Define Your X-Factors

By Mike Erlin

By Mike Erlin

Co-Founder & CEO

Performance in sales, or indeed any role, is a function of both capability and environment. The implication? Every role has a definitive set of ‘X-Factor’ capabilities that drive high performance.

What makes a great salesperson? Are they like athletes with unfaltering drive and competitiveness or more akin to psychologists looking to build empathy and understanding. The disproportionately high (and rising) turnover of individuals in sales teams suggests that the wrong question is being asked. Instead, we should be asking what drives performance in a role.

AbilityMap, a technological break-through in business productivity, was engaged to answer this question for a leading global Saas provider’s Australian sales team. AbilityMap’s Job Profiler tool was applied to define the high-performance human-capability architecture held by the elite group of best-performing Account Executives ranked in the top 10% over a two-year period.  With the question answered, they are ready to get more of those critical capabilities in their business.

Modest turnover can be expected, healthy even, as new ideas can prevent stagnation. Replacing a third of sales staff year-on-year due to poor quota attainment, however, can be financially challenging for any organisation. Substantial sums are paid to attract ‘top talent’ and a staggering amount of time is spent recruiting, managing and training people that appear to inherently lack the capability to succeed.

So why are leading sales teams facing persisting variance in performance? And, more importantly, why is the problem persisting despite functional turnover? As expected, all are following what is considered best practice across HR recruitment and training. Is there a need for a better ‘best practice’? After all, the widely accepted and used process of resume and interview is inherently subjective.

A resume, at best, is an exaggeration of achievements, skills and experience; at worst a total fabrication with both scenarios difficult to verify. Interviews are necessary to judge ‘fit’ but again fall prey to subjectivity of hiring managers and the embellishment of candidates. We all know individuals who are “great at interviews”, a skill in itself, but that is no guarantee of being able to excel within a role.

According to our extensive research, subjectivity is an issue but at an earlier stage. The fundamental cause of performance variance is a lack of understanding of what drives exceptional performance in a role. Recruitment processes are predicated on an understanding of the capabilities needed for success, but asking ten hiring managers to define the capabilities that drive high performance in the same role, in the company will return ten different answers. They can’t all be right.

1 = Viewed as Most Important. 2 = Second

Considerations: They are different views and cannot all be correct. What are the ramifications for external/internal hiring and coaching?

Without understanding these capabilities an annual turnover of staff is all but futile. Quite simply, you don’t know what you’re looking for. AbilityMap was founded on the principle that performance is a function of capability and environment. Success in a previous sales role does not necessarily equate to success in another sales role. Logically, the best way to ensure, or at least drastically increase the chances of high performance is by measuring and comparing capabilities with those already excelling in a role.

The top 10% of performers within the organisation provide the blueprint for success. These all-star sales people who close deal after deal possess the specific capability profile necessary to deliver in the specific role. Our online evaluation, the Ability Imprint, allows you to objectively define these inherent capabilities. AbilityMap’s Job Profiler is then used to identify the capabilities these individuals hold strongest and in common.

The ‘X-Factor’ capabilities that drive performance in that specific role are now defined.

A global tech company was facing huge variance in performance of their Australian sales division; between a third and  half of the team were consistently missing minimum targets. In response, a third of the sales team were replaced year-on-year but the problem persisted. Without understanding the actual capabilities required for high performance they would likely be trapped in an expensive cycle of hire and rehire.

Using our Ability Imprint & Job Profiler we were able to define the ‘X-Factor’ capabilities possessed by the top 10% and compare that to the bottom 10%. Both appear to be reasonable profiles for a sales person, but four distinct capabilities were significantly stronger in the top performers: Handling Authority, Leading Others, Independence & Initiative and Business Acumen.

Understanding the capabilities that drive performance have widespread implications for an organisation. HR recruitment can objectively identify the capabilities necessary for a role and measure them within potential candidates. Our Human Capability Balance Sheet allows organisations to compare the entire team against the top 10% of performers and training can be allocated where necessary.

What they said…

“I am a complete believer.  I’m in with both feet.  I knew that we had too many farmers and didn’t know what a hunter was.”

VP of Sales

“AbilityMap’s AMCO ranking of my team nailed their performance ratings.  I don’t want to interview any candidate without an AbilityMap Fit Report.”

Team Sales Manager

To increase and narrow the variance in performance organisations must define their ‘X-Factor’ capabilities.

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