4 min read

Standardize What Good "Looks, Sounds Like," with Sales Competency Certification Exams

If you follow my blog then you know that I’ve written plenty about sales onboarding.  One very important topic that I have not written on however that is key to making successful sales onboarding repeatable and predictable is the use of sales competency certification exams.

Once you teach your salespeople or recruiters how to sell including, “what to say,” “what to do,” and “what to show,” how do you track and measure whether or not your employee is actually ready to begin making calls? How do you know they’ve retained the knowledge? More importantly, how do you know how they will perform when the customer or candidate asks a question or responds with an objection?  Finally, how do you identify the skill, knowledge and behavioral  gaps with each individual recruiter or sales rep?

The answer is sales competency certification exams. In this blog post I'm going to share with you three different types of sales competency certification exams, how to create them and the role they play in sales onboarding and sales training.

There are three ways to assess a learner’s competency, including skills and knowledge.

  1. Retention Certification Exams: A retention certification exam is an objective competency exam that takes an objective appraisal of the learner’s competency including comprehension and retention of the skills and knowledge administered through true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions. In the case of the Menemsha Group sales enablement platform, we have eight types of quizzes that can be applied.  The platform calculates whether or not the rep passes and is ready to progress to the next level for certification.
  2. Knowledge Simulation Certification Exams: This tests what knowledge the sales rep has retained, and that he or she can apply the knowledge in the context of the customers needs within a sales conversation. A good example of this is a seller Standardizing What Good Looks, Sounds Like, With Sales Competency Certification Examsdemonstrating their insight selling skills. Through a simulated, video-recorded exam (learner records him/herself), they demonstrate they retained the relevant knowledge (insight relevant to the buyer such as an industry trend) and that they know how to present the insight within the context of the conversation via their video recording.
  3. Skill Simulation Certification Exams: Skill simulation certification exams are applied to assess “what the seller says” and “what the seller does” via video training recordings. They include real-life situations and scenarios as opposed to just theory. With video based skill simulation certification exams you can assess soft skills such as empathy, speech articulation, or the skill of prefacing and compare a rep’s performance and apply their results to a cohort or peer group.  Like knowledge simulation exams, skill certification exams are also administered through video. 

In my experience, retention certification exams are important for testing knowledge and retention and gauging learner engagement, but aren’t very insightful in demonstrating how your rep or recruiter can deliver your value proposition, execute a negotiation or handle a common objection. 

Video based competency certification exams and competency based learning is an approach to learning that focuses on the learner’s demonstrated application of the desired learning outcomes. It requires learners to physically demonstrate their application of the desired skills, knowledge and behaviors.  

Competency Certification in the Context of Sales Onboarding

With competency based learning, only new hires who achieve their video-based competency certification should be allowed to progress to the next stage. 

A seller’s competency certification in the context of sales onboarding means the sales new hire has demonstrated the ability of “what to sell,” “what to say,” “when to say it,” and “how to say it,” by passing video based competency certification exams. They are equipped with enough knowledge and skill to move on to receive coaching and are closer to becoming sales ready

Designing Video-Based Competency Certification Exams
Let's assume we are creating a training video for the Discovery stage of our sales process.  And let's assume our sales methodology for running the Discovery stage goes something like this:

  • Introductions and rapport building
  • Establishing call expectations
  • Sharing the call agenda
  • Pivoting the conversation to discovery

For step one, Introductions and Rapport Building,  we want to create a short micro-learning video (1:00-3:00 minutes in duration) that visually demonstrates the methodology including  “what the seller says,” “what the seller does,” and “what the seller shows” for making introductions and rapport building.  Depending on your methodology, this could be one video or multiple videos. 

Next, we create certification evaluation criteria in which your salespeople will be evaluated. For example, your evaluation criteria for Introductions and Rapport Building might include the following for certification, each based on a scale of 1-10:

  • Did the rep smile?
  • Was the rep warm and inviting?
  • Did the rep demonstrate effective voice tonality?
  • Did the rep demonstrate effective use of disarming skills?
  • Did the rep ask the right amount (quantity) of rapport building questions?
  • Were the quality of the rapport building questions being asked effective and relevant?
  • Did the rep present him or herself as genuinely interested and sincere?

Once you define your certification criteria you can task your salespeople including your sales new hires with creating videos of themselves demonstrating their ability to execute the Discovery stage including Introductions and Rapport Building.

Sales Methodology Key to Designing Competency Certification Exams
When putting together a framework for sales certification including evaluation criteria, you need to be clear about what you want and what you need to evaluate and test. Having a sales methodology does just that.  Additionally, defining your sales methodology and the subsequent competency certification exams is how you establish standards for what “good looks and sounds like,” and enables your sales onboarding to be repeatable and scalable.

Finally, developing your sales methodology forces you to think through, define and document the specific knowledge, skills and behaviors required to execute each element of your sales methodology.  You can’t create competency certification exams without first defining your sales methodology.


According to the Objective Management Group, 20% of “B” players have the potential to become “A Players” with the right tools and training. The potential upside is significant, if you can identify the skill and knowledge gaps. So the question is, how do you certify your new hires and ensure all of your recruiters and salespeople are sales certified and conversation ready? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.

For additional information, read our comprehensive, step-by-step guide to making successful sales onboarding repeatable and predictable

Making Successful Sales Onboarding Repeatable and Predictable

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