Developing an Edge

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Anthony Gaffney is a principal at Moorhouse, a consultancy specialising in business transformation and delivering commercial capability programmes. We are privileged to re-print this article from Winning Edge, the members magazine of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management.

For organisations looking for the edge over their competitors, developing salesforce capability is a key weapon in the arsenal. If the requisite capabilities are developed effectively they can have a significant impact on results — from employee engagement right through to the bottom line. The question, then, is why don’t all organisations invest in sales capability development programmes?

The answer is because they are complex, lengthy and it is difficult to realise demonstrable value from them. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.

There are many reasons for this complexity: lack of rigorous programme management, resistance to change, impatience — the list goes on. One thing is certain: capability development takes time, and if an organisation is patient, the chances of success will increase significantly. So what can an organisation do to improve the results of a programme?


Do not try to tackle all capability gaps at once. It is simply not feasible. Once a defined sales framework is agreed, identify and prioritise the competencies where maximum impact can be realised. Focus on competencies where value creation can be tied to an effect on P&L.

Prioritisation will help focus the programme and deliver results in the short to medium term, which in turn builds momentum. This creates the right foundation on which to build competencies, as you complete projects and move through the priority list.

For global programmes, create a ‘pull’ rather than exerting a push. Successful programmes are those that have local market buy-in. This is critical and can be achieved in a number of ways, such as ensuring senior sponsorship of the programme or getting subsidiaries to co-fund programme costs. In successful capability programmes, change happens at the coalface — at market level — and not by a central team sitting in HQ creating materials and dictating to teams. Achieving the right balance between the centre and local markets will enable the pull, which is the bedrock of success.


When organisations embark on sales capability development programmes, the first action is invariably to hire an outside agency to develop training materials. It is often easier to commission an agency to provide collateral and develop training modules than to search within the business to see what already exists. But you’ll be surprised at the wealth of knowledge and training materials that exist already — all you need to do is reach out and speak to people.

With many organisations working in silos, there are huge numbers of resources that are used in departments that those outside the department are not aware of. So pick up that phone and make some calls. Capability development should aim to create consistency in processes, tools, materials and training. Hiring yet another agency to develop another way of doing things is not the solution.


In keeping with the ethos of ‘looking within’, it is crucial that mission-critical training is led by credible, experienced internal people. Successful capability programmes are those that inspire behaviour change whereby, after training, people are committed to apply what they have learned and work differently. Inspiring this change is not easy, but when trainers with a proven track record deliver training and post-training support, it sends a powerful message to employees that the organisation is committed to career and personal development.

Capability support that includes experienced, high performing practitioners who understand the roles people play is a key enabler for success and should not be underestimated.


Capability development programmes can take up to a couple of years to truly see benefits and embed ways of working. To maintain momentum along the way, it is crucial to deliver quick wins. Often, organisations try to develop perfect capability structure, which simply leads to inertia. Quick wins will keep people motivated throughout the journey.

However, nothing should detract from the delivery of value. Capability development and demonstrable bottom line impact are not mutually exclusive. If defined properly, a benefits plan with clear metrics can help track value right back to P&L. The number of people put through a course is not a measure of success. Real behaviour change, improved ways of working and positive bottom line results certainly are. If achieved, these simply strengthen the case for further investment in capability development, which in turn gives that elusive edge.

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