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It’s a question I hear from front line leaders all the time but it may have the biggest impact on performance with a sales team. Data collected by the Corporate Executive Board show that companies tend to spend too much time coaching the top 20 percent of performers and trying to improve the bottom 20 percent. There’s an argument to be made that a 10% improvement from the top 20% of performers translates to more top line revenue than it will if we invest the time in the middle 60%. That may be true if you’re focus in on the short term. The reality is, in my humble opinion, that it’s this middle ground that needs to be cultivated in order to show sustainable growth.

Matt Dixon, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board, suggests that "for true under performers, no amount of good coaching is going to make them better at their job". My experience has been that there are two distinct groups within the under performers at virtually every organization I've worked with. The first group are tenured, veteran employees that for a host of reasons just don’t perform to expectations. The second group are often new to the organization or new to sales and haven’t learned the craft yet. This latter group requires an investment of time, effort and energy in the form of both training and coaching if you expect to see consistent results. The former group unfortunately falls into the category of dead weight. While I don’t subscribe to the Jack Welch theory I do believe that any sales leader worth their salt is constantly assessing the situation and recognizes the need to make some tough decisions.

The starting point is to assess the available talent within that middle 60%. I’m always a little surprised by the relatively small number of organizations that have ever benchmarked the performance of their sales teams. Sure, they may have some metrics they track but generally those are lagging metrics (number of calls, closing ratio, length of sales cycle, etc.). Sales performance benchmarking requires a predictive element. To that end I include a behavioural assessment, a cognitive abilities assessment, a selling skills assessment and the sales reps individual performance data. This way we begin to predict who needs coaching, who needs training (and in what areas of the sales process), where our greatest opportunities for improvement are within the team and ultimately how we can help the middle 60% to close more sales. The top 20% are generally very competitive so when they see signs of improvement they ramp up their game to stay ahead of the curve. You can’t ignore them but you have to focus your efforts as a sales leader in the areas that are going to build sustainable growth.

Behavioural Traits

Understanding whether a sales rep has the requisite behaviours that drive sales performance is a key starting point in any benchmarking discussion. 

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Cognitive Abilities

Sales is one of those strategic roles that requires the correct level of mental acuity to ensure performance. We want reps that can think on their feet and adjust/adapt  to the situation.

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Selling Skills

We map skills to a simple 4 step sales process using The Sales Ability Test. You now know who requires training and in what area and who needs coaching.

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