What can we learn about managing sales talent from research labs?

Research lab

Most of our posts focus on improving sales performance through sales training. However, we shouldn’t forget that another piece of the sales success puzzle lies in selecting and management talent.   

Last month the McKinsey Quarterly took a look at how the best research labs manage their talent. A central thesis of the article is: Talent management isn’t simply about hiring the best; not everyone can. It’s also about managing talent appropriately through the entire employment cycle from selection to development to retention strategies.   

We thought the research findings were interesting … and some perhaps could be extrapolated to sales. What do you think? The key findings are:   

  • Selecting for potential – The best labs evaluate the potential of researchers by appraising their basic intellectual ability, general problem-solving skills, and enthusiasm. They also test for cultural fit, which is important to support teamwork and collaboration, which in turn drive productivity.
  • Nurturing people – Top labs actively support their researchers’ professional development throughout their careers.
  • Recognizing success– Many researchers crave recognition. Labs can provide it in several ways including public acknowledgement in meetings, awards and opportunities to present at conferences or to attend symposiums. More recognition can come from larger research budgets, leadership of bigger efforts, and part-time professorships. These incentives often inspire researchers more effectively than money does. Yet, while public recognition is important, it isn’t everything: researchers also want financial rewards for performance.
  • Building diversity – Another driver of high performance is a diverse team of people with different backgrounds, specialties, and forms of expertise to help solve problems.

One extrapolation to sales might be related to the challenge of retaining top performing sales people.  Every company has them. They produce a disproportionate percentage of revenue. And, they are the most mobile. Yet, how many companies have talent management strategies in place to retain their top performing sales people?   

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection. 

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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