A Data-Driven Training Approach Increases Employee Recruitment, Retention, Knowledge – And Satisfaction

Q&A with Simon Phillips, Director, Sales Training and Enablement, Catalina

Strategic job hunters seek progressive companies that are committed to investing in and developing their people. Those companies that truly stand out leverage data insights and measurement to inform their decisions, improve the company’s culture – and retain their in-demand talent. Simon Phillips, Catalina’s Sales Training and Enablement Director, is a big believer in employing a data-driven approach to deepen the knowledge and enhance the skills of Catalina’s high-performing, 150-person sales organization, an approach grounded in his background in sales, psychology, and professional education consulting.

Q: Which types of training programs should sales-focused job hunters look for with prospective employers?
Consumer shopping behavior is evolving at an unparalleled rate as digital channels expand, so successful salespeople must stay abreast of the latest advancements to effectively advise their customers. At Catalina, for example, our teams require an understanding of the rapidly evolving digital marketplace AND the shopper intelligence tools at their disposal to guide our customers. It’s incumbent upon successful companies to make significant investments in continuous training and sales enablement, demonstrably showing they understand that real-time/just-in-time training creates measurable behavioral change that leads to greater productivity, increased sales, higher morale, and improved employee retention. Net, look for companies that offer the right training and tools throughout an employee’s career, who demonstrate a commitment to an individual’s professional growth, while reaping the benefits of their enhanced skillset.

Q: Can a company’s use of talent data help with recession proofing and marketplace changes?
The pandemic uncovered those companies able to adapt quickly because they had good insights about marketplace shifts and staffing needs. In the years ahead, the need for strong micro-training programs will grow exponentially as remote work and ecommerce expand, along with the need for digital knowledge and skillsets. As roles evolve, so can employees. By understanding which employees have which knowledge and skills, successful companies can identify those people who are well-suited to transition from one role to another. Insights from talent data measurement will ensure a top-flight workforce is ready to go today and is sustainable for the future.

Q: How can corporate data help attract the best talent?
People are increasingly taking an experiential approach to their career paths. They see less-value in staying at one type of job in one market. And with more openness to remote working, they’re exploring all types of positions. This makes it harder for employers who now have more people applying for a job, many of whom are potentially less qualified. That’s why thoughtful, well-written job descriptions are so critical. Also, in the months and years ahead, organizations will almost certainly introduce more remote performance measures with so many people demonstrating increased productivity and greater job satisfaction while working remotely during the pandemic. Metrics can show whether an employee is paying attention during an online meeting or whether they have minimized their screen and are not engaged or multi-tasking.

Q: Do high-performing companies use talent data to inform succession planning?
The best ones do. That’s why it’s important to look for companies that identify high-potential employees early on and begin cross-training them. Statistics show that a high-potential employee generally leaves within 24-months of getting a position. Data can tell us if it’s because they're not being fostered or because they're being treated like a low potential or a B player. Enlightened companies early-on need to clear the lane for high potential hires, encourage them to push the pedal on hard skills, then switch to soft skills before letting them drive. Give them the space they need to grow and a clear understanding of what they need focus on to be eligible for the next position or challenge.

Q: How can successful sales organizations build a data-driven talent management function?
It begins with developing comprehensive and clearly articulated job descriptions that lay out specific competencies known to drive performance. About 80% of the description should be lead indicators – which encompasses their track record for generating leads and converting them to accepted contracts. Complement that with facts about the role, company and culture that candidates will find attractive. Leave some room for variability in terms of responsibilities so those can be refined based on the new hire’s expertise and the evolving needs of the role. For companies with many technical requirements, it’s easier to teach a new hire about a given industry than how to hustle and get things done correctly. Ultimately, you want to measure knowledge, skill and impact.

Q: How can companies make that transition?
First, look broadly at which behaviors lead to enhanced job performance. Determine what your organization most values, then build an environment that fosters it. As a foundation, create a culture that engages employees in giving feedback that’s measurable. Level 1 focuses on surveys. Level 2 measurement focuses on retention of knowledge, while Level 3 looks at how well a team member is learning and applying new skills. Level 4 measures against your company’s overall strategy. (Don’t try starting here. You need data from the first three levels to effectively implement level 4.) Level 5 is generally used for larger scale projects where there is a heavier upfront investment or intangibles, such as retraining a sales organization or enterprise compliance.

Q: In landing that perfect sales job, what are the most important criteria for a prospective employer to measure?
They should only measure things that can be controlled to show causation and look at competencies defined by local subject matter experts validating them along the way. For example, if an organization is driving for quantity of sales leads (over quality), some employees may favor the number of contacts made over close rates, which may not maximize performance or revenue, known as surrogation Data can show a company not only their top performers but how those with stronger soft skills achieve better results. This is especially important in businesses where a sales cycle could take as long as 12-18 months.

Q: Which speed bumps should a company expect and how do they overcome them?
Building skills-analysis into a company’s routine and culture takes time. It is a top-down and bottom-up push, where they slowly start to fill that gap. The payoff is that those companies are able to make smart changes, whether starting a new division or downsizing. They know who’s adaptable and who’s a true leader.

Q. How does a company know if its training programs are working?
Successful companies need to take pulse surveys often and take them seriously. Be transparent. Report out the findings. Most importantly, act on them. And don’t forget to celebrate success on both sides along the way. In our most recent employee pulse-survey at Catalina, nearly 80% of U.S. team members said they have the opportunity for personal development and growth here, and these results are directly linked to our focus on Learning and Development, with numbers improving steadily since 2017.