Elevating Sales Excellence: The Imperative to Upskill in 2024

The role of salespeople has never been more crucial than in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. With shifting consumer behaviors and expectations, emerging technologies, and dynamic market trends, the traditional sales approach is no longer sufficient to drive success. There is a clear imperative for salespeople to upskill and adapt to several trends and opportunities. 

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence. 

As the use of artificial intelligence (AI) grows more pervasive every day, sales leaders are seeing major industry transformations, including automation, data analysis, and enhanced productivity. By using AI to boost sales activity many AI adopters saw conversion and sales productivity improve by 10-30 %.  

In addition, AI is having a real impact on operational efficiency.  According to Salesforce, sales reps spend 72% of their time on administrative tasks which means only 28% of their time is spent on actual selling.  By reducing administrivia, sales teams can significantly impact their ability to save time and allow for more face-to-face and relationship-building activities with potential customers.  

Prioritizing Human Connections.

The time when traditional processes and strategies such as templated emails, cold calls, demos, or discounts were effective at driving sales and growth is over. As the landscape changes, techniques, and competencies must follow. Today it is critical that salespeople prioritize authenticity and human connection by building trust with their customers. 

Upskilling salespeople is essential for building long-term relationships with customers and driving customer satisfaction. In an age where trust and authenticity are paramount, sales professionals must possess strong interpersonal skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence. 

Our research shows that it is more important than ever to  upskill in areas right now:  

  • relationship-building
  • communication
  • negotiation

By developing expertise in these core capabilities, salespeople can forge deeper connections with customers, understand their needs more effectively, and deliver personalized solutions that exceed expectations.

Data-Driven Decision-Making.

Companies that rely on data to drive decision-making are 58% more likely to beat revenue targets than those that don’t, according to a Forrester Consulting survey. Best-in-class sales leaders are using sales data to make better decisions, uncover insights into sales opportunities, and adjust sales growth strategies. 

Our research tells us sales leaders need to be sharp critical thinkers and analyzers as well as relationship builders to be well versed in metrics and data that is required for today’s complex sales cycles.  They often must coach their sales teams to examine current conversion rates at different stages in the sales funnel,  test different sales techniques across regions, or analyze and adjust strategies to gain more insight into what’s working and what isn’t.  

The Need to Upskill Underperformers.

According to a 2023 survey by Salesforce.com, only 28% of sales professionals expected to hit quota last year. Hiring or keeping underperformers on the team leads to large quota gaps. Yet, forced or voluntary attrition is equally costly given it takes four months on average to find and hire new sales talent and an additional nine months to get a new seller up to full productivity. Without a clear understanding of which sellers have the potential to take them forward and who isn’t a good fit, many leaders are hesitant to discipline or dismiss underperformers.

However, as the competencies and strengths of successful salespeople have changed, a greater focus on assessing and upskilling skills such as establishing credibility, listening actively, demonstrating curiosity, and leveraging technology is paramount. 

Cindy Fox, XBInsight’s Director of Training and Client Services, says “One of the best ways to address underperformance among your sales team is to define the skills and competencies that are required for success in the specific job.  You need to identify where a seller’s skills align and where there are gaps. Equally important is identifying the values that align with the culture and work environment.”

Utilizing assessments and a data-driven upskilling strategy can help alleviate underperformance and better accelerate sales transformation initiatives, reduce turnover, and curb performance losses.

Continuous Talent Development is Crucial.

Sales talent can accelerate, or stall, the sales initiatives required for transformation.  Many companies frustrated with lower-than-expected sales are investing in new methodologies, changes to processes, or deployments of new technologies.   However, change in process or tools alone won’t drive the improvements most companies are striving for.  An understanding of skills and skill gaps with a formal mentoring or coaching process is key.  Firms where salespeople use a formal methodology and get consistent coaching see 73% quota attainment, according to Harte Hanks. And high-performing sales organizations are twice as likely to provide ongoing training and coaching as low-performing ones.

In addition, with ongoing development, seller engagement rises while attrition drops. “Coaching provides a platform to increase self-awareness, helping a seller identify their strengths and how to leverage them effectively,” says Fox. “It can also uncover blind spots that may be hurting a seller’s performance.” 

Sales training and coaching are especially impactful in an environment where the skill and mindset requirements are changing and for organizations who are skeptical about whether they have the right talent to succeed.

According to Fox, real-world application is critical for sales training to have an impact. “We teach methods for adapting when communicating and influencing clients based on behavioral style differences and use real-life case studies for practice and training. For example, customizing questions that are tailored to each unique client style is the best way to identify a client’s issues  to uncover tangible sales opportunities; or teaching strategies for negotiating with clients based on their style and specific needs so sellers can apply them to situations they encounter in the field.”

Evolving Your Sales Organization.

Upskilling salespeople is essential for staying competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace. With advancements in technology, the need to drive trust and human connection, and a focus on data-driven decision-making, sales professionals must possess a diverse skill set and different competencies than in years past. 

Sales professionals who are equipped with the latest tools, techniques, and insights are better positioned to identify new opportunities, solve complex challenges, establish trust, and drive revenue growth. Upskilling and coaching will play a critical role in identifying current skill gaps, planning for future growth, and creating solutions that ensure sales teams are prepared to succeed in any business environment.

XBInsight has partnered with sales organizations across the U.S. to build integrated talent management strategies, including customized assessment solutions, proven hiring methodologies, and providing industry-leading coaching and development support. To learn more, click here.