Have you ever had a bad sales experience? Well, with professional sales designations, the CPSA helps to fix this.
In an exclusive CPSA interview, Martin Boucher, Vice President Sales at the Canadian Professional Sales Association shared insights into the designations available from the association and why they matter to sales in Canada.
With more than 20 years of executive level experience in managing worldwide sales teams, Martin is an industry expert with a proven track record of strategic business development, team leadership, client relationship management and communication acumen. Martin has focused on customer-centric go-to-market strategies that improve revenue and reduce operational expenses. As V.P. of Sales for the Canadian Professional Sales Association, Martin strives to contribute to the Association's mission for the success and growth of sales professionals in Canada.
Read the edited transcript below and listen to a related interview with Martin here.
Bill Banham: Martin, welcome to the show.
Martin Boucher: Well thank you Bill, it's a pleasure to be here today.
Bill Banham: Firstly, please introduce yourself a bit more, tell the listeners more about you and the work that you do at the CPSA
Martin Boucher: Sure! I had the pleasure of meeting the team of sales professionals here at the CPSA, calling on various markets of large enterprise organizations and mid-sized organizations as well as some of our association and partner members. Our goal is to be able to ignite the entire national marketplace around designations, so it's a great challenge, it's an exciting challenge, and we're happy to be leading the team here.
Bill Banham: Let's delve into the background of CPSA's designations. Back in 1994 the CPSA, with support from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, developed the first certification, the Certified Sales Professional or CSP. This was the CPSA's first foray into offering a professional designation - like you see in other professions such as the CPA and PMP. The certification process in in-depth and maintained year after year through professional development investment. Why did CPSA do this and what have been some of the results for sales in Canada?
Martin Boucher: I'd say one reason for doing this is because … the skills and competencies and even the knowledge that a salesperson needs to have to progress in their career wasn't something clearly identified or agreed upon … And, because there were no standards, sales is still not seen as a career choice by many young graduates or people coming into the marketplace. It still has some negative connotations sometimes.
I remember when I announced to my parents I was going into sales, I had three brothers, I have a brother who's an architect, one was an actuary, the other one's an engineer, and when I said I was going to sales, oh my goodness! That was as if I had failed my parents! So, see, this is why we're what we're doing right now, because a career as a salesperson is a very important career to the economy, it has huge impact on the economy, but standards were needed to be able to make a profession that's recognized and adhered to.
Bill Banham: Now, let's skip ahead to the exciting developments that have been happening over the last couple of years. The CPSA, through industry consultations with sales leaders coast-to-coast, refreshed, upgraded, and expanded the initial certification to three designations: CSA, the CSP, and the CSL, which we'll go into more detail shortly. Before we do go into each of those designations and who they're designed for, can you tell me a bit about the process to develop that new, tiered, designation system?
Martin Boucher: Sure! First of all, to be able to establish national standards for the sales professional, we need to establish consistency around what skills, behaviors, and performance were required of true sales professionals. So, to have that credibility, we went to the market. We interviewed sales leaders coast-to-coast, trying to understand what makes a top performer. And we broke it down to very small individual components at each and every stage of a sales cycle … So we designed a designation that starts from the intrinsic qualities that (are needed) including ethical approach, team standing, etc, and then we looked at different skills and toolsets that we need to use to do their jobs, their ability to work with new technology using social media, etc, and then lastly, ways they applied this whole process and skills they need to have in a sales cycle.
We created what we call a "competency model", so we broke it down at the knowledge level and at the performance level … CPSA … gathered feedback, gathered the information, built that model based upon industry feedback. So, today, it's an open platform that is being augmented through consultation with various organizations and leaders on our multiple boards.
Bill Banham: Okay, so it's very consultative, can you paint a bit more of a picture in terms of who those sales leaders were that the CPSA was speaking to; in terms of the types of companies, the types of industries, perhaps, what some of their pain-points were, and the size of the companies?
Martin Boucher: We wanted to make sure that our consultation resembled the market as a whole. So not only geographically did we go across Canada but we looked at different organizations that worked with multi-nationals. We work with organizations that are global leaders and we work with local smaller-type organizations as well, because the needs and the requirements... we want to make sure that the competency model could apply to any type of sales function in the space and also as a derivative of sales. So, it was very important for us to touch all vertical markets, all segments, all organizations. So, I answered your question, but, pretty much, everybody.
Bill Banham: Now, let's get into the three different designations. Can you offer a brief overview of each and the sales audiences that each are designed for? Let's start with the CSA.
Martin Boucher: Okay. The CSA stands for the Certified Sales Associate, and what this means and what this designation is aiming to do is to be able to provide, if you wish, the foundation elements that are required of someone entering a profession or new to the profession … Many organizations today will transfer some of their skillsets, and they're technical folks, associate engineer, to sales in order to be able to extend their careers, to bring more credibility to a sales engagement with customers. And many, many of the vertical markets we work with in the economy right now, the speed and the pace of rapid change make it so that organizations have to be very, very knowledgeable about products, services... you need to be able to understand their customer very well and technologically speaking, some of the offerings can be quite extensive.
So the ability to bring people from different professions into sales is what we're trying to serve with this designation, as well as the new entrance to the profession. When we say earlier in their career, it doesn't mean some who's just joined it, they could certainly attempt the designation. But the designation is more designed for people who have a good working knowledge of sales. So, we're looking at more early in their career.
Bill Banham: Now, let's move on and talk about the CSP
Martin Boucher: CSP stands for the Certified Sales Professional. This is the individual who's committed to sales as a career and wants to be recognized for the work that he'd put in, the profession that he has, the pride and the knowledge that they invest in and that they can demonstrate.
Bill Banham: And then finally, the CSL. Tell us about that designation.
Martin Boucher: This one for Certified Sales Leader and the reason we created a different designation for sales leader is because ... I'll illustrate it by saying... in sales, in the past, and still today, promotion paths didn't get offered to top performers. If you were a top performer in sales, you get offered a management, leadership type of position. Unfortunately, sometimes, what we've found is that the skillsets required to be a good leader maybe are different than being a good salesperson... some are transferable, but some are different … So that's why the CSL exists; it is to make sure that we are able to have leaders out there who are special in the sales profession and manage and lead a sales team to greater results.
Bill Banham: Can you offer a couple of benefits of each of the designations?
Martin Boucher: Sure! I would say, if we took a look at it, benefits of the designations can be broken on the following ways.
If you take a look at it, why would I put my personnel, my sales representatives and leaders forward for a designation, what does that mean to me? Well, from a customer perspective, from a visibility perspective, from a perception perspective, basically, it … states that you (strive) for the most professional sales experience possible to your customers. You're raising the bar, you take sales seriously. There are standards, and it negates the negative perception that some organizations, some customers may still have towards salespeople. It shows that you care, that you invest in your people for development, and last but not least it creates a competitive differentiator.
If you're first to market with a designation, it helps you to find achievement in those very highly-committed markets … Today, most products and services are highly commoditized, and this helps you show a different approach to the market.
Bill Banham: Let's now continue through and talk a bit about the different audiences. So, in terms of the benefits for designations, specifically for the different audiences the CPSA has identified, let's … skip to the sales professionals themselves that offer a little bit more there in terms of how we can help their careers and how it would help their personal development.
Martin Boucher: Sure. Well, first all a designation for the sales professional states just that, that this is my career. I'm a professional, it's not a job that I'm doing part-time ... This is career that I am investing in. I want to be self-accountable to higher standards with the designation because this designation is not something you earn once and that's it, it's a professional designation so you have to invest in yourself and develop yourself every year because if you'd want to maintain the designation, you need to demonstrate like any other professional designation... your professional development. So, as an individual, it means that you are concerned in investing in yourself (and your) personal-professional development. You are looking to acquire new knowledge, you're looking to be able to apply that new knowledge and new techniques to help support your customers better … it also makes you more marketable and promotable.
Martin Boucher: I had a conversation with one of our CSPs … and he said, he had those three letters, "CSP" after his name on his business card and people would always ask him, "What does it stand for?". He would describe rigorous standards that it stood for. And he said it helped reassure the customer that this was for real, I'm dealing with someone who's a pro here. And he said, "That was a great benefit but do you know what the greatest benefit was? It was each time I would describe those standards, it would remind me of the standards to which I need myself to adhere to." So he said it was a wonderful reminder to keep the bar really high.
Bill Banham: Okay, thank you very much. Now, going back to the CSL, let's just recap there in terms of the benefits of that to sales leaders.
Martin Boucher: From a sales leader perspective and to be able to put designations in place, it helps you on a personal level. I think there's a lot of the benefits that we talked about that could benefit a sales leader. But even the added designation from the sales leaders as a tool to recoup and retain salespeople is very important, because it can help attack, attract, and recruit better talent, because sales representatives do change careers and change organizations and they want to move towards where they know that there's a sales culture there. There are people who believe in this in the profession, and they're investing in my development, investing in my career, investing in my success. They want to help them grow. Sales representatives and sales professionals have a yearning for learning and they want to be able to find an organization which makes an investment (in learning and development). This is a very visible way for a sales leader to demonstrate that, "Yes, that's what we do here in this organization".
The designations can also help with candidate selection and onboarding. One of our members was a vice president of sales and …. he said the way it helped them as sales leaders because it would eliminate to an extent, by default, the candidates who didn't have that rigor, professionalism, and that willingness to invest in themselves … it was a way to identify the top performers.
Bill Banham: You've offered an overlap with the fourth audience, which I wanted to ask you about, which is the Human Resources department … Being able to offer those designations is a big differentiator between usual competitors, and to whittle out the stronger candidates from the less qualified ones.
Martin Boucher: You're totally right, Bill, and I would say, the designations are based upon the framework that I talked about, the competency model. And the competency model, it's an HR professional's dream because it has totally spelled out what's required for a top performer for each and every skill, what they need to perform, demonstrate what they to know.
Martin Boucher: So essentially, job descriptions can be built using the framework … it helps to bring a sales culture together and some standards and consistency across the board.
It helps with career pathing as well, such as internal promotion. We know that millennials today join our organization and typically have a two to three year window where they will jump around (from job to job) because they want to see advancement, progression, and growth ... (in terms of) the ability to use designations as a milestone for development, what we've learned is that we gamify the whole process so there are badges for different skills you can earn on your way to earning the designation. So it allows the individual to see progression, and once you have that, you can build career paths around progression; you’ve got to earn this badge, you have to earn that other badge, etc, to move on.
(In the context of) the performance evaluation as well … everything is spelled out, and you're able to standardize the development plan based on that. So, in all and all, it helps with attracting the right candidates but also with retention. We're working with large national organizations right now and for their … crowd of sales recruits, they feel that the badging process embedded into the development journey is crucial. So, we're very excited about that.
Bill Banham: As CPSA's leader of sales, what are a couple of the big opportunities and a couple of the big challenges in terms of spreading the word about the new designations?
Martin Boucher: Well Bill, when it comes to big opportunities, we're split because the receptivity about designations, the pathway, being able to raise the standards and have some national standards is very, very well-received by every sales leader we've talked to. So it's not, the challenges in mind, there are challenges that... it is applying some rigor to a profession that albeit was... with lots of great professionals and lots of great trade organizations, in need of a national standard. So people were going about it their own way, and sometimes very effective fashion, but there was not a standard per se.
Martin Boucher: So to be able to rally everybody around those standards, what it means to be a top performer, again, on paper, Bill, well-received but in reality is that it requires some changes in thinking which is obviously the type of awareness and discussion we need to have and this is why we're doing this today, so it's a great step in the right direction but, nope, totally optimistic, receptivity is excellent.
Bill Banham: Okay, perfect, thank you. Just finally, how can all listeners learn more about the designations and how can they connect with you?
Martin Boucher: Sure, we can connect with me on LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would my pleasure to engage in a conversation and see how this designation pathway could benefit your organization!