Lee McQueen, Lord Sugar's Apprentice winner 2008, talks about the importance of raw sales talent as the building block for superior sales in context of findings from Aberdeen’s latest piece of research.

A plethora of technology is now available to manage, track and optimise the sales operation. Yet according to Aberdeen Consulting, sales talent is still considered to be the primary driver of sales performance by 40% of organisations. Tapping into talent isn’t simply a case of downloading an upgrade or slapping on a patch to plug a leaking sales operation. The best companies don’t wait for the perfect situation to improve their performance; they start with raw talent and good processes, and build brick by brick.

Aberdeen’s research finds only a tiny fraction of organisational technology purchases are for sales specific technology. When we say tiny, the actual figure is 1% of 33.5 million purchases, yet the future is predicted to rise to 16%. In other words, the technology industry remains very excited about the potential for these currently vastly under rated and slow to take up tools that some gurus predict will be the new assembly line of the modern day sales function. Assembly line? Will machines really ever take over the sales function?

Lee McQueen, whose business is based on raw sales talent in the search for extraordinary sales people, and training the stars of tomorrow, remains sceptical about this extreme interpretation of a sales replacement theory.

“While the tech geeks with their binary wisdom and their mathematical models might like to think that all customers are rational decision-makers, they are not, and this is where technology will fall down and sales talent rise above. But we’re really not talking about replacement here. What organisation would want to replace? Sales technology is not a sales people replacement issue, it’s a tool of the job”.

There are two thought processes in 1-16% gap; first of all that the lack lustre interest in sales specific technology, with its widgets, gadgets and tools is a sign that it will never replace the need for raw sales talent, nothing will surpass this. Or, on the other hand, that the gap represents a huge opportunity for sales organisations to become more sophisticated in their sales operations so that sales people are rendered more efficient for competitive advantage, but not for replacement.

Yet Aberdeen’s stats reveal that Best in Class organisations are actually less reliant on individual sales rep performance put down to their more sophisticated and superior sales operations namely in their people, processes and technologies which synch together to deliver greater sales performance. This is not the end of the story though, and still fails to explain why sales talent remains as the primary driver of favourable sales performance, and why organisations with talented sales people succeed better than those without.

What is Best in Class? Defined by Aberdeen Consulting as those top 20% of companies from their vast databases who out-perform, year on year, all others, across four performance metrics; revenue, win rate, customer acquisition and profit. A position that any sales organisation worth their salts would eat their hearts out for.

The Best in Class sales DNA is inherently more sophisticated than the rest, yet they face the same sales pressures and every day struggles like every other organisation. Their level of sales sophistication makes them less vulnerable to the vagaries of human behaviour and the pitfalls of being human but make no mistake they value their sales talent much like those less sophisticated organisations who are wholly dependent on sales people.

Aberdeen maintain that Best in Class organisations do not wait for technology or any other kind of sales enablement, they transition themselves out of poor performing situations by systematically changing how they do things with a ‘Rome was not built in a day’ mentality, they start simple and build up, brick by brick.

“In reality, there is no magic wand with one technology solution, how you use and deploy sales technology is where the competitive advantage lies. It does not and cannot replace raw sales talent, but simply enable them to perform with greater efficiency than the rest” says Lee. “There are many other enabling sales strategies, education and training being one which we subscribe to. Sales tech is the saw to the carpenter and the spanner to the plumber, a tool of the trade; the better the tool the more efficient the tradesman can be, but it does not replace the cabinet maker’s skills or the plumber’s knowledge.”

Are sales people the assembly line of workers who will gradually be replaced by machinery? “There is no evidence that this will ever happen, however hard the tech gurus try to make their case” says Lee.

It’s worth acknowledging what Best in Class companies do differently; they’re much better at being consistently profitable in their sales processes, they are more relevant and highly targeted in their communications, they’re more efficient in their sales operations and workflows, they consistently train and retain sales talent and their sales actions are demonstrably more tightly linked to revenue than the rest.

“We know, we’ve experienced, we see every day, that if you structure your recruitment processes around abilities, behaviours and competencies your search for talent can be made more precise. It’s about nurturing raw talent. This is the enablement. Plain and simple we don’t like CV’s when it comes to recruiting sales talent. We believe hiring people based on a CV is nothing more than wrong” says Lee McQueen

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