Performing a Competency Audit to Drive Effective Training

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Sales enablement practitioners can’t just wave a magic wand and ensure exceptional performance from every sales rep. But with a pinpointed focus on the specific attributes that are necessary for success in sales, practitioners can help reps at all levels hone their craft and develop the right competencies.

To aid in this process, a competency audit can help create standardized criteria and target specific areas for development across training, onboarding, and even hiring.

In her book, “The Handbook of Competency Mapping”, Seema Sanghi defines a competency as “an underlying behavioral characteristic that can result in effective individual performance focusing on personal characteristics not directly tied to work and achievement itself”. In other words, competencies are the behavioral attributes that lead to success in performing a skill, job, or task well. For example, if a salesperson is able to flawlessly execute his sales pitch, but becomes tongue-tied elsewhere, they lack the competency of communication. Although they have the skills to perform parts of their job well, the overall characteristics needed for success are lacking.

Defining competencies for sales can be useful to outline the behavioral attributes needed for success beyond required skills or knowledge. While skill-based job descriptions will specify concrete skills or knowledge needed, such as three years of experience as a sales manager or training on certain platforms, competency-based job descriptions will look more holistically at the characteristics that make an employee successful in the role, such as initiative or strategic planning.

“The nice thing about competencies is that we were very transparent with our new hires and with the sales managers that this wasn’t a means of performance management, but rather it enables us to hone in on the areas of opportunity for growth within their onboarding,” said Giorgia Ortiz, head of global sales enablement at Lever.

By identifying core competency requirements, and identifying concrete behaviors to serve as the basis for evaluation and growth, sales enablement can better identify and develop exceptional salespeople.

Define Core Competencies

The first step to performing a competency audit is to identify the characteristics that set salespeople up for success, both within their roles and in the company as a whole. In order to think through the characteristics which lead to success within your organization, sort workplace competencies into three categories: organizational, job function, and personal. Aim to identify two to three competencies for each:

  • Organizational: These are the unique factors that make an organization competitive within the market. For sales roles, organizational competencies may be knowledge around the product or competitive environment that can help salespeople win over buyers. Sales enablement can help develop organizational competencies by providing training around product knowledge or driving competitive differentiation.
  • Job Function: Demonstrating these competencies results in effectiveness in your job, role, or functions. For example, customer-centricity may be a required competency for all revenue roles, such as pre-sales, post-sales, channel/partner, and sales supporting roles, but aren’t necessarily required for non-customer facing roles.
  • Personal: Personal competencies affect the level of achievement or output of performance within a specific role. Examples of competencies for pre-sales reps may include assertiveness, quantitative reasoning, self-sufficiency, presentation skills, or competitiveness.

To determine core competencies, consider what skills, knowledge, and actions have the most impact on performance and success within the job. From there, aim to identify the underlying behavior attributes that lead to these skills. What traits lead people to excel in certain roles?

Ultimately, the core competencies you identify should be indicative of exceptional sales reps within the organization. Identify which competencies are the threshold of what is required for the role, as well as the differentiating competencies that make sales reps stand out as superstars.

In doing so, human resources can be a valuable partner, as they may have already identified some competencies in the hiring criteria for various roles. You can also collect data by conducting interviews with managers and incumbents and reviewing job descriptions or performance reviews to identify competency needs.

Identify Behavioral Indicators

Measuring competencies can be challenging due to the nuanced or subjective nature of defining characteristics, so selecting key behavioral indicators can help determine ways in which sales reps are concretely demonstrating competencies and target areas for growth. Although some characteristics are innate, behaviors can be modified or taught. Identifying key behavioral indicators can help develop objective criteria to measure competencies, evaluate performance, and target areas for improvement.

Define the degree to which each competency is required for specific roles by defining specific behavioral indicators needed for success. Different roles may require different levels for each competency, so aim to identify 3-5 behavioral indicators for every level.

For example, if the competency is problem-solving, a few behavioral indicators might be the ability to assess and compare different solutions, or the ability to calculate risks and act accordingly. If the competency is product knowledge, a few behavioral indicators might be the ability to assess how the buyer may use your product or varying levels of technical knowledge around the product. These might be needed to different extents depending on the role.

When selecting your key behavior indicators, keep in mind that your behavioral indicators should:

  • Predict high competency performance
  • Be controllable by the employee
  • Be observable by management
  • Serve as a basis for hiring objectives
  • Serve as a basis for learning/training objectives
  • Serve as a basis for performance objectives

Identifying specific behaviors gives sales enablement concrete actions that they can target through training or coaching in order to develop the competency.

Validate that your competency requirements and behavioral indicators accurately reflect performance by benchmarking requirements. To do so, assess superstars, middle-tier reps, and a few lower-performing reps by observing them on calls or during role-playing scenarios. Their performance should align with the behavioral indicators you outlined previously such that high-performing reps demonstrate these behaviors more frequently or effectively.

Assess Current Competency Levels

Building on this exercise, your behavioral indicators can then be used to measure where competency levels lie among all reps. Define what “good” looks like for each competency by creating a scoring rubric. Your rubric should define specifically what the behavioral indicators are, how often a sales rep should demonstrate a certain competency, and the required level for their role. Sanghi suggests creating a rubric with five levels for each competency:

  • Level 1: Applies competency in basic and routine tasks
  • Level 2: Applies competency at relatively advanced level periodically
  • Level 3: Applies competency in performing significantly advanced tasks on a frequent basis
  • Level 4: Applies competency in performing tasks/projects of great technical complexity on a daily basis
  • Level 5: Applies competency in managing complex, multifaceted operations.

Define a minimum score that each role requires for each competency. Use behavioral indicators to create an objective evaluation of what level each salesperson demonstrates the competency at.

“The individual seller demonstrates his mastery of the skill and essentially moves from a lower rating of a one or a two to a higher rating of a four or five,” said Terry Mitchell, director of sales enablement at Fujifilm. “At the end of the day, it’s all about improving the skills and then demonstrating the competency.”

Consider these strategies to assess competency levels through data collection:

  • Interviews with managers: Ask managers about their sellers in order to gain insight into their daily workflows, as well as their coaching feedback and progress.
  • Observes sales calls: Record or sit in on calls where possible. Note the behaviors that make reps successful in certain situations compared to others.
  • Use relevant metrics: Where possible, tie behavioral indicators to relevant metrics, such as meetings set, to track concrete data.
  • Have reps self-assess: Provide reps with the rubric as well, and ask them to evaluate their performance against their required competencies. Be sure to emphasize that this rubric is not for performance evaluation, but to better assess training needs in order to get honest and accurate feedback.

“The competency analysis for me is the frequency with which you can observe your sellers exhibiting specific skills, behaviors, and practices that contribute to them being a better seller,” said John Dougan, global director of sales enablement at Workday.

Analyze Competency Gaps and Define Training Needs

Where competencies can be measured, gaps can be identified. Use your rubric and data collection to determine where there are competency gaps or where sales reps may be underperforming. Competency audits can provide key opportunities to increase personalization in training or onboarding by focusing on the attributes needed for success rather than the specific skills.

“When we’re hiring folks, not everybody’s coming in with the same competencies or experience,” said Oritz. “You might have someone that is really good at one particular competency early on, and so you begin to focus your efforts on the areas that they really need help in. That way, it’s not a catch-all for everybody, but you can begin to customize this person’s individual onboarding within a very clear framework.”

Keep in mind that the initial competency audit is only the first step. Continually reassess competency levels and behavioral indicators in relation to performance, and course-correct when needed to ensure you focus on developing the competencies that will lead to success.

By analyzing behavioral gaps through a competency audit, sales enablement can build more effective training programs which not only give reps the tools to succeed within their role, but build transferable skills, knowledge, and actions.

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