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"The Science of Sales Talent" with Dr. Courtney McCashland

The Selling Excellence Podcast: Episode 2

On this episode of the podcast, Tim interviews Dr. Courtney McCashland, Co-Founder and Chief Officer of Science and Strategy at AuctusIQ. Courtney has a Doctorate in Behavioral Science, has worked at a variety of organizations, and has started several successful companies. With over 25 years of experience at what drives success for sellers and sales leaders, no one knows more about seller and sales leadership talent than Courtney. Listen in and learn what great talent should look like and do to drive success in your sales organization.

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Episode Transcript

Tim Geisert (00:06):
Welcome to the Selling Excellence Podcast For Business Executives presented by Auctus IQ. We all know B2B selling is not getting any easier and what’s worse, it is getting more expensive. Hello, I’m Tim Geisert, your host and partner at Auctus IQ, a selling excellence as a service company. Our goal today is to give you some insights, some learnings that help you turn your sales organization into an asset, a company asset, not a pain in the asset.

So here today, we’ve got Courtney McAshland, Dr. Courtney McAshland from Auctus IQ, and she’s going to be sharing with us her experience when it comes to what drives success for sellers. And she comes by this very honestly, with a doctorate in behavioral science, working at a variety of organizations, starting several companies herself. So she comes to us with a lot of experience that she’s going to apply today. So here’s my first question of, Courtney. First question is, when you think about talent, right? And you think about selling talent, when you speak to an executive about this, what are the things that you have found that drive success, that predict success, that predict performance?

Courtney McCashland (01:18):
Just in general, I think if you’re looking at what makes someone successful you have to think about first, what’s their natural patterns of behavior? What do they just do spontaneously? And you look at that in the context of the role you’re asking them to do. So in selling, I want somebody who has courage and can ask the hard question. And some people do that and they’re comfortable, and some people aren’t. The other thing you have to understand is, what have they learned? So what is their level of competency in the skills and the knowledge they need around whatever it is that role is.

So for selling, what do you need to do at every step of the selling cycle so that you can move this opportunity to the next step? And there’s actually critical expertise on what you do, what you need to get back from your buyer, and those are things that can be taught. Experience sometimes you figure it out over time. So when we’re understanding success, we look at what are the natural patterns that drive excellence in that top 20%, as well as whether the skills and knowledge that matter most that allows somebody to be the best.

Tim Geisert (02:16):
Yeah. So essentially, it kind of groups itself into three areas, right? One is, how are they naturally wired, right? What’s their DNA?

Courtney McCashland (02:23):

Tim Geisert (02:24):
What are those traits you’re just born into the world with, right? And understanding what those motivations are. And then the second is, what have you learned? Have you grown? What’s that accumulation of knowledge, right? And the third is that acumen, how do you actually apply it, right? It’s those three things.

Courtney McCashland (02:40):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Geisert (02:40):
So when you think about it, one of the questions I know you get a lot is what’s the seller of the future? What are those traits that are more important than maybe ever before? You studied sales people for nearly 25, 26 years now. What have are you finding? What are you telling clients when they ask that question?

Courtney McCashland (03:00):
I think if we think about sales you have that grit, you’re that person who has that motivation, that initiative, that’s always been important. We’re seeing though in terms of your motivation, more than ever, you need to have persistence because the selling cycle’s longer, you have more complexity, more influencers, and you need to have somebody who can get up and go, but when they get pushed down, they have that resilience factor. So that we’re seeing is more important than it’s ever been. The area where we’re seeing a lot of change is in how you build relationships. So the relationships you need now to be successful in selling is not just to be buddies with your customer, but you have to be an advisor. You need to be someone that they feel that when they have a question, they trust you to have credibility and knowledge, and they will help them solve their problem, figure it out.

So that advisor, teaching and advising is so critical. And so that’s changed. That you shouldn’t be, it’s really important now in the future. You’ve always had to be a good networker, but we’re seeing that our benchmark of high performers, that’s even more so, but mostly the advisor and then that individualizer. So not only having empathy about where your customer is, but truly being able to dig in and know what’s different about their situation, who they are, what their fears are, and be able to then modify how you approach that person and what solutions might work best for them.

Tim Geisert (04:10):
Yeah. So it is changing?

Courtney McCashland (04:12):

Tim Geisert (04:12):
What is need-

Courtney McCashland (04:12):
It is changing, it is changing. Other area that’s changing a lot is cognition. So, what is it that you need to know? And we found that high performers are really intellectually curious. So they are taking the time to ask the questions, but they also are always seeking out what’s going on with their customers, their customers business. And this learning agility is interesting. One of the guys I was interviewing a couple weeks ago, he said, “I go to bed and I’m thinking about my customers and how I can solve their problem. I’m actually thinking about their business problems and what we could do to help them through something they’re dealing with. So they’re bringing that with them. And that talent, that natural talent is really critical.

Tim Geisert (04:50):
So when you talk about cognition, Courtney, this isn’t just getting a script ready to go and going out into the marketplace, it is… You have to have so much more or at play, right?

Courtney McCashland (05:02):
Right. So, the cognitive talents would be things like, how do you overcome resistance? How do you deal with challenges? How do you problem solve? How do you analyze? Those are the kinds of talents. So that innate ability, and learning agility is one that’s changing and more critical. We’re also seeing analytical is important as well, because I think sometimes your ability to know what you need now, and what’s happening in the future, to anticipate with your customer, we’ve seen that in the past, but it’s becoming more important.

Tim Geisert (05:29):
That’s really interesting. So if we parlay that from the individual seller, what is the sales leader? What’s changed in their world in this?

Courtney McCashland (05:40):

Tim Geisert (05:40):
And how would you answer the question of, what should a sales leader be doing with this kind of newfound knowledge?

Courtney McCashland (05:47):
So when you’re hiring with that profile, you need to understand the talent of someone coming in against that profile. So you need to have people who bring that natural capacity, because then they’re going to have the potential to look more like your best. The other side of the equation that we’ve seen is, we’ve seen an increase in needing somebody who’s ready coming in, right? They need to have had more reps, be more seasoned. And the reason for that is because some of the competencies, like we go into organizations, if you look at the top 20% in a large company and the bottom 20%, we’re seeing huge gaps between the competency. Things like their skills for negotiating to close, their ability to generate new opportunities, their ability to teach and advise. Those are all competencies you can teach, and we’re seeing there’s almost a two and three times gap difference between the high performing group and the low performing group on just what they score against those competencies.

Tim Geisert (06:36):
So it’s just not how you’re born.

Courtney McCashland (06:38):

Tim Geisert (06:38):
It’s also what you’ve done with it.

Courtney McCashland (06:39):

Tim Geisert (06:40):

Courtney McCashland (06:40):
So you have to understand that about your internal incumbent sales organization. So I have to have a lens into my people to say, what are they naturally bringing to the table? So that I can leverage that and use that to help them be their best. But I also have to know what their readiness is. So how would they look? Where their gaps on those competencies? Because I need to go and either train or coach to those things and actually lift those in terms of bringing them to a higher level of competency against those skills.

Tim Geisert (07:07):
So what’s some of the work you’ve been doing, Courtney, when it comes to, let’s say, you’re a new sales leader, and you’ve just come into, let’s say, an organization of 50 sellers, right? Scattered all over the country or possibly all over the world. What have you done that has helped those sales leaders kind of understand who they have on their team?

Courtney McCashland (07:27):
So we typically will go in and what we bring to the table is a way to evaluate in a reliable way, these specific talents and the specific competencies that define and explain success within the role. So we know the questions to ask them.

Tim Geisert (07:42):
Yeah. So specifically to the world.

Courtney McCashland (07:42):
The questions that-

Tim Geisert (07:42):
That’s the bedrock, right?

Courtney McCashland (07:43):
It is the questions, not only knowing what you need, but knowing how to get to it so that the high performers answer differently than everybody else. So I can measure it in a reliable way. And then I want to help you look at your organization first so that you can get a glimpse into, for each individual, what are their strengths and gaps and how can I help work through that person to get them to outcome and to improve their performance. So we’ll take, and we just actually had a financial organization. We had 3000 sellers and they all went through, we audited them, got a feel for where they were. They all got a playbook, and that playbook was profile specific. So it’s against the role and it looks… Everything I’m measuring in there is important to the success of that individual.

Tim Geisert (08:21):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Courtney McCashland (08:22):
So I look at what the person brings and you figure out what are the tips to leverage those strengths? What are the things, techniques to manage the gaps. And then around the competencies, giving them a roadmap to improve those competencies through coaching, and then through actual training and skill development. So with this company, we actually identified, after we got the overall results back, we identified some resources they could go to inside the company, and training curriculum that we offer. We aligned that, so that when somebody was working on an area, they know where to go to actually improve in that area.

Tim Geisert (08:51):
So do I have this right? So in other words, the first thing you do, no matter the size of the organization, you really need to understand what greatness is at the individual level, right? And then from that, you can then map that out across the organization, almost to look at it as what we use… You call it kind of readiness mapping, right?

Courtney McCashland (09:08):

Tim Geisert (09:09):
Across the organization. And that’s combined with the talents, skills, and then what? The performance data? Is that how you all roll it together?

Courtney McCashland (09:18):
So every time we go into a company, and this is unique to the business, so every time we go in, we will actually ask the organization to provide us an independent view of performance. So usually it might be sales to goal. It could be percent quota or margin attainment, or it might be overall revenue year over year growth. So we’ll take actually objective performance criteria. And for every person who completes, we look at what is the relationship between their score for their overall instrument, but even specifically the competencies that differentiated, the talents that differentiated the top group from everyone else. So that opens up and suddenly gives you visibility on what are the things that are most critical that people bring so I can replicate that top 20%.

Tim Geisert (09:58):

Courtney McCashland (09:58):
So it gives you a way to kind of take your bottom to the middle and middle to the top. It gives you a pathway to performance.

Tim Geisert (10:05):
And there’s probably, and I know you’ve talked about this, there’s essentially a feedback loop once you have that, right? There becomes a feedback loop in the hiring, in the coaching, in the development, all of those things, right?

Courtney McCashland (10:18):

Tim Geisert (10:19):
And so talk a little bit about that. Why is that valuable and what are you hearing back from some of the customers you’re talking to and how that builds an organization?

Courtney McCashland (10:28):
So there’s kind of two pieces to that. When you have an understanding of where a person’s starting or a baseline, most organizations get it as kind of a research study and they don’t do anything with it. So we have two ways we try to help the company. One, use the data to bring new people in like their best.

Tim Geisert (10:42):
Yeah, yeah.

Courtney McCashland (10:42):
So then having that piece of information and knowing when I hire somebody, what is their capacity likelihood to succeed and how ready are they for this job? So getting a picture of people coming into the organization. In terms of the feedback loop, we actually can pull with the individual in the context of what they’re doing at every step of the selling cycle and track that. And we use the 180, where we have, after you get your baseline, and you’re working with your coach on a quarterly, weekly, monthly basis, every six to 12 months, you’ll go back and your manager will rate you and you’ll rate yourself on those things that change over time.

And you’ll have a coaching conversation around it. And you’re actually reinforcing the things that matter. Most organizations, they finally figure out what success looks like. So they get it, they don’t have any way to measure it.

Tim Geisert (11:28):

Courtney McCashland (11:28):
So they can’t operationalize it in a way that they can track and get sustainability. So the feedback coming back from, what did you do and how did it work, is really critical. And then when companies are using our system, they can actually even track it in how they manage their deals in the pipeline, which is even… That’s the coolest because then you can see, what did I do, and did it make the deal close? At a very deal by deal level.

Tim Geisert (11:50):
So you’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of companies and probably thousands of salespeople. And one of the things I guess would be helpful for people to understand is how do you overcome these obstacles, and what are some of those obstacles to get this kind of sophistication built in to their organization?

Courtney McCashland (12:13):
I think the hard thing is creating a structure and a system and having reliable metrics. So I think organizations start off with good intention and trying to get a handle on, what does that profile look like? What do I need? And they put time into that. They’ll take some time to figure that out, but they never get to the point where they have a reliable system to measure it coming in and they don’t measure it on an ongoing way. So most sales organizations have a lot of unproductive activity that takes place. Lots of things that aren’t really contributing to them getting the deal done. And with this, through the measurement, you could reinforce people on the time they’re spending is actually going to elevate the likelihood that you’re going to get something out of it in terms of advancing the relationship or solving the problem of the customer, overcoming an objection. You have information and data basically informing you on what you need to do next.

Tim Geisert (13:00):
Yeah. That’s just invaluable. That’s sophistication. We were talking in a previous podcast about how you really take sales and run it as a business process, right?

Courtney McCashland (13:08):

Tim Geisert (13:09):
And talent has always kind of been this black box, right?

Courtney McCashland (13:11):

Tim Geisert (13:12):
You know when he see it kind of attitude, but that’s not true anymore.

Courtney McCashland (13:17):

Tim Geisert (13:17):
We can measure it. We can measure those intangibles like never before and then apply it.

Courtney McCashland (13:21):

Tim Geisert (13:21):

Courtney McCashland (13:22):
And this is for me been the most exciting time in my career, because I’ve always had the talent information, right? Where you learn about the person coming in, and so you teach them something to try to make them good in this role and use their gifts to be their best, which is fulfilling. But it’s the first time you put them into the actual environment that they’re doing what they do, which is selling, where you have the data, what are the activities that you’re doing in selling that matter, that drive performance.

And so now I know how the human being fits into their daily work, and what about it that they do matters to their performance? So you can give them a roadmap on here’s what you need to do next. Here’s how you should be spend time. And the coach can actually get insights for the person that are individualized to them. So maybe I get stuck on negotiating because I’m low in courage and persuasion. My boss knows that. He can sit down with me. We have a strategy on how I’m going to deal and ask for the close and how he can help me provide some guidance on that.

Tim Geisert (14:11):
One of the things that we’re hearing more about, and we talk about the selling of the future or the salesperson of the future, we’re hearing more and more that there’s team selling going on, right? Not just one person who’s the lone wolf that goes out and gets the deal, works the deal, closes the deal. There’s this team aspect to it. Talk about how, when you understand the team with this talent assessment, how that kind of becomes even more sophisticated for sales organizations.

Courtney McCashland (14:39):
Right. I did a big study. It was interesting that we perform at the lowest common denominator of the team. So if you have one person who’s really, really weak, even if all the other people are doing great, it pulls down the whole team performance. So to get to optimize the sales team performance, we have to know each other’s strengths and set people up to be working in their area of strength, so that we… Because we often focus on people’s weaknesses.

Tim Geisert (15:01):

Courtney McCashland (15:01):
We’ve got to focus on what are their natural talents, and then we’d have to know what are the specific skills that they’re smart and good at so they can bring those back to the team. So if I have someone really great at learning agility, they’re going to naturally seek competitive intelligence in the market. I, as a leader, need to make sure they’re bringing that back, so we’re always staying on the front end of our game. We’re innovative, we know it’s out there, we know how we compare because I’ve got Judy on the team who’s always just doing that naturally. So I assigned her that to the team. So it’s knowing the people who have this propensity to do it anyway, and giving them an accountability on the team to do it. And then knowing who can help at different stages of the selling cycle.

Tim Geisert (15:38):

Courtney McCashland (15:39):
Because there’s certain things you get stuck on, we all get stuck certain places. And there’s other people that are a little smarter, faster, and knowing that you rely on each other for those things.

Tim Geisert (15:47):
Yeah. So one of the things that you and I have talked a lot about is, I’m going to take you back into your formative years, right? That got you into this and you had a very interesting conversation over dinner with Henry Kissinger. Is that right?

Courtney McCashland (16:02):

Tim Geisert (16:03):
So tell us about that because I think it’s really interesting because it helps kind of turn on some light switches for sales leaders and executives to understand well, what are we really looking for at the individual level? So tell that story.

Courtney McCashland (16:17):
Yeah. So Henry Kissinger, I think, he’s one of those people that you’re like, okay, he can see patterns and stuff. He can always predict the future. So I have always admired people who can look at what happened before and study it and understand how it affects the future. So I was just enamored with what made him so smart about what he does. And I started asking him a little bit about it. And he basically said, “If you know what happened before, you can see what’s going to happen forward, because you just studied the patterns.” And that’s kind of what I’ve always done at an individual… He’s done it with history, right? He’s looked at what triggers major events and everything. But for me, I was like, “Well that’s really, if you look at human beings and you understand their natural patterns, which is what we’re measuring.” What are your natural patterns? You can predict how they’ll behave in a very accurate way.

Tim Geisert (17:00):

Courtney McCashland (17:00):
If you know someone well, if you have your spouse or your kids, you know if they have a pattern behavior, you put them in a situation. If I’m really detail oriented and you throw me in a messy environment, I want to organize and get it cleaned up. That’s just how I will naturally behave. So you could anticipate that.

Tim Geisert (17:14):
Right, right.

Courtney McCashland (17:15):
If I’m somebody who has really high… Is really high in any talent that you’re looking at and it’s a dominant thing, if I’m really analytical, and you give me a data set, I get excited about it and I’m going to give you inference because I’m going to see things that if you’re low in it, you won’t see. So you just know based on who they are, kind of what to expect.

Tim Geisert (17:33):
What I think is so cool about that is because you start to apply it to sales people.

Courtney McCashland (17:37):

Tim Geisert (17:38):
And they create a lot of patterns, right? And we’ve studied, you’ve studied for decades what are those patterns.

Courtney McCashland (17:45):

Tim Geisert (17:45):
So you not only can start to see, kind of predict how someone individually is going to perform, but you can also see those patterns or what is going to be needed for the seller of the future, right?

Courtney McCashland (17:53):

Tim Geisert (17:54):
As the business and as B2B selling becomes more challenging, right?

Courtney McCashland (17:59):

Tim Geisert (17:59):
So when you… Go ahead.

Courtney McCashland (18:01):
I was just going to say, it’s interesting as a sales leader, you probably see once you know your people well, you know what are the things that really make them tick? You can kind of see how that plays in their performance. As I’ve looked at, really studied high performing sales people, I right away can recognize those talents and those gifts in anybody. So I see it in my kids, right?

Tim Geisert (18:18):
Uh-huh (affirmative).

Courtney McCashland (18:18):
So I’m like, okay, so my youngest has a lot of natural sales talent. He’s just the kid who right away is really, really competitive and has to win. He’s the one who has huge individualized perceptions. So he just sees what people need. So we had the magazine drive when he was five, we all have done in kindergarten. And I just remember we were actually doing a bunch of sales research and I remember him coming home from school and saying, “I’m going to win the magazine drive.” Because he’s super competitive. I’m like, “Okay, high expectation.” I know that everyone on our street sells the magazine so I’m like, “Okay, try to lower the standard of expectations,” saying you might not have a out of sales here. “Oh no, I’m going to do it. I’m going out right now, right after school.”

But we go out and everybody, all these parents have kids that are in the same class. So I’m thinking, but he goes right up, courage, goes right up to the door, rings the bell and comes back with a sale. And I’m trying to figure out he’s doing this at every door and I’m trying to figure out what he’s doing. So I finally go, “What are you saying?” Because everyone’s buying. And he says, “Well, I just know what they like. I know that Jody garden, so I showed her the gardening magazines. And I know that this other…” The other dad, he knows that he likes different machine and equipment, so he had found one of those. So he had-

Tim Geisert (19:26):
Individualized, yeah.

Courtney McCashland (19:26):
… individualized perception. All those showed up and it’s interesting to see that. And I was thinking, “Okay, you’ve got to go into sales.”

Tim Geisert (19:35):
Yeah. How cool is it though? So as we kind of wrap up here kind of one question here, because the listeners are senior executives. Chief revenue officers, head of sales, those that run companies. How do they get started on this? Where do they begin? And I’m going to couple that with what is the bright and sunny backside of this once you’ve done this kind of work?

Courtney McCashland (20:00):
Right. So the first step is you need to educate your sales leaders. They need to learn how to coach and individualize, but they need to have a way to do that. They need to have quick way to understand their people. So your most efficient way to lift performance is to get a glimpse, like to do the full audit of your incumbents, the people that are in the jobs today, and then teach your sales leaders to use that data to coach them. That’s a really quick start, and you will actually get lift just from that alone. But if you really want to make a sustainable difference, then you have to have a way to remeasure, right?

Because I need to create accountability and have a place where those conversations are happening. I train you how to do it, and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to remeasure every six to 12 months. And then if you’re in the system doing that and you have actually your action plans and things you’re doing around the coaching, that’s when it gets really cool.

Tim Geisert (20:47):

Courtney McCashland (20:47):
And you’re linking it into your deal opportunities. And that’s what our system does. If you have it on a platform where you’re actually keeping rigor around that, then you have a systemic way to reinforce and do more of what matters most in your business, and it’s more reliable. So you’ll see consistent and sustainable growth. So that’s when it gets really cool.

Tim Geisert (21:06):
Yeah. That really kind of is everything. And just to summarize, you start with the individual, understanding them around the talents, their competencies, how they utilize it every day. And then you can roll that into the larger organization. Then you can build it into development. It kind of creates this evergreen opportunity. Then you just get better and more sophisticated.

Courtney McCashland (21:26):

Tim Geisert (21:26):
And that’s really what building a sales organization is an asset in, right?

Courtney McCashland (21:30):

Tim Geisert (21:30):
Courtney, this has been great, very enlightening. Look forward to having you back another time. And thanks for listening in to the Selling Excellence Podcast. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Selling Excellence Podcast For Business Executives. I hope you’ve gained some insight on how to help turn your sales organization into a company asset versus a pain in the asset. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sales Excellence Podcast wherever you get your podcast. And for more information about Auctus IQ or to schedule a discovery call, visit our website at auctusiq.com. Until next time, this is Tim Geisert, host and partner at Auctus IQ, here to help you sell more and grow your company.

Speaker 3 (22:12):
A Hurrdat Media production.

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