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Driving Sales Rep Development Through Career Progression Maps

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Just as road maps are needed to guide you from one location to your next destination, career progression maps are needed to guide reps towards their goals and next roles. By identifying checkpoints and achievements along one’s career journey, sales enablement can create paths to help reps advance their careers.

Much like career leveling, career progression maps can become a critical tool in driving retention by supporting professional development. However, while career levels can detail the linear steps one takes while climbing the ladder in a specific team, career progression maps offer a holistic view of the lateral, linear, and diagonal steps one might take as they grow in their individual career. Building career leveling into career progression maps can provide reps with the opportunity to explore their own goals and interests, and develop an individualized path for growth.

Career progression maps outline career goals for reps, and establish paths and concrete steps to reach them, creating a map for growth within the company. With clear goals, career progression maps can serve as a guide to help reps broaden their skills, contribute in new ways, or even move laterally to pursue new interests.

Career progression maps can also greatly benefit an organization overall, creating more satisfied and productive employees. By helping reps to set goals and strive for improvement, reps are continually building skills and keeping up to date with changing technologies or strategies. More importantly, reps are doing so with the intention of staying within the organization, helping organizations to better retain top performers.

“[Sales reps] all want to be developed and invested in and see what their future looks like,” said Imogen McCourt, cofounder and CEO at AndGrow.io. “They want to know that they are loved and cared for in a place that’s going to actually drive some success for them.”

Sales enablement can support reps and drive retention by helping them take career development into their own hands and find opportunities for challenging and rewarding work through career progression mapping. Here are four steps to begin building your own career progression map for the sales organization.

Identify Start and End Points

The first step to using any map is to identify where you are and where you want to be. The start points you identify will become the basis for the whole career map, with various job possibilities and career paths branching out from these points to build toward end goals.

Start points are often more junior positions that early-career professionals are typically hired into. In organizations that utilize career leveling, the start points should match the most entry-level roles identified in your framework. Practitioners should develop a thorough picture of the ins and outs of job responsibilities as well as how they contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Next, define the end destinations for your career map. Often this will be the highest possible position (such as a senior sales leader), and where the map ends. Determine end goals by identifying positions that capitalize on previous experiences, interests, and accomplishments, but require a new level of skill, knowledge, and ability. Ultimately, end points act as long-term goals that provide a general direction for career growth.

When thinking about a specific start or end point, seek to uncover how the role contributes to the overall success of the organization. For example, consider what this role has historically been responsible for, produced, developed, executed, or improved – and gather metrics where possible to demonstrate success. Understanding how these roles fit within the organization ensures that the right start and end points are identified in order to build an effective foundation for your map.

In order to develop a thorough and accurate understanding of start and end points within the organization, consider these strategies:

  • Interview people who currently hold these roles, or who have held the role previously. Ask about their previous experiences, and how these have helped in their current position. Identify what skills are most valuable within the role, where they believe there are gaps or challenges, and how this role has contributed to their next career step.
  • Review job descriptions. Well-written job descriptions should give practitioners an idea of core responsibilities and hiring requirements, such as education expectations or prior experience. Use these to identify what skills, competencies, and technical knowledge will be utilized in the role, and what candidates are expected to know prior to the job.
  • Partner with human resources. Review hiring criteria and evaluation processes with HR for each position in order to understand how candidates are selected and what expectations are outlined in the hiring process.

Just as you need to identify where you are and where you are trying to go before asking for directions, defining your starting roles and end goals is necessary to build a useful career map. The more precise these points are, the more likely it is that reps will end up where they actually want to be.

Develop Role Profiles

However, just having an idea of the general direction you want to head in is not enough to reach the destination. Rather, you need to be able to visualize the end of the journey to ensure you stay on the right path. By creating profiles with specific skills and criteria for start and end points, practitioners give sales reps landmarks to guide them toward their end goals.

In doing so, it’s important to develop a profile of what success looks like in each role. Identify the knowledge, skills, interests, and prior experiences of highly successful reps. Similarly, determine where there are opportunities for improvement, such as where there might be barriers to skill development, or competencies missing from the organization as a whole. During this process, it is especially important to be honest and critical when needed in order to set realistic goals for success and create an accurate evaluation of where reps can grow.

Consider including the following components in your profiles:

  • Key traits: Outline the characteristics that lead to success in the role. For example, necessary soft skills in a starting role might include excellent communication skills or a learning mindset. In end points, soft skills might be more oriented toward leadership capacity, such as the ability to think critically, problem-solve, resolve conflict, or utilize a collaborative leadership style.
  • Experience: Note any prior experiences that are required or recommended for the role. For start points, this might consist of formal education requirements, such as a bachelor’s degree, while end points might require 10 years of experience as sales manager.
  • Training and development: Determine any required seminars, trainings, or certifications outside of formal education which would be necessary for success in the position. For example, end points may require certifications in project management or training around sales coaching skills.
  • Required competencies: Use career leveling frameworks to provide a reference for competencies at each level. Determine where start and end points fall within the framework, and align required competencies to these roles. Competencies for end points should build off of required competencies for start points. For example, a required competency for a starting sales position may be knowledge of the product line while end points will require in-depth knowledge of competitive strategy.

Thorough profiles can help reps understand where they currently stand and identify where they will need to channel their efforts for development. Sales enablement can aid this process by identifying necessary qualifications or competencies required for both points, providing a framework that reps can evaluate themselves against.

“We started this idea of developing a tailored, customized personal development plan by having the individual sellers rate themselves on each of the attributes on the list,” said Terry Mitchell, director of sales enablement at Fujifilm. “We wanted them to be candid and we wanted them to feel that there was a safe environment to be able to identify those things that they felt they could improve in.”

Identify Steps to Connect Start and End Points

Bridging the gap between start points and end goals is the most important part of a career progression map, and is what transforms goals into a tangible guide for reps. Develop steps to progress from a start point to an end goal by identifying roles that ladder into each other to create a path between the two.

Every new role within a sales career path should have its own detailed profile. For each role, follow the same process as you did to build out the start and end point profiles to identify the skills needed for each role, and take this another step further to determine opportunities for action in the steps between stages. These steps should provide concrete ways to develop the skills and requirements needed to earn the next stage, such as specific training, certifications, licensing, or key performance indicators.

Make sure that there are paths that align with different motivations and interests from various start points. For example, create separate paths for sales managers and independent contributors, such as sales coaches. This ensures that those who want to become managers are doing so because they are passionate about managing people, while those who want to remain as individuals contributors still have opportunities for meaningful growth.

“[Sales enablement has] an obligation to let sales leaders, or aspiring sales leaders, know what the role is and what the role isn’t,” said Darlene Samer, senior manager of global sales readiness programs at LinkedIn. “Sometimes managers get into the role and they say, ‘I didn’t know it was this tough. I’m dealing with all sorts of employee issues and performance issues and time off and where are my reps?’ I think it’s very important to bring clarity to the role in advance.”

Finally, connect jobs that allow for lateral movement within an organization. This allows reps to utilize transferable skills in new contexts, broaden their experience, and explore new areas of challenging and rewarding work. This is what ultimately creates a map, guiding reps from their current role to a variety of future opportunities within the organization.

Create Small Checkpoints Along the Way

Reaching the next stage in your career, or earning the next promotion can feel like a big leap, so setting smaller goals between career stages can make progress feel more achievable, and keep reps productive. Rather than connecting roles or stages, these checkpoints help reps develop within their role and hone the necessary skills for growth. Detail smaller goals or checkpoints for each role, such as number of deals won, number of positive reviews from customers, or involvement in certain projects such as a mentorship program.

Set small goals to help reps ensure they are on the right track and remain motivated along the way. Try structuring goals as SMART goals in order to ensure that goals are productive and useful. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Goals should span these three areas:

  • Hard skills: Technical knowledge or processes which reps will need to be familiar with in different roles, such as project management or accounting.
  • Soft skills: Such as leadership abilities, communication, conflict resolution, or negotiation skills. These skills are essential to success and often easily transferable to other roles across the organization.
  • Measurable outcomes: For example, direct participation in events, first-hand knowledge of specific processes, finding opportunities for improvement or innovation, or completion of critical projects.

Goal setting can help reps take their success into their own hands and seek out opportunities for growth. By setting smaller goals in between career stages, sales enablement can help make earning the next step seem like less of a monumental task, and provide a greater sense of guidance and productivity.

“That person is no longer sitting at their desk ticking the boxes and doing the administration and CRM to show that they are busy,” said McCourt. “They are now genuinely owning and thinking about what their next step could be and how to do something to make them productive and successful. That’s fantastic. If they feel empowered then we are a long way into making them really, truly productive as well.”

Through career progression maps, sales enablement can help reps identify career goals that meet their interests and capitalize on past experiences, while also challenging them to build a new degree of knowledge and skills.

By identifying areas of opportunity for career growth as well as steps to structure and reach goals, sales enablement can create methods for advancement within the organization, ultimately leading to more satisfied and productive sales teams.