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Talent & Recruitment
Canadian Professional Sales Association, Social Media & Tech Series

Nicholas Crowe, Director Professional Development at the Canadian Professional Sales Association was recently interviewed on the HRchat podcast from The HR Gazette. Listen as host Bill Banham and Nick talk about his role at the CPSA and how the association is helping to revolutionize front line professions.

Listen to the HRchat podcast and discover:

  • The research, data and strategy that goes into developing a nation-wide learning curriculum and associated training materials.
  • Types of content the CPSA and it's partners are using to engage and train professionals on the front lines and in leadership positions.
  • The education gap that's previously existed in North America and how CPSA is bringing sales education and professional sales designations to the top of many HR department's agendas.
  • CPSA recently partnered with the Government of Canada. Learn about what it will mean for training available to salespeople.

Read the edited transcript below and listen to the HRchat podcast here

Bill Banham: Nick, welcome to the show. 

Nicholas Crowe: Thanks for having me, Bill.

Bill Banham: Please begin by telling our listeners a little bit about your career background prior to joining CPSA.

Nicholas Crowe: Before I took up my post here at the CPSA, I spent the better of a decade working with top-level universities to develop public private partnerships and build digital and blended education solutions. I helped build and grow a learning design agency, where we would work with universities such as University of Toronto, Columbia University in New York, Syracuse University, and worked to develop continuing professional development programs for all sorts of careers, everywhere from teacher education, all the way to social media education. 

Along the way, also dabbled in the corporate side of training where I've worked with top flight brands such as Lululemon, Deloitte, the Mayo Clinic, among a number of others to work on performance improvement plans and education, and a lot of onboarding programs. Working with their managers and their business analysts to really develop these blended onboarding programs that we could help reduce the time of training, increase its effectiveness, and directly map some of the learning outcomes to business outcomes.

Bill Banham: Let's now talk a bit about his position at the CPSA. Firstly Nick, can you give us an overview of the research, data, and strategy that goes into developing a curriculum and associated training materials? For example, can you tell us a little bit about the community of experts and the institute which helped your organization understand the needs of the business community?

Nicholas Crowe: Yes absolutely. I think we're really about a number of things here when it comes to our philosophy towards education at the CPSA. One is we're big on standards, so we invest heavily in research and data around standards as it comes to the sales profession. We're big on external validation, so we make sure that we as a national association we are actively going out, seeking the advice and input and expertise from members of the sales community. We're also big on making sure and helping shift training from being an event into a journey. 

Through our research, we've found that lots of sales training is very event focused. It's intensive. It's run for one, two, three days, and then the ongoing support, the reinforcement, the coaching, all the other things that really help retention and promote behavior change and help learning stick were not happening. On the first point there, where we talk about the research and data when it comes to the sales community, we've invested in national surveys, putting together councils and committees across the country, across different industries to help identify the skills and skills gaps in the sales training community.

When it comes to developing our own materials and our program design, again we go out to the experts in the field. We don't just rely on our in-house talent and help ask them to help us design effective programs, design effective follow up, and really take advantage of their subject matter expertise. When it comes to shifting learning from an event to a journey, with some of our own programs we shift them into from more traditional intensive programs into a blended journey that stretches out over three, four, sometimes up to eight weeks for that initial training with follow up. We also work a lot with some of our corporate members and some of the 20,000 CPSA members and their own organizations to help develop some custom solutions where they can help improve their sales onboarding training, help really activate the new sales processes and sales training at some of their events and other key points throughout the year.

Bill Banham: Okay. Sounds like there's a heck of a lot going on over there. Can you tell us a bit about the types of content that the CPSA and its partners are using to engage in training professionals on the frontlines and in leadership positions? Maybe that includes you guys are creating articles, e-books, white papers, webinars. I hear that you have a few podcasts as well.

Nicholas Crowe: There are a variety of content types that we try to leverage. First, I'll say some of it is delivered by us but some of it is also delivered by our network of accredited education partners. Calling back to the idea of external validation and leveraging the expertise of sales professionals across Canada, we do call on a number of other education institutes to help support us and our members in their learning journey.

Some of the ways we engage in training professionals on the front lines, all the way from new sales professionals up to sales leaders are through different sizes of content. We do have our learning hub, where people have access to on-demand database of sales training material. Some of it's articles, webinars, podcasts, templates, we have research and reports in there all with the idea of helping people improve their performance and do their job better today. When we look towards a larger piece of the content, things that require a larger time commitment, we have customizable courses. Some of these, they range from one day all the way up to three days. Some of them are delivered publicly. Some of them are delivered on site privately for different corporations and groups. Everything has been designed in a modular fashion, so it's extremely flexible. It relies a lot on group work. It's very student centered. There are role plays. There are case studies. There is lots of discussion and learner driven activities to help make sure that people are able to relate to the material and internalize it better and also to help keep them engaged throughout the process. Those are some of the things we do in terms of helping engage and train the front line professionals, ourselves here at the CPSA.

Also through our partner network of accredited educators we have been working with some very innovative schools and training departments. One I think that's very useful for people if you know anyone who has a high performance sales manager or people that like to move into those sales leadership position, there are some really great things happening in the executive education world out there in terms of sales training and prepping people for success in sales management where they really go all in and design an immersive experience to the point where role plays and simulations are great but they're even more effective and impactful when you bring in actors to play the role. We have some tools doing that. We have people doing case competitions, case studies, and really drawing on instructors who have 20, 30 years of experience in the field for everywhere from start ups to large multinational corporations. There is lot on offer at the CPSA in terms of training and professional development, both through ourselves and through our accredited partner network.

Bill Banham: Okay so we just spoke about a lot of different types of content, including bespoke content, you even mentioned case studies there, but what about reports, Nick? Does the Canadian Professional Sales Association publish any analysis into sales talent?

Nicholas Crowe: Yes. We absolutely to. It's one of the things that through our consultation both with salespeople across the country and our own members that we know people were asking for. Two of our bigger pieces of content reports are one called the DNA of sales report where we did a deep dive into the demographic of the sales profession across the country with an eye towards giving sales managers, sales leaders, people in HR a real deep look into what the current state is and what the trends are in terms of demographic makeup of sales professionals across the country. That's a very valuable tool for people to leverage.

We also publish every year a sales compensation report in partnership with Mercer. We produce one for front line sales reps and one for sales leaders that provides insight into hiring trends, compensation trends, and we have 25 sales specific job roles and titles along with their salary data segmented by industry and by region. That's a very valuable tool. Sales in terms of pay and compensation is probably one of the most complicated positions to sort out in terms of salary, so being able to have real insight into what's happening in the rest of the country, being able to benchmark your own team, seeing what other people are doing in terms of days and variable comp and expenses is a really valuable tool both for sales leaders as they're planning for the years to come in terms of their team and their compensation, also for frontline reps to make sure that what they're seeing in the marketplace, what their current compensation is right now is competitive and is typical and if not to have some real empirical data to help leverage in their conversations.

Bill Banham: Let's continue with the interview. What's different about jobs in sales Nick? Talk to us a bit more. You mentioned briefly a moment ago about some of the awesome work that CPSA is doing with some of the schools and universities. Talk to us more about the education gap that's previously existed in North America, and how CPSA is bringing sales education and professional sales designations to the top of many HR departments' agendas.

Nicholas Crowe: Yeah so maybe I'll start with some of the sales gaps as it pertains to training and education. One of the things that we've uncovered, which I don't think was a secret to many people but now we've got the data is that most schools were not offering sales specific training. It was lumped into marketing programs. It was a week or a module here. It was touched on in some business programs but there were no dedicated sales programs at universities or colleges. That's something we've been working with the community to remedy. There's a fantastic program out at BCIT that's existed for years that employers rave about and while that's fantastic, we want that to become the norm across the country. We've been working with universities and colleges across Canada to help make sales more visible in undergraduate education. Even for people who have been in sales for a while there are plenty of skills gaps. One of the things we're trying to do with all our research and education and developing our competency framework and designation pathways is to help close that skills gap so that the sales profession becomes a profession of choice rather than something people fall into and to really prepare new grads, career switchers, people who have been in sales for a while and want to advance their career with the tools to succeed.

Some of the skills gaps that came out through our research are we found lots of salespeople need more help with their financial and business acumen, especially when it comes to a more advanced level in putting together complex deals and certain subscription, foreign currency, these are all things people don't teach in school. We found that lots of sales professionals, even ones with years of experience, they were very focused on selling products instead of solving a business problem for their client. 

There's a real need for a more consultative selling and client-focused solution. Social selling is a big one that comes up. It's something that the sales community some people do it really well but there are lots of learnings to be had there.

Also one of the big things that we found as a skills gap is around client intelligence, doing market research, gathering client intelligence to really understand your prospects for existing clients' business, what the rest of the marketplace looks like for them, where their products fit into the marketplace with their competitors, and really being able to dive in deep and understand their business so that when you come to them with your product or service that you can actually help them solve a business problem.

Those are some of the skills gaps that we've noticed. In terms of what's different about a job in sales, I would say the biggest difference is that it's highly visible. Everything you're doing is trackable. It's a tough job. It's very demanding because you're on the frontlines. It doesn't matter if you're in the B2B or B2C sales, you're the face of the brand and the business. You're the one out there whether it's in the store, on the phone, in the field, you're having the difficult conversations. You're listening to complaints. You have to handle objections. You're getting beat up on price and if you don't have the right product or service mix or you haven't done your due diligence as a sales professional, identified all the stakeholders, get buy-in from everybody, cross all your Ts, dotted all your Is throughout the sales cycle, you're the face everyone identifies with the company. It's a very demanding job and it's even more demanding now than it was before just because of the amount of information available to everybody.

What we're seeing a lot is that when people are reaching out to prospects or getting an inbound lead and reaching out to them to discuss their products and services, they're finding that their client or prospect knows more about them than they do. They know about the product. They've done all the research. They've done all that stuff. It's available to them now. What they really are hoping for and that they're focused on is someone to be able to develop a custom solution and that means that each client you've got to learn their business. You've got to learn different verticals. There's a lot of relationship building. There's a lot of moving parts and consensus building and I think now more than ever it involves team selling and getting buy-in within your own organization and within your client's organization. It's a really evolving and demanding set of skills that we're asking salespeople to possess. The training has not necessarily kept up with it.

Bill Banham: CPSA recently partnered with the government of Canada. Tell us about that and what this huge deal means for training available to salespeople throughout the country.

Nicholas Crowe: Yeah. Well I think building on everything I just said about how quickly sales is evolving and how demanding the profession is and what those skills gaps are, we recently partnered with the government of Canada and received a grant to help close the labor market skills gap as it pertains to sales. With the funding, it's going to really help us further support and expand what we're doing in terms of support for the sales community across Canada and we should see that trickle down and help out people in a variety of roles in businesses small and large across the country.

Some of the things that we'll be able to do with this partnership are produce more labor market intelligence reports and surveys so that in addition to our compensation report and seeing a sales report, we will have some more timely data for sales leaders, HR leaders, learning and development leaders just to leverage and help them support their sales team and their business. It means we're able to make some more diagnostic tools for individuals where they can go to, click on tools, and go to assessments. We have a preliminary one there now. They can do a 30-minute skill assessment based on the competency framework and see their strengths and weaknesses. This partnership will allow us to expand that, aim it at different level of people in their career and provide it in both English and French.

Nicholas Crowe: One of the big things that I'm selfishly most excited for are the invention of some more tools for educators where we will be able to make a number of training modules designed to fit strategic skills gap, some of the ones I touched on, some other ones that are emerging now, and produce these modules in both languages to be able to be delivered in person and online and be able to provide these to everyone from university and college programs to private sales training providers to HR and learning and development folks in larger corporations to help them leverage those and use those in their whether it's sales onboarding training or ongoing sales training to help them empower their people. There's research for leaders to help them do their job better. There are the tools for educators for the HR, learning and development, and sales leaders to help them train up their people. We have those assessments for individuals and we're really hoping and we expect that this is gonna be a game changer for the sales community and will really help people identify their strengths and weaknesses, close some of those skills gaps, and through our designations earn the recognition and validation they deserve.

Bill Banham: Let's look to close up this interview with two more questions. The next one is about those designations. The CPSA student subscription and your three designations are designed to develop sales focused pros and leaders. What are some of the topics or themes? You guys refer to them as competencies which are covered at each stage with each designation. You've already given a little bit of lip service to these so far to a couple of them. I think you mentioned social selling and business acumen. What are those core competencies Nick and why are they important how they all loop in together?

Nicholas Crowe: Yeah well I think I'll start with the designations and the student certificate. In line with what I was speaking about before in terms of taking professional development from being an event and turning it into a journey, through our consultation with industry and experts we've put together a graduated designation framework where it starts with the sales certificate for people who are taking courses at universities and college to give them the recognition that they've met the standards and the competency framework and from there we have our three designations. We have a CSA, certified sales associate designation. That's for people in the beginning of their career who are new to sales. From there, our more advanced sellers, our mid-career professionals we have something called the CSP, the certified sales professional designation. Then for those who are looking to move into management and leadership, we also have a CSL, or certified sales leadership designation. The idea being that no matter where you are in your career or where you want to go, there is a designation built around specific set of skills and competencies that can help get you there.

In terms of some of the competencies we cover, at the CSA and the CSP, the frontline sales rep levels, there are eight competency buckets. The first five really walk you through the typical sales cycle. We have a competency area around prospecting, one around building client relationships, one on developing client focused solutions, one on negotiation, and one on closing and following up so you can see how that follows a typical sales cycle. From there, we have three other buckets. One is ongoing professional development because it's an important but underserved part of the current sales professional's lives and it's something that we're trying to change. We also have one on financial and business acumen and that helps address some of the skills gap I spoke to before. The last one is on something called sales process technology. That incorporates not only social selling that I talked about before but building up the skills and understanding to work with the growing suite of technology, everything from your CRM to specialized sales enablement tools that salespeople use every day and every day there's more and more of them. It's a very important part of the framework.

One of the important things to touch on I think is as you move up from CSA to CSP, everything is designed around things called performance statements and knowledge statements. For the CSA, when you're in the beginning of your career, those are mostly around demonstrating understanding and capability using existing structures and processes within your organization. As you get up to the CSP level, the big change is that you are using them more independently. You are creating feedback loops and giving input with the rest of your sales team, your sales leader, and the rest of the organization really to help refine and improve the sales and the sales process in your organization. As you move up to the CSL level, there are a few expanded areas of the competency framework around hiring compensation structure, coaching and leadership and things like that so that sales leaders also have a set of skills and those performance and knowledge statements to look at and support them when they're looking at core competencies that they need to demonstrate to make sure that they're serving their team and the business correctly.

Bill Banham: Okay. So it sounds like for those HR professionals listening out there, the designations and the associated competencies that they could tie in pretty well with most development plans and therefore performance review targets as well. Is that fair to say?

Nicholas Crowe: Yes I think that's very fair to say. That's what we hear every day when we're out talking to our members and our clients. We find that one of the hardest challenges from the HR, the sales leader side of things is that you can look through a million resumes and you can get someone who worked at company or was in a good role for a few years, but there's no real way to validate those skills and so you bring them on and try them out. It's very difficult to find highly skilled highly motivated salespeople and separate them from the onslaught of resumes you'll get when you post a job. 

The designations are a good way, a good signal to the people doing the hiring that there is someone who has put in the work, put in the effort, and have had their skills validated by the CPSA. We're also finding that it can also be a valuable retention tool. If it's worked into an onboarding process through membership and designation, you're up scaling your people that it's early days yes but the initial feedback from lots of our members and clients is that it's a powerful retention tool and that they're excited to implement it even further into their systems.

Bill Banham: Well I wish we could retain you for another 15, 20, 30 minutes Nick but I know you're a busy guy so we're gonna wrap things up. One last question for you for today, how can our listeners connect with you and how can they learn more about the educational materials available from the Canadian Professional Sales Association?

Nicholas Crowe: Yeah I'm available always to chat and you can feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. My full name is Nicholas Crowe. Or you can feel free to email me at ncrowe, N-C-R-O-W-E, Always happy to chat with sales leaders and HR professionals and if you'd like some more information about what we're doing at the CPSA, some of our training, resources, and to learn more about the designations, you can head to and check out the designations section or the training section for more information.

Bill Banham: Wonderful. Nicholas Crowe, Director of Professional Development at the CPSA, thank you very much for being a guest on the HRchat show.

Nicholas Crowe: Thanks for having me Bill.

Bill Banham: Listeners, as always, until next time happy working.

Published with permission from: 

The HR Gazette


About the author: The HR Gazette

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