Three keys to developing and retaining internal talent

Why is it that offering a position to an external candidate with experience, often seems less risky than making an offer to an internal candidate with potential?

After experiencing significant turnover in the Inside Sales department and losing several high potential employees along the way, it was time to make a change.  The jump from Inside Sales to Outside Sales appeared too large.  Not for the passionate, highly motivated sales person that was growing their territory from the inside, but for the outside sales team who struggled to see how someone who hadn’t walked in their shoes, could do so successfully.  Why were our competitors willing to take a risk on talent that at times couldn’t even get an interview in their own organization?

Having been a part of restructuring the Inside Sales team in 2013, from a reactive sales support function, to a proactive sales force, I felt a great sense of personal responsibility for making this team what we set out for it to be; a revenue generating, internal talent pool for outside sales, marketing and others.  After losing several key team members to the competition and watching them go on to find success elsewhere, it was time to stop the bleeding.  The answer was to demonstrate to the Inside Sales team that there is a path forward and to demonstrate to functional leadership, the vast experience and potential inside their own organization!

Building a Bridge

To close the perceived gap in readiness between inside and outside sales, a bridge was created in the form of a Senior Inside Sales Representative (ISR) role.  The creation of this role was the result of conversations with functional leadership to identify the key competencies, abilities and experience they deemed critical for their teams.  To be considered for this new position, several criteria needed to be met; consistently meeting or exceeding current sales goal, ability to design a technical solution with minimal support as well as completion and delivery of various training.  In order to prevent the role from becoming a series of check boxes, additional requirements were outlined including being viewed as a product expert and leader in the Inside Sales team.  While these criteria may appear subjective, 360-degree feedback from peers conclusively revealed who the experts and leaders were.  The final gate to this new role, was a quarterly review presentation with the President of Sales.  This gate provided the perfect opportunity for a prepared ISR to earn the confidence of senior sales leadership and demonstrate their readiness for more.

Visual Career Paths

The bridge led to a map of visual career paths towards leadership, sales, key account management and marketing.  Again, functional leadership was involved in the development and refinement of the paths which gave them a sense of ownership and commitment to their success.  As a Senior ISR, individuals received their own budget to attend trade shows or get out into their territory and expand visibility with their sales and marketing teams.  Senior ISRs on an outside sales track may prepare and deliver a presentation focused on solution selling while those on a marketing track may be an active participant on a new product introduction team.  These opportunities provided realistic job previews into other roles and gave departments exposure to potential future talent for their teams.

Professional Development for all

For the Inside Sales team, a professional development discussion shifted from an optional to a defined part of the onboarding and integration process.  All ISRs participated in a development discussion at 12 months of employment to explore their path of interest and create an action plan.  Detailed criteria for achievement towards the Senior role were also shared, providing a clear picture of the requirements for growth and advancement within the organization.  Because training budgets and time were still constraints to be managed, each ISR was encouraged to share their own creative ideas for working towards and achieving their goal.

Once the bridge was built, the paths were forged, and professional development became a proactive topic of discussion, external turnover ceased for 18 months.  At the same time, internal transfers moved forward with two employees moving into the Sr. ISR role, and three others moving directly into Marketing, Key Accounts and even Engineering. We even had one of our high performers who had been lured away by a competitor, return!

Shifting the focus and investment from external talent acquisition to proactive, internal talent development can have huge benefits in terms of employee retention, engagement and performance.  That said, success requires committed leadership who embrace and take pride in their role of developing the talent pipeline to support the greater organization.

“People don’t get promoted for doing their jobs really well.  They get promoted by demonstrating their potential to do more.”  – Tara Jaye Frank