A New Rep Profile: How Sales Leaders Are Evolving A-Players in 2021

22 Mar 21

What defines an A-player rep today? Many sales leaders grapple with this question regularly in our new virtual world. There are implications for you as a sales leader to understand what has changed and hire accordingly.

Current State

The number of A-Players an org has can make or break a sales leader’s ability to make their number. This, of course, has remained constant through the pandemic (80/20 rule). Leaders grapple with not having enough A-players in their sales org or being able to retain A-Players. It is on leaders to help A-players grow and evolve as well. To help, SBI has created a 1:1 A-Player coaching guide that can be used to guide coaching conversations.

Last year, Harvard Business Review published an article titled 4 Things Sales Organizations Must Do to Adapt to the Crisis. The article highlighted four trends the authors felt would come to fruition in 2021 due to the pandemic. All of these have come true and will persist regardless of COVID. Below is a commentary on how each of these has come to fruition and how they have direct relevance for sales leaders as we get deeper into 2021 and evolve hiring decisions:

  1. More Digital Selling – This has happened on a staggering scale. Virtual platforms like Zoom have become commonplace in conversation and deals. How many times have you heard, “let’s set up a Zoom call?” Complex sales are now being made over the phone. Change has naturally happened thanks to the pandemic. If you cannot make basic AND complex sales virtually, you are being left behind.
  2. Fewer Field Salespeople, More Inside Salespeople, and Customer Success Managers (CSMs) – The use of Inside Sales and Customer Success has accelerated during COVID, and both groups are inheriting greater responsibilities. Inside Sales are managing larger deals and proving to be a cost-effective route for Sales Leaders, while Customer Success is also evolving and becoming increasingly responsible for cross-sell and upsell. “Retention is the new growth” was the mantra for many companies last year.
  3. New Success Profiles for Field Salespeople – “The old profile of a winning salesperson as a rugged individualist is giving way to a new profile: a team player who can collaborate with others.” This has come true in spades as we have seen dynamic individuals with high EQ have risen to the front of the pack.  SBI’s CEO Advisory discussed how binary hunter/farmer roles no longer apply. Roles across marketing, sales, and customer success should all be reevaluated based on yield per role and enabled to sell virtually.
  4. A More Digitally Savvy Sales Organization - Not only in a selling capacity but also with hiring, ramping, and training, sales leaders have embraced change, and effectively leveraged digital platforms to enable, recruit, and train reps.

New A-Player Hiring Profile Considerations

SBI’s recent talent work and market research have led to some hypotheses around what might define an A-player in 2021. The following should be evaluated by sales leaders every 6 months in order for executives to keep up with the market demands from their people.

  1. High Emotional Intelligence – A-Players understand when to push and pull buyers without reading normal in-person body language/signals. Being able to do this through a screen is not easy, as clients/prospects currently spend their whole day on camera and in meetings. A-players send content before meetings and watch like a hawk for any cues during virtual meetings. If they do not have their target's attention, they figure out a way or modality (not video –text, email, call, etc.) to get it.
  2. Digitally Flexible – Employ a variety of digital modalities all the way from prospecting to deal closure—this goes well beyond Zoom calls. As firms invest in sales enablement platforms, A-players learn and use these to their full capacity. Another insight from our CEO Advisory Board was that required rep roles continue to evolve to meet customer needs. The new A-players can seamlessly shift between digital and virtual interactions and help buyers complete their journey. This means connecting through technology and sometimes not having the human-to-human touch.
  3. Mentorship/Coaching Mindset – Those who have found early success in the new virtual world reach out and coach others on best practices and educate those around them. It is no longer a "me vs. the world" attitude. SBI’s recent research shows that as travel time has tanked over the last year, coaching time is up. This makes sense, as reps are spending more time with managers learning new techniques to improve virtually. Managers, in turn, learn what works and coach their teams on best practices. See SBI’s A-Player 1:1 coaching guide for some ideas on how to foster a deep coaching relationship between reps and their managers.
  4. Ability to Build and Sustain Relationships Virtually – The ability to connect with buyers virtually outside the normal dinner and drinks mantra. This can mean things like virtual Happy Hours, Workout Classes, material communication through texting, etc. Reps adapt to the fact that their buyers are likely holed up in meetings themselves. They do not make excuses and evolve their thing.
  5. Hyper Focus on Converting Former Travel Time to Selling Time – With less time spent on the road traveling, A-players are leveraging this newfound time by prospecting. They are also vigilant about account management.

What Are Your Thoughts?

We would love to hear from you. Sales leaders must be vigilant in our new virtual world, and understanding the enhanced A-player profile is critical to ensure you adjust hiring to accommodate it. SBI would love to understand how you define A-players and how you are adjusting role profiles to fit this definition. SBI’s studio has been unusually quiet the past year, but sales leaders can still schedule virtual workshops with experts to achieve their revenue growth goals. Please feel free to reach out to me directly or contact SBI.


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