BUILDING CANADA’S PROFESSIONAL SALES FORCE CAPACITY CRITICAL FOR FUTURE SUCCESS
Telecommunications giant TELUS faces a challenge that is increasingly common for Canadian companies – difficulty recruiting and retaining sales professionals equipped to meet the ever-complex needs of its business customers.
“In the past, as a telephone company, we sought very specialized sales talent not in high demand elsewhere. But today, our offering is so large and technology-based that we’re competing in the labour market against companies selling other technologies,” says Louis Morin, vice president, sales performance, with TELUS.
“Everybody is looking for the best talent available, and it’s hard to find.”
Compounding the recruitment challenge is the changing role of sales professionals, and the expanding levels of knowledge and skills required for success, Mr. Morin says. “I think that’s the biggest challenge every company is facing. Sales has moved beyond the “product pitch” concept to a solutions approach; it’s not easy to find sellers who understand customers’ business priorities, growth opportunities and emerging competitive risks.”
The often-frustrated quest for high-quality sales talent is also gripping other industries. Michael Dunlop is director of sales operations with Wolseley Canada, a national wholesale distributor serving plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, waterworks and industrial markets. With a head office in Burlington, Ontario, Wolseley has 220 branches across the country.
“Our customer’s expectations continue to evolve beyond a transactional level to that of a true business partner who adds value beyond just product,” says Mr. Dunlop. “We need sales professionals skilled in meeting these changing expectations. As the traditional sales model has focused on product sales, the available pool of sales professionals skilled in meeting these changing expectations is limited.”
“The rules of engagement are changing; everyone can provide product. Our customers are aligning with suppliers who understand their business goals, objectives and challenges, and provide solutions that go far beyond product,” adds Mr. Dunlop.
“They are looking to leverage knowledge, data analysis and technology to improve their efficiencies – allowing them to create more value for their customers and grow profitably.”
TELUS and Wolseley are among the companies that have turned to the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) to help them elevate the quality of their sales training. The association has spent the last few years putting in place the building blocks to make the sales role a true profession – with standardized competencies, skills assessment tools and educational frameworks, along with graduated designations that support career progression.
“Skilled sales professionals are integral to a company’s success, but for a long time, the sales role was taken for granted,” says Peter Irwin, president and CEO of CPSA. “And the true skills and competencies required to be a good seller weren’t standardized.”
The CPSA set out to change all that. “We conducted research on what employers need and worked with our industry partners to develop the competency framework,” Mr. Irwin says.
“Employers now have a set of standards that helps solve recruiting challenges, and organizations can evolve a developmental path for their sales professionals, embedding continuing education into the mix. As sales team members develop their skills, they can be certified at a higher level, providing a clear career path.”
Enhancing career-development opportunities is also designed to attract more people into the sales profession. The CPSA has other initiatives designed to make sales an attractive career, including sharing curriculum materials with educational institutions.
“Educators are developing programs using CPSA standards, and that is also designed to increase the flow of students into the field,” Mr. Irwin says. “Our goal is to increase the acceptability of sales as a professional career. It’s not always on students’ radar in part because sales has not been taught at the undergraduate level. We are slowly starting to change the landscape.”
The Government of Canada recognizes the value of a skilled sales force to support national targets for innovation success and economic growth. This fall, it announced funding under the Sectoral Initiatives Program (SIP) to help CPSA accelerate adoption of its standards and designations.
“The Government of Canada is focused on ensuring Canadians have the skills to fill good quality jobs in industries that are in need of workers. The Canadian Professional Sales Association and its industry partners are doing great work creating learning pathways that will benefit job seekers and those working in the industry,” says Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Meanwhile, TELUS and Wolseley both say they are already seeing success from integrating CPSA standards into their training.
TELUS worked with the CPSA to audit a first-level training curriculum within its TELUS Sales Academy, and this past summer, became the first organization in Canada to have an internal training and development program accredited by the CPSA.
“We have always had training, but now our program has closed some gaps and gives our sales staff a strong career path,” says Mr. Morin. “These higher standards have definitely helped us with recruitment. We had a new recruit recently comment on our training and digital learning tools, saying, ‘TELUS is like the “Club Med” of sales – everything is included.’”
Wolseley’s Mike Dunlop is also seeing the benefits of using the CPSA standards and designations – for both junior and senior sales staff. “Today’s young workers expect more. If the new generation coming into our business in sales doesn’t see opportunity for career development and an investment in their continuing education, they will move on.
“We are also making it a priority to upgrade the skill set of our experienced sellers,” he says. “They also value the opportunity to gain knowledge and learn new strategies to help them meet the evolving expectations of our customers.”
To view more stories related to this visit gloebandmail.com