your company against the organization's performance targets, or a database of sales top performers. For example, RAIN Group's Capability and Execution Assessment offers both.
  • Measuring training effectiveness: Assessments serve as a baseline to measure the impact of training initiatives. By reassessing post-training, you can track improvements and demonstrate the ROI of your training efforts.
  • Enhancing sales performance: By addressing skills gaps and providing targeted training, you can boost the overall performance of your sales team.
  • Supporting talent management: Assessments provide valuable insights from hiring and onboarding right through continuous professional development, ensuring your team consistently has the right competencies in the right roles.

Understanding the types and benefits of skills assessments will help you make an informed decision when integrating assessments into your sales enablement program, driving better results for your organization.


Identifying Key Sales Skills to Assess

Some organizations will have an existing competency model to use as a basis for identifying the sales skills their sellers should possess, and others won't. While there are benefits to using a customized sales competency model, building one from scratch can be challenging and requires a significant investment of time and resources to ensure a robust, actionable model is developed and implemented.

This is why we suggest organizations consider using a model such as RAIN Group's Top-Performing Seller and Top-Performing Sales Manager models. All factors in these models have been statistically validated to correlate with top performance in selling and sales management. Further, the learning modules in our education system have been developed to allow organizations to build customized curricula to address relevant capability gaps.

Top-Performing Seller Model

For example, in addition to skills that enable them to achieve a value outcome (they resonate, differentiate, and substantiate), Top-Performing Sellers are also more likely to excel at:

  • Prospecting
  • Needs discovery
  • Solution crafting
  • Solution presentation
  • Negotiating
  • Winning
  • Driving account growth
  • Succeeding with people (i.e., relationships, conversations, and influence)
  • Maximizing personal effectiveness (i.e., productivity)

Implementing Skills Assessments for Sales Training

Once you've identified the key sales skills to assess, the next step is to implement assessments within your sales training initiative. This process involves aligning assessments with sales roles, choosing the right assessment, administering it, and using the results to inform sales training.


Choosing the Right Sales Skills Assessment

With a wide range of assessments available, it's essential to select one that best fits your organization's needs and budget. Consider factors such as:

  • Purpose: Select the assessment type that meets your needs. If your overall goal is sales performance, you'll want a capability and execution assessment to identify the areas that, if improved, will boost performance. This gives you the insight you need to create tailored sales learning programs that get results.
  • Validity and reliability: Ensure that the assessment has been validated and demonstrates consistent results.
  • Benchmark capability: Look for an assessment that allows you to benchmark your company and team against your organization's performance targets.
  • Ease of administration: Choose an assessment that's user-friendly and can be easily administered to your sales team across roles and geographies.

Aligning Assessments with Sales Roles and Objectives

To ensure that skills assessments are relevant and effective, it's crucial to align them with the specific roles and objectives of your sales team. Consider the following steps:

  1. Define sales roles and responsibilities: Clearly outline the expectations and requirements for each sales role, such as business development reps, account executives, sales managers, and so on.
  2. Identify role-specific skills: Determine the essential skills necessary for success in each sales role, considering both core sales skills and competencies.
  3. Map assessments to skills: Select an assessment, such as RAIN Group's, or develop your own to accurately measure the identified capabilities, making sure the assessments are valid, reliable, and relevant to the sales context.

Administering Assessments Effectively

To maximize the impact of skills assessments, it's important to administer them efficiently and effectively. Consider the following implementation best practices:

  • Communicate the purpose: Clearly explain to your sales team why the assessments are being conducted and how the results will be used to support the team's professional development and help attain sales goals.
  • Involve executive sponsors: A cascading communications plan ensures that executives, managers, and sellers are all on the same page when it comes to the purpose of the assessment and the importance of timely completion and honest assessment responses.
  • Create a positive assessment experience: Provide an easy-to-complete, online assessment and offer adequate time for completion.
  • Ensure anonymity: Conduct assessments anonymously to encourage honest responses and minimize biases. While self-assessments with names attached can be useful for individual development plans and one-on-one discussions, they may not provide accurate insights into the overall state of the sales team.

Confidential assessments help mitigate issues such as exaggeration, embarrassment, social desirability bias, and posturing. Asking others about observed behaviors of a group tends to yield more reliable and insightful results compared to self-reported answers with names attached.


Interpreting and Utilizing Skills Assessment Results

Once assessments have been administered, it's crucial to interpret the results accurately and use them to inform your sales training initiatives. Use assessment results to:

  • Create a capabilities assessment summary: Use an aggregate assessment of your sales team—sellers and sales managers—to build a capabilities development plan.
  • Develop targeted training: Design training content and programs based on the capabilities development plan, leveraging a variety of learning modalities and resources.
  • Create a continuous learning plan: Develop a long-term learning plan that goes beyond an initial program, allowing sellers to build skills and continue to develop over time.
  • Demonstrate ROI: Make a strong ROI case for training initiatives, building a plan that will move the dial.
  • Track progress: Regularly reassess capabilities post-training to track the effectiveness of your training interventions and make data-driven decisions for continuous improvement.

Using Assessments to Develop Targeted Sales Training Programs

Armed with valuable insights from the assessment process, you can develop targeted sales training programs that address the skill gaps and development needs of your sales team. Use assessment data to inform training content, design, and delivery.



Using Skills Assessment Data to Identify Training Needs

Skills assessment results provide a clear picture of the strengths and areas of improvement for your sales team. To translate this data into actionable training initiatives, consider the following steps:

  • Prioritize skill gaps: Focus on the most critical skill gaps that have the greatest impact on sales performance and align with the organization's goals.
  • Identify trends and patterns: Look for common skill gaps across different sales roles, experience levels, or regions to identify broader training needs.
  • Align with business goals: Ensure that your training priorities support your overall business strategy, sales targets, and current priorities.

Designing Training Content Based on Skill Gaps

Once you've identified the key training needs, the next step is to craft a curriculum that effectively addresses those skill gaps. Consider the following best practices.

  • Tailor content to specific skills: Develop training modules, exercises, and resources that directly target the identified skill gaps, providing focused and relevant learning experiences.
  • Incorporate real-world examples: Use case studies, role-plays, and simulations that reflect actual sales scenarios to help sellers apply their learning in context.
  • Leverage subject matter experts: Collaborate with experienced sales leaders, top performers, and industry experts to share content that's credible, practical, and engaging.
  • Ensure alignment with sales method: Ensure that the training content aligns with your organization's sales method, processes, and best practices for consistency and reinforcement.

Reassessing Skills Post-Training

To measure the effectiveness of training and ensure continuous improvement, it's essential to reassess sales skills after training. Consider the following approaches:

  • Post-training assessments: Administer follow-up assessments to measure skill improvement and identify areas that may require further reinforcement.
  • Manager and coach observations: Encourage sales managers and coaches to observe and provide feedback on the application of newly acquired skills in real sales situations.
  • Performance metrics: Track key performance indicators (KPIs), such as average revenue per seller, win rates, and sales targets achieved to assess the impact of training on overall sales performance.
  • Continuously update training: Use post-training assessment data and performance metrics to continuously refine and update your training programs, ensuring they remain relevant and effective over time.

By leveraging assessment data to develop targeted sales training programs, you can create a comprehensive and impactful approach to sales skill development that drives measurable results for your organization.


Measuring the Impact of Sales Skills Assessments and Training

Measuring the impact of skills assessments and training initiatives is crucial for demonstrating the value of learning and development efforts, justifying investments, and continuously improving sales training programs. This includes establishing evaluation metrics, tracking performance improvements, and calculating the return on investment (ROI) of training initiatives.


Establishing Training Evaluation Metrics

To effectively measure the impact of your sales training programs, establish clear and measurable evaluation metrics.

  • Identify lag measures, such as win rate, average sale value, and percentage attainment of sales goal, which provide insights into the overall success of the sales organization.
  • Identify lead measures, like pipeline growth, sales activity, and skill progress, which are predictive measures closely tied to desired outcomes.
  • Prioritize the most relevant and impactful metrics that align with your training objectives and business goals to drive meaningful change and demonstrate the value of training initiatives.

Strike a balance between lead and lag measures to identify areas of strength and weakness within the sales organization and make data-driven decisions for continuous improvement. However, avoid overwhelming your team with too many metrics, as this can lead to complexity and lack of focus.


Tracking Improvements in Sales Performance

To assess the impact of skills assessments and training on sales performance, regularly monitor and track the progress of your sales team against the established metrics.

  • Pre- and post-training assessments: Use these tools to measure participants' skill improvement before and after training. As part of our approach, we conduct surveys to analyze skill improvements through the lens of confidence, which drives capability.

Asking participants about direct skill increases immediately after training can yield uncertain answers as they haven't field-tested their new skills. However, participants are more willing to assess their confidence in skill areas, making post-training assessment more effective. Focusing on confidence establishes consistency and provides a useful indicator of improvement.

  • Sales performance dashboards: Create visual dashboards that display key sales metrics, allowing you to track individual and team performance over time.
  • Managers' and coaches' observations and feedback: Gather qualitative feedback from sales managers and coaches on the application of newly acquired skills and the impact on sales conversations and outcomes.

Calculating the ROI of Skills Assessments and Training Initiatives

To demonstrate the financial impact of skills assessment and training investments, clearly:

  • Identify the costs: Include all expenses associated with skills assessments and training, such as assessment tools, facilitator fees, participant time, travel, and materials.
  • Quantify the benefits: Estimate the financial benefits resulting from improved sales performance, such as increased revenue, higher profit margins, or reduced sales cycle time.
  • Consider intangible benefits: While some benefits may be difficult to quantify, such as increased employee engagement or improved team collaboration, acknowledge their value in your overall evaluation.
  • Communicate ROI results: Share the ROI analysis with key stakeholders, including sales leaders, executives, and L&D professionals, to demonstrate the value of skills assessment and training initiatives.

Using a financial impact scenario like the example below is often helpful here. Start with the Current State, the current situation that the training initiative is intended to change. Next, identify what it will look like when results are achieved, the New Reality. Then, call out the key levers to move the dial. Finally, summarize the impact by showing the investment versus impact achieved.

A financial impact scenario for a fictional company.

By setting clear evaluation metrics, tracking improvements in sales performance, and calculating the ROI of your skills assessment and training initiatives, you can effectively measure the impact of your efforts and make data-driven decisions for continuous improvement.

This approach not only helps you optimize your sales training programs but also demonstrates the strategic value of the initiative to the organization.


Recommendations for Sales Performance Assessments

Finally, here are five recommendations to successfully implement sales capabilities and execution assessments for sales training:

  1. Secure leadership buy-in: Ensure senior sales leaders and executives understand and support the implementation of skills assessments and training initiatives. Their endorsement is crucial for driving adoption and allocating necessary resources.
  2. Communicate the purpose and benefits: Clearly explain to the sales team why assessments are being conducted and how they'll benefit as a result. Emphasize the professional development value and the focus on supporting overall team performance to foster a positive attitude towards assessments.
  3. Choose the right assessment for the purpose: Carefully evaluate and select an assessment that's reliable, valid, and relevant to your sales context. Consider factors such as ease of use and integration with your existing sales method.
  4. Maintain confidentiality: As discussed earlier, confidential data tends to be more honest and actionable, enabling organizations to drive interventions that lead to improved performance and results. Ensure assessments to improve sales performance are completely confidential to gather truthful and unbiased feedback from sales leaders, managers, and sellers. Report responses only in aggregate, as individually identifiable responses may be influenced by personal posturing and a desire to be perceived in a certain way, rather than providing an accurate depiction of reality.
  5. Monitor and adjust continuously: Regularly assess the effectiveness of skills assessment and training initiatives using established metrics and feedback mechanisms. Be prepared to make data-driven adjustments to your approach as needed to optimize results and adapt to changing business needs.

Following these recommendations will put you on track to effectively implement skills assessments and training programs that drive tangible improvements in sales performance. Remember to approach the process with a continuous improvement mindset, refining your strategies based on data, feedback, and evolving business requirements.


Conclusion

By using sales capabilities and execution assessments, sales leaders and enablement professionals can gain deep insights into the competencies of sales teams, allowing them to create targeted training interventions that drive measurable improvements in sales performance.

Today's sales organizations can't afford to leave the development of their sales teams to chance. By adopting skills assessments as a foundational element of your sales training strategy, you'll ensure your sales teams has the right capabilities and mindset to succeed in their roles. This data-driven approach not only optimizes training investments but also fosters a culture of continuous learning and development to build a sales force that's agile, adaptable, and high-performing.


Published June 24, 2024

Topics: Sales Training Sales Performance Improvement

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