At this year’s ATD Conference, we had the honor of not only hosting a speaking session on developing high-performers into leaders and moderating a panel on the power of sales enablement, but we also had the opportunity to bring our Mental Toughness research to the stage.

We gained a ton of valuable insights and had some unexpected takeaways from our audience members, and we want to share what we learned:

Sales Enablement as a Business Partner

Our VP of Training Solutions, Dayna Williams, moderated a panel of experts discussing the value of converging data and client relationships in sales enablement, and how such a strategy can turn your sales team into advocates for your business objectives both outwardly and within your organization. At Caliper, we’re no strangers to the idea that developing core-competencies – in things like organizational savviness, business acumen, and strategic thinking – can turn your sales team into valuable business partners. But as we turned to the audience for questions, we realized there was another crucial component to serving your firm in an advisory capacity.

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“Many of the questions we received were focused on things like problem-solving, driving results, and other foundational elements necessary before implementing new data strategies,” Dayna recalled. “That serves as an important reminder that, before you can serve your organization as a formal business advisor, it’s important to first achieve excellence within your own function. The credibility in doing so will be your platform to step to the next level of influence.”

In other words, the audience reminded us to be careful not to put the cart before the horse. The best advisors have a thorough understanding of their role, how it affects the business as a whole, and how to prepare for new or updated strategies in a way that ensures effectiveness from the start.

Elevating High-Performing Sales People to Manager Roles

Dayna also spoke about the task of identifying high-performers who are right for leadership roles. Just because someone is successful in their role doesn’t necessarily mean they should lead others. Dayna led the audience in a session that detailed how to identify the skill sets necessary for leadership positions, how to develop them, and how their experience can inform their continued development.

Dayna came away from her talk with a renewed understanding of the skills gap. “There were some major lightbulb moments around lining up the Caliper Sales Rep job model with the Sales Manager job model and the specificity of that exercise,” she said. “What we see in that particular instance is that the individual contributor and people manager roles do share some common competencies—like relationship building—but there are distinct differences.”

For example, sales managers need competency in areas like deliberative decision making, business acumen, and coaching and developing others. “Seeing specific gaps in skills like these confirmed that not every high-performing salesperson is right for management,” Dayna noted. “When you line up the science, it’s easy to see how companies make that mistake. What needs to happen, is that in advance of promoting someone to manager, it’s important to assess where a candidate rates on the manager-specific competencies that are important, and put into place a personal learning plan (that the candidate owns!) to focus on those new skill areas before they are dropped in the role.”

Mental Toughness in the Spotlight

We’ve been focusing lately on how we see mental toughness as an indicator of high-performing team members, and we were excited to put our research to work at the ATD Conference and host a session on how to leverage mental toughness in the workplace. What we discovered, however, is that our work has only revealed the tip of the iceberg. Dayna, along with our Head of Academic Research, Tom Schoenfelder, were energized by the response to the topic.

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“People were very interested in how the specific traits (level-headedness, stress management, etc) cross over to sales,” Dayna said. “We really emphasized the role of enhancing training and coaching programs to include mental toughness traits, because even the best programs focused on skill sets will have a natural drop off if we can’t address intrinsic human behavior. There were a lot of questions and interest around how the research can be expanded—so the exciting part is that people want more.”

Tom said one of the more compelling takeaways for participants was that there are multiple facets of mental toughness, and even those who obtain high mental toughness scores will undoubtedly have at least one or two facets of their mental toughness game that can be improved through coaching and development.

“It’s important for coaches on the field and sales managers in the field to have a strong understanding of team members’ patterns of strengths and weaknesses along with the different facets,” Tom noted. “For example—one may be naturally resilient, but may struggle to manage emotions; one may be highly disciplined, but may not naturally persist when the going gets tough. These are great opportunities for coaches and sales managers to have a profound impact on the performance and careers of their team members.”

We were thrilled with what we took away from the ATD conference. If you’d like to learn more about how Caliper can translate the insights we’ve gained to help you assess the talent in your organization and build development plans for higher performing teams, you can download our whitepaper about mental toughness or get an assessment of your workforce.