National association hopes new certification will help with recruitment, retention
Sales specialists can now join the ranks of other accredited workers as the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) has created three new classifications.
The idea had its genesis after the CPSA discovered there were challenges faced by its more than 20,000 members when it came to “recruitment, selection, onboarding and retention of sales professionals,” said Richard Louttet, vice-president of education certification at the CPSA in Toronto, citing a survey it conducted.
“The majority of respondents were indicating that it was either somewhat or very difficult to find qualified candidates to fill their open sales roles.”
This skills gap is being addressed by an infusion of $4 million over three years from the federal government, which will help the CPSA roll out the new designations — Certified Sales Associate (CSA), Certified Sales Professional (CSP) and Certified Sales Leader (CSL) — to make the profession better recognized, said Louttet.
“Because of what individuals go through, from a path of study through to being tested and validated, professional designations were a natural fit to help overcome this challenge. Because once there’s professional designations in the marketplace, then employers have something that they can watch for when they’re hiring their next round of candidates.”
The training regime is sorely needed to address the sales skills gap, said Karen Peesker, director of the Ted Rogers Sales Leadership Program at Ryerson University in Toronto, which partnered with the CPSA to design new curriculum.
“Sales is a critical competency from a go-to-market strategy for every organization, and infusing these core capabilities into students is essential to get them job-ready. Companies and industry, they’re asking us for this.”
While the idea is in its early stages in Canada, it is not new in the rest of the world, she said.
“It’s starting to happen here but, quite honestly, in America and other places of the world, it’s been happening more quickly. In the last 10 years, sales education in universities and in colleges has grown five times, from 27 schools that were started in 2007, to 134 universities and colleges teaching sales capabilities now in 2018.”
Competencies and training
A framework created by the CPSA established competencies and training for each of the titles.
“It starts with the core competency area of professional sales conduct, being successful in a sales role, things like the ability to work as part of a team, understanding the linkage between their personal brand and their ability to sell, acting with integrity, driving results, and engaging in continuous learning,” said Louttet.
“The outer ring of the framework covers what is generally the rhythm of the occupation: We understand that a multitude of organizations will engage a
multitude of sales processes, and it’s not the intention of any competency framework to prescribe a process — we’d rather want to be descriptive of what the skill sets for success are, and so the major groupings in that final category are prospecting, fostering client relationships, developing client-focused solutions, negotiating, closing, engaging and followup.”
Ryerson students are able to get a business certificate from the CPSA for what they learned at the university because many of the competencies from the CPSA program were built into the sales course, said Peesker.
The program focuses on both the hard and soft skills of selling, she said.
“We try to teach them a lot about communication: I have my students presenting quite frequently and giving them a chance to develop their verbal communication as well as the written.”
“Research skills are really essential because when you’re in professional sales, you have to be able to research client and market intelligence, development and prospecting and negotiating skills. And in the soft skills, interpersonal skills of relationship development are critical,” said Peesker.
“Sales is a lot about those skills and listening, active listening when you’re sitting down in meetings with customers, how to understand their requirements and their needs, and how to best meet those needs really through many of these skills that can be practised and learned.”
The Ryerson program offers students “experiential” learning, according to Peesker.
“I pretend I’m a CEO, and then the students are in the elevator, and they want to meet with me. And so they have to pitch their idea in a very short time as they go up and down the elevator and try to get a meeting. This is an example of teaching a really important sales skill in a different and experiential type of environment for the students. It was actually a wonderful educational experience for them.”
The time is ripe for sales mavens to become more standardized and regulated, according to Mike Salveta, president of PIVOTAL Integrated HR Solutions in Mississauga, Ont.
“The (federal) government’s really trying to step up and help invest in training and
development which, of course, makes us more competitive,” he said.
“It’s excellent, because sales is vital, yet it was an unregulated trade.”
“I don’t know many businesses that function without some sales talent pool driving, promoting the products or services that they provide. And pretty much sales was a self-taught profession... but I think what this does is brings a level of recognition, professionalism, regulation — just like any other professional (designation, such as) accounting, HR — but it’s going to be bringing a different level of skills, knowledge and professionalism and accreditation to basically an unregulated trade within a workplace,” said Salveta.
The new standards might also attract new entrants to the field, he said.
“Not a lot of people come out of school and want to go into sales.”
“First and foremost, you’re going to be highlighting that it is a viable and valuable profession, (it) has lots of career paths; many salespeople end up in a corner office,” said Salveta.
“It’s a highly skilled profession. It has tremendous career opportunities. And I think this is the impression that has to be changed with certainly the under-30 crowd that’s going to be their biggest challenges, getting people pushing to get into sales.”
Attracting new employees into sales is one of the main goals for the CPSA in establishing professional designations, according to Louttet.
“We want underemployed individuals in Canada to understand what a great career path the sales profession can offer, and to be able to leverage the competency standards, the accredited education programs, to be able to retrain and skill up and move into this underserved segment of the labour market.”
For HR departments, the new designations will assist in the hiring of sales persons, said Louttet.
“The HR community is very familiar with the benefits of professional designations and it’s great for them to have the opportunity to know that this is here for sales as well,” he said.
“This will hopefully be something that makes their life easier when it comes to recruitment and selection.”