Closing the Credibility Chasm between Sales and Human Resources

By John Kenney, Sales Benchmark Index

“For me, Sales has been a challenging group. Among all organizations I support, Sales is the most resistant. Sales leaders do not want interference from HR. They bring HR late in the game. HR is used for tactical, not strategic support. It is hard to influence things. I have seen this with many sales leaders. This is not just an isolated case.”                                             – Senior VP of Human Resources

During a wide-ranging set of interviews SBI conducted with HR leaders in 2012, this concern was raised over 60% of the time.

Some HR leaders have earned a seat at the Sales leadership table. Others are still trying to figure out how to cross over. If you want to improve the relationship between the VP of Sales and the VP of Human Resources, SBI has an answer. Sign up for our Make the Number Tour if you would like a copy of ourSales Leadership Immersion Program (SLIP, for short).

Sales is the Achilles Heel for HR

The average tenure of a VP of Sales is only 19 months. They require immediate results. BAchilles heel of Human Resourcesecause HR leaders tend to work on longer time horizons, this can create a source of friction between the two leaders and their departments. In addition, some HR executives lack in-depth experience with the Sales function. This is an obstacle that further prevents them from delivering value to the sales leader. What is the risk to HR leaders when they are not well-connected with the sales leadership team? Here is a real life story:

Uninformed and Inadequate

One afternoon, Harry, the VP of HR got an urgent call from Victor, the VP of Sales. In just 5 weeks, three promising new hires had been recruited away from Victor by the competition. These reps had only attained 65% to 85% of their sales quota, so they were not yet earning accelerated commissions for 100%+ achievement. They were not the high performers that the compensation package was designed to attract and reward.  Their salary was too low so they were vulnerable when the competition swooped in with an offer of higher base pay.

No one noticed until it was too late.  Even though Harry was involved with Victor’s team on recruiting andperformance evaluations for the new hires, he was in the dark about their compensation risk. Suddenly the investment in human capital vaporized and the competition was fortified with freshly trained sales reps.

What role did Harry play in this disastrous retention problem? Sadly, not much. He was very involved in thesales compensation planning, but only on an annual basis. The lack of visibility to day-to-day Sales operations left Harry unaware until after the exodus began. By then it was too late to develop a specific compensation plan to retain emerging sales talent.

Victor had no one from HR on his team to safeguard his unique human capital.  There was no one who could anticipate and preempt a competitive raid. The 3 reps were not expected to contribute much in 2012, but recovering from this catastrophe will negatively impact 2013 results. The opportunity cost has already amounted to several million dollars.

Invite Yourself

What could Harry have done differently?

When we interviewed Janet Carson-Flamini, VP of HR at Activision Blizzard, she offered this insight:

“When I started working with Global Sales as the VP of HR, I had to sometimes invite myself to be included in things like sales tracking and customer overview meetings.  At first people may wonder ‘what is HR doing here?’ but over time these are opportunities to understand and connect to the business. You know you’re part of things when people expect to see your participation and contribution.”

For an HR leader who has never carried a quota or closed a sale, it can be an uphill battle to get credibility with the sales leadership team. But Janet proves it is possible. She was persistent and confident that she could add value once she learned that part of the business. Her direct approach inspired SBI to develop the Sales Leadership Immersion Program for executives who want to learn how to be a sales leader. SLIP offers five powerful ideas to cross the credibility chasm, and it is available as part of SBI’s Make the Number Tour event.

How to get Close to Sales: Fill in your Void

Once an HR leader has credibility, what’s next? First, learn more about Sales. Subscribe to blogs and read books about selling. Ask your sales leadership team what sales-specific resources they recommend. Then demonstrate some interest. Next, learn more about HR from a Sales perspective. How are your peers contributing to the success of their sales organizations? How have they broken down traditional barriers? Blogs and conferences are great resources.  Interview some sales managers. Finally, look for ways your team can remove burden from the sales leadership. For instance, your HR team might conduct phone screens of sales rep candidates to assess them for basic sales expertise rather than just forwarding on piles of resumes to time-starved sales managers who then have to sort it all out.


  • Sales leaders need help from Human Resources
  • HR can make a wide-ranging impact on Sales
  • HR leaders need to obtain core knowledge of Sales
  • Look for ways to remove burden from the sales team

Sales and HR Leaders

It is actually easy for HR to overcome the barrier to entry to helping Sales. Make meaningful contributions to the sales leadership roundtable conversations.  Becoming a strategic partner is the way to do it. Don’t let this opportunity slip by.

If you are a Human Resources leader and you have some more ideas on this topic, please submit them in the comments section below.  Your peers would like to hear more. If you are a Sales leader, consider sharing this post with your HR leader.