The sales Quality Revolution
THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SELLING
By: Howard Stevens and Geoffrey James
Based on 20 Years of World Class Sales Research Across 80,000 B2B Customers and 7,300 Sales Forces
As seen in our previous special report (Measuring Sales Performance),
companies can now measure their sales teams in many different ways.
However, there is another way to measure sales teams that actually
can predict future performance, not with total accuracy perhaps, but
with much more accuracy than was possible in the past.
This kind of metric is based upon empirical research into the roles that
sales professionals play, the behaviors they exhibit, and how those
behaviors are likely to play themselves out in the real world. This new
way of measuring sales draws upon decades of corporate experience
in manufacturing improvements.
This special report discusses what we call “the sales quality revolution,”
and explains how these new metrics are applied in order to improve the
effectiveness of sales management, both at the strategic and tactical level.
The Art and Science of Selling
The history of sales management is a history of two competing
narratives about the nature of selling.
The first narrative is built around the concept that “selling is an art.” In this nar-
rative, the activities of the sales professional are seen as essentially mysterious
and tied to the basic personalities of the individuals involved. This narrative
creates a management style that emphasizes personal development and sales
managers are primarily seen as coaches and “people pickers” who can find the
sales stars with the innate skill.
The second narrative is built around the concept that “selling is a science.”
Here, the activities of the sales professional are seen as easily replicated behav-
iors that can be taught to virtually any employee with basic social skills. This
narrative creates a management style that emphasizes sales process and sales
managers are primarily seen as administrators who measure sales activity and
take corrective action as necessary.
Sales trainers and sales training firms have traditionally fallen into both camps.
There are many sales trainers such as Art Mortel, Jeff Keller, and Anthony Rob-
bins whose seminars are primarily motivational. However, the bulk of the sales
training presented today by firms such as Richardson, Advantage Performance
Group, and AchieveGlobal fall into the second category, emphasizing process
and measurement, and the replication of “best practices” skills.
In other words, it appears that the “selling is an art” camp is, in a certain sense,
retreating from the success of the “selling is a science” camp. This is not to say
that motivational programs and personal development seminars are useless, but
only that the overall trend in terms of how managers think about selling, and how
they invest in sales training, is toward the “selling is a science” narrative.
This “victory” (if that’s the right word for it) is the direct result of a rapid increase
in the amount of data, and the types of data, that companies can gather, both
about individual salespeople and about the performance of sales teams and
groups. Now that most companies track sales processes, they can use analyti-
cal tools to draw conclusions about sales performance, make better forecasts,
and build stronger and more effective organizations.
These new ways of measurement often result in surprising insights about selling.
For example, as described elsewhere in this book, it was once widely assumed
that sales professionals who are highly successful at one type of selling will be
equally successful at some other type of selling. However, when sales perfor-
mance is actually measured, it becomes clear that a top performer is LESS likely
than an average performer to be successful at a different sales environment.
In this special report, we’ll look at some of the breakthrough ways that sales
managers are measuring the sales process, the conclusions that they’re drawing
from those measurements, along with specific recommendations for imple-
menting these methodologies inside sales organizations.
When it comes to measuring themselves, sales teams (and their management)
are prone to measure success and then attempt to strengthen or replicate the
behaviors that created that success. That’s why the vast majority of sales train-
ing and sales technology is positioned as a way to implement “best practices”
or “what the best salespeople do.”
However, as explained in the previous special report, “The Changing Role of
the Sales Professional,” the behavior of the top salespeople may be something
that’s inherent rather than teachable. Top salespeople may, in fact, be near sa-
vants who are uniquely talented and peculiarly well-suited to a certain kind of
sales task and may not be able to articulate what they’re doing or why it works.
• Sales theories fall into two
categories: 1) sales as an art
and 2) sales as science.
• Over time, the concept of
sales as a science has proven
• Increasing levels of data
collection have made it easier
to apply science to selling.
• Scientific measurement and
analysis of data produces
The Deceptiveness of “Best Practices”
Similarly, what’s a “best practice” for one firm may not necessarily
work for another firm, especially if it’s in a different industry or has
a different market position.
For example, branding consultants frequently cite world-renowned brands like
Sony and Coke as exemplars for corporate investment in branding, despite the
fact that the Sony brand is decades old and the Coke brand has been around for
well over 100 years. While Sony and Coke possibly are executing “best practices”
for their own situation in their own markets, it’s unclear how that’s relevant, for
example, to a recently launched company with a regional sales territory.
The concept of “best practices” can be particularly deceptive when it’s assumed
that what’s good for large companies is automatically good for medium-sized
companies and small companies as well. Under this way of thinking, companies
are seen as being part of a continuum with the very largest firms at one end
and the very smallest firms at the other.
In standard business communications, this continuum is usually segmented
into two rough groups: 1) Enterprise, which is basically the Fortune 1000 and 2)
Small and Medium Business (SMB), which is everybody else. The assumption,
made constantly by technology firms and sales training firms alike is that what
works well for the Enterprise will probably work well in SMB.
Sometimes, this assumption works from big to small, as when Oracle or SAP
tries to move the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) concept from their tradi-
tional enterprise base and into the SMB space. At other times, the assumption
works in reverse, where technology (like Sales 2.0) is positioned as being able to
make huge enterprises as nimble and innovative as smaller ones.
However, the concept of a continuum between different-sized companies (and
therefore the portability of best practices) is actually artificial, because differ-
ent-sized firms must behave in different ways in order to remain successful.
Consider: large enterprises, regardless of industry, tend to be similar in terms
of corporate structure (hierarchical) and fiduciary structure (public ownership).
Furthermore, within specific industries, large enterprises almost always have
nearly identical marketing and sales models. For example, there is very little
difference, in terms of general activities, between Toyota and General Motors
and Volkswagen. In these environments, the value of automation is found in
creating ever-deeper layers of integration in order to create an incremental
advantage over the competition. That’s why these behemoth firms are willing
to invest in the ERP concept.
Small businesses are also similar in terms of corporate structure (little to none)
and fiduciary structure (generally private and often family-owned). Within in-
dividual industries, small businesses are often quite different, not because they
sell very different things, but because they’re small. Their marketing and sales
processes are, by definition, simplistic. In these environments, the value of au-
tomation is the ability to bring up some kind of a basic application that can add
at least some level of automation – and then extend it piecemeal. That’s why
small businesses are willing to buy into the concept of simple customization via
By contrast, mid-market firms enjoy a wide variety of corporate structures
(networked, collaborative, consensus-driven, loose affiliations, etc.) and a wide
variety of fiduciary responsibilities (venture capital, wholly owned subsidiary,
private but planning to go public, public but planning to go private, etc.).
Furthermore, mid-market firms always have sales and marketing processes that
are both unique and complex. The reason is simple. If what a mid-market firm
provides isn’t both unique and complex, it is inevitable that a large enterprise
will enter that market and use the power of its deep pockets to force those mid-
market firms out of business.
For example, two decades ago, thousands of small chain stores erupted around
the country that provided high speed copying services to small businesses. One
of these chains, Kinko’s, now FedEx Office, eventually achieved critical mass and
used economies of scale to undercut the other local franchises, eventually driv-
ing them out of business. This was possible because providing reproduction
services to small businesses is insufficiently complex and unique to justify the
presence of a mid-sized firm. Because the service is all a matter of who can buy
the equipment and paper cheapest, there’s no reason for a mid-sized firm to
exist, except temporarily (as when Kinko’s was originally growing.)
By contrast, there are many regional banks throughout the country that offer
financial services to small businesses. These regional banks continue to survive
and thrive, even though they can’t possibly compete head to head, in terms of
financial resources or services, with giant international banking concerns like
Wachovia or Bank of America. However, in servicing small businesses, regional
banks do something that’s complex and unique – assessing the value of a cus-
tomer based upon personal relationships and local knowledge.
This is not to say that it’s entirely useless to study what other firms do when
small firms to steal ideas from larger firms and vice versa. However, it’s clear
that there are limitations to measuring and attempting to replicate best practic-
es in exactly the same way that there are limitations to measuring and replicat-
ing “what the best salespeople do” within a sales team.
• The study of best practices is
• Companies of different
sizes require different sales
• Small businesses must
differentiate themselves from
• There are severe limitations
to the “what the best
salespeople do” concept.
TOTAL QUALITY SALES MANAGEMENT
A more useful approach to increasing sales effectiveness may lie in
measuring, not the successes of a sales group, but the errors that
take place in the sales process. While this concept seems exceed-
ingly odd to most sales professionals, under the terminology Total
Quality Management or TQM, it’s been the primary way that corpo-
rations have measured and improved their manufacturing teams
Before we proceed with the discussion, it’s necessary to provide a
little background for context. According to Wikipedia:
TQM is an integrative philosophy of management for continuously improv-
ing the quality of products and processes. [It] functions on the premise that
the quality of products and processes is the responsibility of everyone who is
involved with the creation or consumption of the products or services offered
by an organization. In other words, TQM capitalizes on the involvement of
management, workforce, suppliers, and even customers, in order to meet or
exceed customer expectations. In a TQM effort, all members of an organization
participate in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which
they work. At its core, Total Quality Management (TQM) is a management ap-
proach to long-term success through customer satisfaction.
Another, somewhat more modern variation of TQM is Six Sigma*,
originally developed inside companies like Motorola and General
Electric. According to Wikipedia:
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and
removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufac-
turing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods,
including statistical methods, and each Six Sigma project carried out within an
organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial
targets (cost reduction and/or profit increase).
* Six Sigma is a registered service mark and trademark of Motorola Inc.
Specifically the Six Sigma doctrine asserts that:
1. Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results (i.e.,
reduce process variation) are of vital importance to business success.
2. Manufacturing and business processes have characteristics that can be
measured, analyzed, improved and controlled.
3. Achieving sustained quality improvement requires commitment from the
entire organization, particularly from top-level management.
4. There must be a clear focus on achieving measurable and quantifiable
financial returns from any Six Sigma project.
5. The success of such methods requires emphasis on strong and passionate
management leadership and support.
6. A special infrastructure of “Champions,” “Master Black Belts,” “Black Belts,”
“Green Belts,” etc., is necessary to lead and implement the Six Sigma
7. A key element is a clear commitment to making decisions on the basis of
verifiable data, rather than assumptions and guesswork.
The term “Six Sigma” comes from a field of statistics known as process capabil-
ity studies. Originally, it referred to the ability of manufacturing processes to
produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that
operate with “six sigma quality” over the short term are assumed to produce
long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma’s
implicit goal is to improve all processes to that level of quality or better.
As of 2006, Motorola reported over $17 billion in savings from Six Sigma and
other early adopters of Six Sigma who achieved well-publicized success include
Honeywell (previously known as AlliedSignal) and General Electric, where Jack
Welch introduced the method. By the late 1990s, about two-thirds of the For-
tune 500 organizations had begun Six Sigma initiatives with the aim of reducing
costs and improving quality.
While Six Sigma has some elements (like the various colored belts indicating
expertise) that many sales professionals are likely to consider risible, there’s no
question that both TQM and Six Sigma have had an enormous impact on how
companies build products. Given the ubiquity of these data-driven methods,
it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for companies to apply the TQM concept of
measurable and predictable error reduction to Sales and Sales Management.
Some of this reluctance may be a lag in technology. TQM requires a system of precise measures – objective
and accurate enough for statistical analysis and, up until quite recently, sales organizations tend only to gather
and record subjective and overly-general data (like the movement of an “opportunity” into “prospect”) that’s
too imprecise and, therefore, too fallible to support the level of accuracy that TQM requires. It’s only been
recently, through the massive application of technology to the sales environment, that it’s become possible to
measures sales activities at anywhere near the level of granularity that companies measure their manufactur-
Extending the concepts of TQM and Six Sigma into the realm of selling creates a set of techniques and mea-
surement tools that Chally Group Worldwide calls Total Quality Sales Management or TQSalesM™ . This ap-
proach focuses primarily on identifying the “causes of failure” of sales and service people who may be other-
wise qualified -- an approach that runs directly contrary to the more common identification of the criteria for
success as typically seen in job analyses and competency studies.
History Modern The Future
• Messaging is salesperson’s
• Ad hoc / event-driven
• Sales pitch
• Vendor / product oriented
• Salesperson as product expert
• Static text and documents
• Media programs created by
• Training events
• Sales support through four-
legged, in-person calls
• Based upon proven, common
• Used value and message maps
• Relevant conversation
• Address customer needs and
• Trusted advisors and coach
• Dynamic visuals, audio and
• Visual support for conversations
• JIT continuous coaching
• Web Assisted Selling
Sales + TQM will provide a hard
business “Science” or Total
Quality Sales Management -
Sales will meet
• Education standards
Solid Research will drive
The initial requirement for TQSalesM is an accurate measure of any individual’s
skills, competencies, motivational drivers, work habits, and potential for de-
veloping future competencies. The assessment process should be criterion
validated to be predictively accurate measures of the very specific sales compe-
tencies for 14 functionally different sales roles well beyond the 55-65% accuracy
most commonly reported.
The TQSalesM approach establishes a single process that can measure all of
the relevant competencies with an accuracy level robust enough to support
substantial quality gains in the management of a company’s sales teams. The
result is a TQSalesM Audit system – an information repository where organiza-
tions have a complete inventory of strengths and weaknesses for all employees
in every key position. The competency set is not limited to sales roles and also
includes management and other key positions; this relational database can
distinguish the job performance potentials for key talent located anywhere in the
• TQM and Six Sigma are
widely recognized quality
• The logic behind these
methodologies is generally
applicable to business
• Sales technology now creates
sufficient data to apply similar
concepts to selling.
• Chally Group Worldwide
calls this approach Total
Quality Sales Management
• TQSalesM provides the basis
for a more scientific approach
to improving sales quality.
TQSalesM™ and TQSM™ are trademarks of Chally Group Worldwide.
The Application of TQSalesM™
Most businesses can identify with a simple operating principle first reported in
1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who created a mathematical formula
to describe the unequal distribution of land in his country, observing that
twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the land.
However, far from being just an observation about human nature and the scar-
city of real “go getters” or “land barons” in Italy, it turns out that the 80/20 rule
actually describes a normal curve or random distribution of land ownership
across the very large, average, and land poor citizens.
There is a caveat to this rule of thumb when it applies to more fungible assets,
such as people. Real estate tended to remain in the same family for genera-
tions in 1906, leaving the land poor to stay land poor indefinitely. However, the
poorest salespeople usually leave the profession to be replaced by at least aver-
age performers. So the Pareto principle when applied to sales actually changes
to the top 20% or “Sales Stars” generate 52% of the total revenue … not 80%,
but still pretty impressive.
= $200 Million Total Sales
Bottom 20% of salespeople Top 20% of salespeople
Consultants today say,“Study the techniques of the top
20% and train the middle 60%.”
ABC Company: 200 Salespeople and $200M in Sales
It turns out, for most business to business sales forces, there are as many poor
performers as strong performers, so it’s also possible to say that “20% of our
salespeople bring in a minimal percent of our sales revenue.” However, the
observation about the top 20% doesn’t provide actionable insights, because
the behaviors of the top 20% are usually unique to those salespeople, and not
very replicable because it is difficult, if not impossible, to hire a sales force full of
By contrast, the observation that the bottom 20% is selling very little, while per-
haps less inspiring, is highly actionable, at least by any manager who’s not afraid
to re-deploy poor performers to other roles or ask them to find employment
elsewhere. That’s an important insight, because the out-of-pocket costs (before
variable compensation) of a poor salesperson are as high as or higher than a top
In other words, examining (and rectifying) what IS NOT working well in a sales
organization (i.e., quality control) is more likely to produce actionable informa-
tion than examining what IS working well. More importantly, realizing that
you’re dealing with a normal, random distribution curve provides an immense
opportunity for productivity increases, because replacing the weak output
of the poorest performers to the level of just average performers will have a
disproportionately positive impact on a company’s sales, typically in excess of
10%. That’s because with today’s sales tools, beating chance by a few percent-
age points can result in substantially improved performance.
In other words, the key to increasing productivity is not trying to find more su-
perstars, but instead, eliminating the hiring of and investing in poor performers.
To do this, TQSalesM focuses on finding and reducing the failure points in every
step of the sales management process.
Because this is a fairly radical approach to improving sales quality, it may be
helpful to show how similar methodologies worked inside a completely differ-
As mentioned previously, there’s a dynamic between the concepts of “sales
is an art” and “sales is a science.” Another way of looking at this is to see the
“art” side of selling as raw sales talent, and the “science” side of selling as using
statistics to deploy that talent.
That’s analogous to sports, where managers use science in order to make their
talent (the athletes) more effective. That wasn’t always the case. Historically,
managing baseball was considered as much an art as playing the sport itself.
That all began to change with that advent of what’s now called “Moneyball,”
based upon the eponymous 2003 bestselling business book. In that book,
author Michael Lewis described how Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy
Beane used an analytical, evidence-based approach to assemble a competitive
baseball team, despite being at a financial disadvantage relative to other major
league baseball teams.
What Beane learned was the basic competencies that actually did predict
success, which turned out to be considerably different from the conventional
competencies that “seemed” to be important, at least anecdotally. As a result,
the Oakland team made tremendous gains in wins for the 2002 season using
above-average players, when they couldn’t afford the superstars.
However, while the Athletics competed well above expected, they still didn’t
win the World Series that year. Instead, it was won by Boston, a team that had
more money to spend on top talent. However, the fact that big money (and
hence big talent) managed to trump science doesn’t mean that the science
In fact, there’s significant evidence that the “Moneyball” concept has radically
changed the game of baseball.
One example is the apparent demise of the long-term dynasties of winning
teams. From 1991 until 2001, before the Oakland Athletics introduced the use
of predictive science, two teams, the Yankees and Toronto won half the cham-
When you look at longer periods of time, the dominance of the dynasties is
even more dramatic. In the history of baseball, three teams (The Yankees, the
Cardinals and the Athletics) won 47 percent of all the World Series played. The
other twenty or so teams collectively won the remaining 53 percent.
In the past ten years, however, only one team (the Red Sox) has won the World
Series twice. All the other years have featured a different team that won only
once. In other words, the application of statistical science (i.e., the “Moneyball”
concept) has tended to “level the playing field,” quite literally in this case.
The same is true with sales environments. Talent is important, but science
(even without much talent) is almost as good, while talent supported by sci-
ence is stronger and more effective than either alone.
• The famous 80/20 rule is a
• It’s difficult or impossible to
turn average sales performers
• By contrast, eliminating poor
performers is relatively easy.
• To accomplish this, you
reduce “failure points” in the
• A similar concept,
implemented in professional
baseball, yielded dramatic
AND THE HIRING PROCESS
Most companies envision sales hiring as a process of trying to find “sales stars”
who can replicate the success of the top salespeople who account for the bulk
of the company’s sales revenue. However, since top sales performers tend to be
idiosyncratic and thus rare, the attempt to find candidates with similar charac-
teristics may be doomed from the start.
A better technique, based upon the TQSalesM concept of error elimination, is
to screen out poor performers so that those selected or promoted are at least
For example, suppose an organization has 200 salespeople and $200 million
in sales. Under the actual 54/20 universal average for B-B sales forces, the top
20 salespeople will be bringing in $2.6 million each for a total of $104 million.
However, by the nature of the bell curve, the bottom 20 salespeople would be
bringing in only $150,000 each for a total of $6 million.
Since it is unrealistic to find more superstars (in effect counting on serendipi-
tous hiring), the TQSalesM approach suggests replacing the bottom performers
with average salespeople who should be relatively easy to recruit or transfer. In
this case, the increase in sales would be approximately $17 million and the aver-
age salesperson productivity would climb by $11 million or more.
ABC Company: 200 Salespeople and $200M in Sales
= $223.7 Million Total Sales
$119.7 Million $104 Million
Top 20% of salespeopleBottom 20% replaced by average and
Talent Analytics says: Reassigning or replacing the bottom 20%
with just“average” competency levels will increase production
by a minimum of 9%.
If we now train the rest of the sales force and get a 5% gain, we
get an additional $5.7 Million.
Please note that, after making this change, the organization’s sales results will
still follow a normal bell curve distribution. However, since the low end of
the curve is built upon a higher baseline, the overall performance of the sales
group increases. Of course, similar or even larger performance improvements
would result if the lowest performers were replaced by sales stars, but the likeli-
hood of hiring several sales stars is far smaller than being able to hire average
More importantly, the TQSalesM approach of focusing on error elimination
yields an easily achieved $11M improvement in sales, while the “hire more of
the best” simply results in an endless quest for candidates that are extremely
rare, hard to identify (unless already selling in the same industry and to the
same market), and thus unlikely to be hired in any case.
Most companies rely on recruiting to competency profiles (based on the profile
of top performers and creating matching job descriptions). However, while
personality tests and similar kinds of selection screening as well as carefully
planned interviews can be more effective than “gut feeling” when it comes to
hiring sales personnel, they’re still dependent upon the competencies found in
most top performers.
There is a critical flaw that dooms this “benchmarking approach” to ultimate
failure--the assumption that the identified competencies are causally tied to
the success of the top performers.
In most cases, companies build a composite profile of the ideal candidate from
the profiles of several top performers, selecting attributes from each performer
that seem relevant to sales success. Unfortunately, such composites tend to
ignore the fact that top performers often have different profiles and differ-
ent ways of approaching selling. One top performer may be charismatic and
a strong public speaker, while another may be introspective and an excellent
While both these top performers may be achieving similar results, they’re doing
so in different ways. Building an ideal profile thus becomes an exercise in futil-
ity. Either the ideal profile must include diametrically opposite competencies
(e.g., the successful candidate will be charismatic and introspective) or the ideal
profile will simply reflect the pre-conceived notions of the manager creating
In other words, a manager who believes that being charismatic is a key element
of sales success will tend to ignore the fact that one top performer is being suc-
cessful even though he or she has a very different competency.
The ideal profile concept also does not account for the ability of top perform-
ers to find workarounds for parts of the job that don’t jive with their particular
personality. A classic example is salespeople who know they hate detail and
paperwork, but who make their own arrangements to have these needs cov-
ered in some other way. They thereby satisfy the job requirement in a way that
allows them to concentrate on their stronger skill set.
Ironically, when companies perform an analysis of the entire sales group, they
often discover that the poor performers have many, if not all, of the same skills
demonstrated by the top performers. A poor performer, for example, may be
highly charismatic; in fact, the poor performer may have been hired specifically
as the result of the charisma shown during the job interview!
The presence (or absence) of these particular skills or competencies may not be
predictive of either success or failure. In fact, they may be skills or characteris-
tics that are common to all people interested in sales as a career.
This is not saying that it’s impossible to isolate critical skills. However, this must
be done through a “validation” process involving actuarial statistics that identify
the critical skills at which top performers routinely excel, but which poor per-
formers routinely fail. In other words, it’s only through the studying of failure
and errors (as in TQM) that it’s actually possible to identify the characteristics of
a top or average performer!
This shift in thinking has profound implications. Most people would define suc-
cessful salespeople as assertive, outgoing, and aggressive with good commu-
nication skills. While these attributes are common among salespeople, they do
not necessarily predict success. In order to accurately predict sales success, one
must first identify the specific type of sales roles needed and then identify the
granular, role-related behaviors that predict success. It will be these behaviors
that differentiate the top performers from the bottom performers.
• Replacing the worst
performers with average
performers yields a
• Studying the behavior of top
performers does not provide
useful inputs to this process.
• Profiles for average performer
should be built around easily
• Stereotypical “sales
personalities” are not
predictive of sales success.
TQSalesM™ AND EMPLOYEE TURNOVER
All organizations expect a certain amount of turnover. In small amounts, turn-
over keeps the organization fresh with new talent and ideas. However, when
turnover is higher or unwanted, the result quickly turns negative, costing the
organization considerable time and money to hire and train new personnel.
For sales teams, this expense can be surprisingly large. The direct replacement
costs for a telesales employee can range from $75,000 to $90,000, while top
sales positions can cost a company as much as $300,000. While these figures
are dramatic enough, they don’t reflect the fact that many sales positions are
specifically compensated for sales results, which means that a company pays an
opportunity cost (in terms of lost sales and lost customers) while the replace-
ment is being trained.
This problem is compounded by the fact that for sales positions there is no
easily identified resource pool. Statistically, more than one out of every two
college graduates in the United States, regardless of their majors, are likely to
become salespeople. However, of the 4,158 colleges in this country, only a few
dozen have sales programs or offer sales courses.
Engaged salespeople with the skills to succeed are usually self-motivating, but
unwanted turnover (top performers who leave on their own) still occurs. So
what is the cause?
Many organizations mistakenly believe that employees leave jobs primarily for
better wages, benefits, or both. The actual causes are quite different:
Reason #1: Poor Job Fit. Research based upon several thousand exit interviews
shows that one of the primary causes for top performer turnover is actually
poor job fit. Employees become frustrated when they can’t do the job they
want to do. Talent Audits demonstrate that as much as 65% of job dissatisfac-
tion which leads to unwanted turnover is a result of these job mismatches.
In order to overcome the problem of poor job fit, a Talent Audit can identify
sources and causes of failure for each position, identify the key skills to over-
come those failure points, and assess incumbents against the skills that ensure
success. It also provides a guide for conducting exit interviews, documenting
turnover causes, and establishing a plan to reduce the defects.
Reason #2: Incompatibility with Management. The other well-known cause of
turnover is incompatibility between subordinates and their managers. As with
any organization, the responsibility to correct that error must lie with manage-
ment itself. Ideally, the process should be that management do an analysis to
determine which managers are best in which jobs, managing which people.
However, it should be noted, that relatively few superstars leave as a result of
tension with their supervisors. The reason is quite simple. Most managers have
their hands full dealing with bigger problems. Even when superstars bend the
rules (and they usually do), their contribution is too valuable to disrupt. Hence
the typical sales manager’s lament “I’d fire him--but he keeps beating quota.”
Historically, time and the vast amounts of data needed to perform that analysis
have made that process prohibitive. However, the Chally research has produced
a job skills database that distinguishes top managers in different management
jobs from weaker or less successful managers.
By identifying which managers are likely to thrive in any given role, companies
can improve the job match of managers and subordinates, reducing unwanted
turnover, or worse – continually under producing, “less-engaged” employees.
• Replacing sales personnel
is an extremely expensive
• Companies should therefore
avoid losing trained
• The most common reason
salespeople leave is a poor
• The next most common
reason salespeople leave is
• TQSalesM helps companies
place sales personnel more
• Such personnel remain longer
because they’re in compatible
roles and organizations.
Through a TQSalesM approach to systematically capturing, defining, and
measuring data, companies are finding that the problems around skills and job
performance are more about skilled personnel in the wrong jobs than a lack of
There is a persistent belief among executives that companies consistently
underutilize the talents of their people, leaving a significantly untapped talent
reserve. With the help of a Talent Audit skills database, companies can more ac-
curately identify job performance skills and competencies, much like insurance
companies use health and behavior metadata to accurately access and predict
their financial risk.
Once the defects – or health risks in the case of the insurance company – are dis-
covered, an action plan can be put in place to systematically reduce the defects.
A Talent Audit database also provides organizations with a complete inventory
of strengths and weaknesses for all employees in every key position. In looking
at the salesperson job function as an example, the Talent Audit identifies why
job mismatch is so prevalent. Companies frequently have a single job descrip-
tion for sales representatives, regardless of the customer need.
By contrast, a Talent Audit uses competency scores that have been developed
from research that has identified a full range of unique sales positions and
various sales roles according to their unique markets and customer needs. For
example, “Hunters” (new business development specialists) need skills such
as qualifying prospects with standard probes and closing using logical, incre-
mental steps. Meanwhile, “Farmers” (account management and penetration
specialists) need to be driven to produce increased sales to existing accounts.
Through Talent Audits and the application of the TQSalesM concept,
companies have been able to:
• Identify salespeople most adept at developing new business
• Determine which salespeople have the skills to move into management
• Identify skill gaps that can be remedied with training
This last issue is particularly important. Most estimates of effective training sug-
gest that individuals can improve their skills by no more than 20%. This means
that people in the wrong positions with skill scores below the 40th percentile
are unlikely be trainable to become top or even average performers, only that
their “bad” skills can be improved to “not quite as bad.”
Clearly, training is too expensive to waste on a poor job match. The Chally re-
search indicates that, for training to be effective, four common challenges must
1. Maximizing people strengths rather than overcoming several weaknesses
2. Training the right personnel for the right jobs
3. Training the “most trainable” personnel
4. Focusing on the people with the highest potential to improve
In the attempt to address these challenges, companies frequently come to the
same conclusion: Training must be flexible and tailored to each individual job
• Talent Audits help companies
identify hidden sales
• They also help companies
identify failure points that
• Talent Audits create the
conditions for more effective
sales personnel deployment.
• They also help reduce sales
training cost by focusing it
where it will do the most
CASE STUDY: CARDINAL HEALTH NUCLEAR
PHARMACY SERVICES (NPS)
Cardinal Health NPS is the U.S. market leader in compounding, dispensing and
delivering radioactive drugs for use in nuclear medicine diagnostic studies and
therapeutic applications. It recently transformed its sales organization to better
align itself to meet new market realities.
This transformation involved building new role profiles, assessing the sales
force, providing targeted feedback and development, and establishing tools
for evaluating and hiring new sales personnel. As a result, the company’s sales
organization is better positioned to deliver greater customer satisfaction and
retention, along with improved sales performance.
Headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, this business unit of Cardinal Health oper-
ates 150 nuclear pharmacies that deliver products and services to more than
4,000 hospitals and clinics. To assist with the sales transformation processes,
the company worked with international business improvement company
First, Chally performed job analysis and validation studies that helped clarify the
duties, tasks, responsibilities, and observable work behaviors necessary for Cardi-
nal Health NPS sales professionals to be successful in each of the newly identified
sales roles. From these studies, sales role profiles were developed. These profiles
helped Cardinal Health NPS determine the skills and competencies that its sales
organization would need to develop and possess for these roles.
This role identification process highlighted, for the Sales Leadership Team, the
skills and competencies the sales team would need to win in the future and
further helped the company understand the changing skills and behaviors the
sales organization would need to develop in order to meet the demands of a
rapidly changing market.
The second step in transforming the sales approach at Cardinal Health NPS
was to complete a Talent Audit of the existing sales team. To drive this part of
the transformation, Chally assessed the competency level of the sales person-
nel using an online assessment. Assessment results were then compared to a
large database of validated data, which in turn highlighted organizational and
individual strengths and opportunities.
This data was used to assist sales directors in giving more meaningful feedback
to current employees, to create group and individual development plans, and
to introduce roles to employees that were more of a natural fit. This allowed
the firm to recommit to giving people constructive feedback, providing them
with individualized development plans and then working closely with them to
present role opportunities more fitting to their talent set.
Chally then developed selection tools for all sales roles to assess and screen for
new role profile competencies. They discussed with Cardinal Health NPS how to
change the way they brought salespeople on board in order to better meet the
needs of the market. Chally developed first and second “behavior-based” inter-
views. Behavior-based interviews assess candidate competencies by targeting
specific behaviors demonstrated in the past. The notion that “past behavior is the
best predictor of future behavior” is at the core of the behavior-based interviews.
Once candidates pass through the first and second interviews, finalists take the
online Chally assessment. This assessment, which targets the same competencies
covered in the interview, injects additional and objective candidate data into the
selection process. While the Chally tools assist in making better selection deci-
sions, they are also useful in the on-boarding of new hires. All new hires receive
their assessment results and coaching within the first 90 days on the job.
A successful launch required that Cardinal Health NPS train its sales directors on
the new tools, processes and skills sets. A three-day live session was organized
to ensure a successful “go live.”
• Day 1 – Role profiles, Talent Audit results, coaching tools, and new hiring
materials were introduced to the sales directors.
• Day 2 - Coaching and development skills were learned using AchieveGlobal’s
Professional Sales Coaching workshop. This one-day session gave sales
directors the skills and confidence to deliver assessment results to their team
members and plan for their development.
• Day 3 - Interviewing and selection techniques were learned with an internal
Cardinal Health program. Selection tools developed by Chally were woven
into the course.
Cardinal Health NPS reports numerous benefits since implementing these orga-
nizational and hiring changes. For instance, sales directors report more agree-
ment on which candidates should move forward. This has resulted in a para-
digm shift: Hiring preference now is given to candidates exhibiting required
competencies versus experience in the nuclear pharmacy industry.
For existing sales personnel, the transformation has yielded emphasis on
feedback, use of development plans, and coaching – including sales director
“ride-alongs” – to improve performance. Finally, this process spurred the cre-
ation of better aligned sales incentive plans. The results from the new hires that
went through the new assessment versus the old process were significant, with
an increase in first-year performance is well over 15% above the firm’s previous
• Cardinal Health NPS wanted
to increase customer
satisfaction and retention.
• Chally performed job analysis
to identify required skills and
• Chally used a Talent Audit to
compare existing personnel
to those requirements.
• NPS redeployed its sales team
and sales training to create
• NPS experienced a 15%
improvement its agreed-upon
CASE STUDY: “ACME” TELECOMMUNICATIONS
“Acme” is a division of a multi-national telecommunications com-
pany that provides mobile and broadband Internet services to over
200 million customers worldwide. Headquartered in Europe, with
offices worldwide, the company is a major player in European and
African consumer telecommunications markets and a growing
provider in Asia.
The company wanted to extend its reach into the highly competitive U.S. market,
but was faced with price and margin erosion in the U.S. telecom market due to
a number of well-established, highly recognizable competitors. However, while
the company’s leadership set aggressive goals for its U.S.-based sales force, its
representatives had not been successful in reaching these sales targets.
This lack of success led the company to examine the effectiveness of its sales
organization and its staffing needs. Specifically, four questions emerged:
• Were the current structure and positions adequate, or did they need to be
• Were more specialized sales positions needed?
• What skills, abilities, and competencies were required to succeed in each
• Did the company have the right talent in each role to allow it to reach its goals?
The conclusion of this evaluation and analysis was that the company’s sales
organization staff and structure were inadequate to meet the challenge of
penetrating this highly competitive new market.
In order to fix this problem, “Acme” hired Axiom Consulting Partners to oversee
the company’s sales transformation process and engaged Chally Group World-
wide to provide predictive assessment and talent analytics for 14 different sales
positions in the retooled sales organization.
Chally worked with both Axiom and the client to understand “Acme’s” talent
needs, and evaluated the requirements for success in each sales position in
terms of the U.S. telecom market environment. Chally then created profiles that
delineated the competencies, characteristics and skills needed to be a top per-
former in each of the 14 positions using data collected from the client. These
profiles would serve as an ongoing guide to help the client’s human resources
and management personnel make optimal hiring decisions.
Once profiles were created for each sales position, Chally then employed the
Talent Audit methodology to assess the customer’s existing employee base.
The Audit was conducted as an online assessment that
accomplished the following:
• Identified the habits, traits, competencies, skills, aptitudes and attitudes of all
• Compared the strengths of individual employees against the needs of the
company to determine if – and where – they intersect
• Identified which existing employees have the competencies, skills, and
characteristics necessary to succeed in specific sales roles
• Identified individuals with the talent, skill sets, and abilities needed to move
upward within the company
With the profile information for each of the 14 sales positions and the Talent
Audit findings, “Acme” was able to predict the types of individuals that would
be successful in each sales role. This allowed them to redeploy existing person-
nel to fill needed positions and to hire additional talent with competencies and
skills best suited for each role.
As a result of this process, “Acme” was able to:
• Align its human resources in a more effective, strategic manner
• Improve hiring processes to ensure that only qualified and proven talent was
hired for sales positions
• Retain employees with knowledge of company, helping to eliminate turnover
and training costs
• Increase productivity among existing employees and new hires
As a result, “Acme” is achieving and exceeding its sales targets and has im-
proved its market share in the U.S., while simultaneously contributing to overall
• “Acme” wanted to enter
the highly competitive U.S.
• The company lacked the
skilled salespeople required
to do this.
• The company redefined its
sales personnel requirement
and conducted a Talent Audit.
• The Audit revealed where
changes were required in
hiring and deployment.
• The result was a substantial
increase in market share and
While TQSalesM is clearly both a powerful and practical methodology, it may several years before it becomes the
same kind of standard for sales management that the “Moneyball” concept has become the standard for sports team
management. Many sales managers and professionals are resistant to the idea that sales management should be
based upon science rather than upon “the art of selling.”
Furthermore, many companies aren’t yet at the point of technological sophistication required to use the methodology
effectively. However, the authors of this book believe that the TQSalesM methodology represent a model to which
sales organizations should aspire and that they will accrue significant benefits if they incorporate these concepts into
their hiring and staffing deployments.
The next special report in this series will discuss how sales technology has evolved, when and why it’s succeeded (and
failed), along with an analysis of trends and predictions of how sales technology will continue to have an impact on
sales performance and management in the future.
Howard P. Stevens
Howard Stevens is Chairman of Chally Group
Worldwide. Mr. Stevens specializes in leadership
development, succession planning, customer
and market analysis, and sales benchmarking.
He is the creator of the original sales product
lifecycle classifications and designed the major
5-year longitudinal study of leadership develop-
ment for the U.S. Department of Defense and
NASA. A licensed clinical psychologist, he is also
known for his research and programs to develop
a professional sales curriculum at the university
level. With diversified interests, he is the author
of several books on sales and management
including Achieve Sales Excellence, The Quadrant
Solution (published in multiple languages) and
Selling the Wheel. He has written many articles
and is a frequent speaker and radio and televi-
sion guest. His World Class sales benchmarks
program has been presented over 500 times
across 30 countries for corporations, trade asso-
ciations, government agencies, and universities.
He has been a guest on CNN, Bloomberg USA,
National Public Radio, Radio Free America, and
other business-based programs. Mr. Stevens also
taught “World Class Sales” benchmarks at the
Columbia University Graduate School of Business
and other universities, and serves on the Sales
Advisory Board for Ohio University and the Foun-
dation Board of Wright State University.
Geoffrey James writes the world’s most popular
sales-oriented blog, “Sales Source on Inc.com.”
Previously named “Sales Machine” and hosted on
CBS, Geoffrey’s blog won awards from both the
Society of American Business Editors and Writers
and the American Society of Business Publication
Unlike other sales blogs, Sales Source on Inc.com
is 100% independent. Geoffrey doesn’t do sales
training and he doesn’t do sales consulting. That
frees him to present his readers with the very
best ideas from the very best sales experts and
executives. To get updates, sign up for his news-
letter or the @Sales_Source Twitter feed.
In addition, Geoffrey has published hundreds of
articles in dozens of national magazines, includ-
ing Men’s Health, Wired, Brandweek, Technology
Marketing, and Selling Power magazine.
A global leadership and sales potential and performance measurement firm, Chally Group Worldwide
utilizes our industry leading research, predictive analytics and advisory services to ensure our clients
have the vital information to minimize risk associated with making critical talent management decisions
relating to selection, alignment, development and succession planning. With over 38 years of experience,
Chally provides tools in more than 24 languages across 49 countries.