Sales Leaders: Assess Skills Gaps Now to Avoid Pipeline Issues Later

By Hope Eyre on Jul 22, 2020

We suspected this would happen, and then we got confirmation from the Sales Ops team at our largest client.

“Some of our best sellers have become some of our worst,” they said.

The client was describing a subset of sellers who had historically been star performers based on the strength of their relationships; especially those who had relied heavily on face-to-face socializing.

“It’s the ones who never had to lean into any technology, because they were successful without it,” the lament continued. Pipelines already under stress were absolutely going to be affected.

Nearly 6 months into the pandemic is long enough to tell whether any of your sellers are experiencing true performance issues that require skill building. We recommend conducting an assessment on all your sellers, even informally, to see where your team has pandemic-induced skill gaps that will affect the health of your Q4 or Q1 ‘21 pipelines. 

Do it now while there’s still time to address those gaps, particularly if you’re also experiencing a downturn in customer activity.

The three biggest skills gaps we’re currently getting requests to address are:

  • Virtual prospecting
  • Virtual presentation skills
  • Virtual relationship building

I needn’t point out the operative word. The pandemic has made it impossible for the admittedly declining number of sellers still banking on golf outings and client dinners to hide poor process discipline or gaps in selling fundamentals. 

And that’s before we even discuss any additional proficiencies required by the V word.

An April 30th McKinsey article is calling the sudden and near total shift to virtual selling “the B2B digital inflection point.” According to their survey of B2B companies in 11 countries, 90% of sales interactions are now virtual. Certainly no surprise. But the interesting thing is that more than half the survey respondents believed virtual interactions to be equally or even more effective than in-person sales calls.

That survey was conducted early in the pandemic. We imagine the skeptical half of respondents may be coming around.

The case for a sales force skills re-assessment becomes even more poignant if your team is struggling to manage changing customer requirements or major organizational shifts caused by furloughs or restructuring.

Sellers who relied too heavily on relationship strength may find those relationships no longer exist.

How can you assess seller skills efficiently? There are a few methods:

  • Make heavy use of your leading indicators: Number of customer conversations scheduled, for example.
  • Ask your frontline managers.They can tell you who needs what off the top of their heads.
  • Send a quick survey, using any of the easily accessible survey technologies, and ask your sales force what they need.
  • Go on a virtual “ride along.” Attend video calls and demos to observe for yourself where sellers may need skill building.
  • Ask your customers.Find out how their needs are changing and whether your sellers are meeting those needs.
  • Continue using a management cadence: Use regular checkpoints with your team to assess health of their accounts/pipeline and inspect for skills they need today
  • Use this one-page virtual selling skills assessment to identify coaching needs and other skills upgrades for individual sellers or your whole team.

Once you’ve assessed skills gaps, don’t dally on remediation. The shift to virtual selling isn’t temporary. A large part is likely to remain permanent, which means none of your sellers can coast until a “return to normal.”

Normal has arrived. Make sure you know what skills your sellers need so they can invite it in and make themselves comfortable with it. Your pipeline will thank you.

Three ways to upskill your sales team

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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