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Is HR ready to help ensure sales growth?

I read that UK growth is set to hit 2.2% in 2014. Please come back to me with some ideas on what HR can do to help us grow our revenues faster.

Expecting something like that from your CEO soon? How will you react?

Growing revenue is often seen as the tougher sibling of cost cutting yet, for many organisations, the former is where effort needs to go to achieve the next level of performance, especially in sales. And, unfortunately, sales and HR often enjoy a difficult relationship with sales professionals having some of the trickiest HR issues to manage.

For instance, it's all about the money. You need special compensation and pay grade schemes for sales professionals as they rank among some of the most highly paid staff below executive grade. Secondly, sales professionals can have a good year and go. Tenures of 18 months are typical, so how do you keep your best sales people? And finally, they are so variable.

We recently worked with one company where only 30% of sales professionals achieved their sales quota and another company where 20% of the sales team provide 50% of the total company revenue.

So how can HR help to cost-effectively improve sales? We suggest that by starting with a clear perspective of what customers want from the salespeople that sell your products and services, HR leaders can 'crack the code' of recruiting and developing great sales professionals.

Our research shows that what makes great salespeople is their mindset; their internal operating system, how they make difficult choices when under pressure. This matters more than traditional competency measures which is one reason why traditional recruitment practices often have a low success rate.

We have interviewed hundreds of our clients' customers in major markets around the globe and the results are consistent.

Most of what they see from salespeople they dislike, too little focus on the customer's unique business challenges and too much negative behaviour including arrogance, complacency and pressure, and, on average, only 10% of sales professionals meet customers' expectations.

Moving this needle to 15% would have a huge impact on your company's sales but what does this take?

Your customers are looking for sales professionals whose mindset is authentic and client centric. Easy to do business with, of high integrity and focussed on their customers' needs, not pressuring them for a quick order.

Even more importantly, customers are looking for proactive creativity - they need suppliers to offer original, industry-specific answers that enable them to beat their competition - and they are looking to be challenged, in a respectful way, to change their own organisation. We call this tactful audacity and it is the hardest to find, yet most critical, mindset component of all.

So, how can HR leaders use this to help grow revenues? Well, firstly through smarter recruitment. By thinking like your customers and understanding what they value, you can devise more robust recruitment strategies and processes. If potential recruits don't exhibit the characteristics of this mindset they will not deliver lasting value to your customers or to your own organisation.

HR can also help through smarter development and greater sales performance training. We have seen sales professionals completely transform their behaviours and sales performance through developing their sales mindset via training and reflective practice. We have seen 'average' performers become superstars. In a major IT company across EMEA, sales professionals specifically trained to hone their mindset in developing smarter management of their sales cycles were able to close ten times the sales of their colleagues not doing so. This equated to $4billion of extra sales! Indeed, this was our motivation to set-up a Masters Degree programme with Middlesex University in sales transformation.

This can also help with talent retention as success in sales for a professional can itself lead to higher retention. Furthermore, really great, multi-year, sales development programmes can be used as a core retention tool.

Finally, HR leaders can help grow revenues through company sales transformation. Most HR leaders are charged with putting in place development programmes to proactively drive market leadership. One global B2B IT company that we are working with is using the Masters Degree approach focussed on the mindset to drive region-wide transformation via its highest performing sales leaders.

So, how will you respond to your CEO's question? That depends on your mindset.

Ian Helps (pictured), general manager EMEA, Consalia