IN THE quest for professional excellence and recognition for outstanding work performance, many people arm themselves with various professional certifications on top of their existing academic qualifications.

However, in the world of corporate sales, where sales staff are often measured on actual sales results, how can that “piece of paper” add value to what they do?

For industries that have stringent regulations to be complied with, it is mandatory for sales staff to have certifications before they can sell to customers.

But what possible need would other industries have for certifying their sales professionals? Isn’t it enough to measure the ability of salesmen to hit their sales quotas?

The case for certification

Before the necessary end results can be delivered, important sales activities such as the identification of key business issues, uncovering the decision making process as well as the formulation of plans to create value for the customer must be carried out. This has to be done skilfully, ethically and as efficiently as possible.

Sales certification can help to align these key activities to your business objectives while testing and improving the selling skills of your staff. Some other benefits include:

* increased productivity from shorter selling cycles;

* shorter learning curves for new sales reps;

* reduced opportunity costs from the identification and rectification of selling skill gaps; and

* enhanced employee retention levels through recognition and career development associated with the certification process.

Before you rush into implementing a certification system, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is at least one of the certification components an industry standard?

How the industry perceives the certification is important. The prestige and recognition associated with certification that is accredited by a recognised authority helps to improve the adoption rate from sales. Naturally, it cannot be too easy to attain such certification.

2. Is management supportive of such certification?

There is nothing more important than having management’s support for such an initiative. Failure to do so may result in a lack of resources, lack of buy-in from sales and the ultimate failure of the entire certification process. One of the ways to show support is to recognise certification as criteria for promotion.

3. Is the certification aligned to your business objectives?

For the certification to be effective, it needs to be aligned to the business objectives of the organisation. For example, if a business objective is to increase the productivity of sales staff, then the certification could cover areas such as time management and how to leverage on the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application for enhanced sales efficiency.

4. Is your certification process able to evaluate the “true” effectiveness of the salesman’s skills?

The certification process should not be just theory tests. It should be action-orientated. Role-plays based on typical as well as difficult selling situations, interviews with candidates and their supervisors as well as on-field observations of their sales skills can help to more accurately test and evaluate their skills.

Better still — get feedback on their skills through surveys sent out randomly to a sample group of their customers.

5. Is your certification process able to measure the effectiveness of the certification system against business results?

The ability to isolate the benefits of the certification through various evaluation tools like feedback forms and performance measurement and analysis can help to identify areas for improvement and gain greater buy-in from sales and management.

Keep it going

Creating and implementing a certification process is no small feat. However, sustaining the system and continuing to reap the benefits of it is even more challenging. Be sure to realign the certification process periodically to meet the ever-changing business environment. The last thing you want is for your licence to sell to expire!