According to Sales Benchmark Index, across the industry as a whole, 83% of sales revenues are generated by only 13% of the sales population. And even if the asymmetry within your own sales organisation is less pronounced, it’s a reasonably safe assumption that there is some sort of significant imbalance between the best and the rest.
Now, some element of this can be explained by the time taken to ramp up new hires. But the larger part of the explanation is likely to come from a combination of hiring people who were never likely to make the grade in the first place, an inability to fully realise the potential of your otherwise-competent sales hires, and a failure to learn all you could from the winning habits of your top sales performers.
In short, if sales organisations are to bridge this sales performance gap, they need learn from the best, move the middle, accelerate the inevitable - and hire smarter.
Learn from the Best
Most sales organisations have a handful of standout top sales performers. They have worked out how to reliably and repeatedly exceed their sales goals, quarter after quarter, often significantly outperforming their peers. And yet few sales organisations truly understand exactly what makes these top performers tick, or how their winning habits could be replicated across the sales organisation as a whole.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting their success down to personal qualities that typically include determination, a high degree of emotional intelligence, an always-be-learning attitude and an exceptional ability to spot winning opportunities very early in the sales process. But it’s a mistake to assume that there’s nothing that could be usefully learned from their success and applied to raise the performance of a significant slice of of the rest of the sales organisation.
Part of the problem is that many of these top performers are often unconsciously competent. Some struggle to articulate exactly what it is that they do differently. But careful observation and assessment usually reveals replicable patterns in two key areas - their personal qualities and their behaviours (and in particular their disciplined use of time).
Let’s face it, hiring primarily for experience is a failed strategy for many sales organisations. In today’s fast-evolving world, past success is an increasingly weak indicator of future performance. That’s why a growing number of sales organisations are investing the time to profile their top performers using a range of psychometric indicators, and applying the insights to inform future hiring decisions.
Moving the Middle
But learning from the best isn’t just about making smarter future hiring decisions - it’s about systematically “moving the middle” of your sales organisation and enabling them to emulate the winning habits and behaviours of the top performers. These can be distilled into key qualification criteria, talking points, responses to frequently asked questions, and the handful of things these top performers consistently know and do at each stage of the sales process.
Traditional sales training by itself rarely moves the middle - even the training providers acknowledge that in the absence of systematic and regular reinforcement, 80-90% of the things that have been taught end up ignored or forgotten just a few short weeks after they were imparted. “Moving the Middle” can never just be about developing the individual skills of a group of sales people - it can only be achieved by building lasting, scalable competencies at an organisational level.
Recycle the Rest
Every organisation has a middle cadre of sales people whose potential is greater than their current achievements - and systematically increasing their competences can have a dramatic impact on not only their personal success but also the overall performance of the whole organisation.
But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there then remain a group of sales people who are frankly never likely to make it. They might have been bad hires. Or they might have been formerly successful sales people who have failed to adapt to changing buying behaviours (I see a lot of this).
Either way, for this hard core of persistent underperformers, it’s best to accept the inevitable, recognise that they are never likely to make it, help them come to terms with this and act with compassion and dignity to accelerate their passage out of the organisation or into another role better suited to their talents.
B2B sales, no matter how supportive the culture, is ultimately a profession that is measured by results, and it does no-one any good to persist with a failing strategy at either the personal or organisational level.
George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, famously concluded that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and this is particularly true of hiring decisions. Of course, it’s not just about remembering the past, but understanding it: understanding the patterns of success and failure, and understanding the profiles of your top performers so you can seek out similar attitudes and behaviours in your new hires.
I don’t believe it’s possible to make accurate judgements without applying a measure of science as well as art to the recruitment process. Relying on “gut feel” will inevitably result in the painful recognition that you’ve made some avoidably bad hires, often months or years after they came on board. It’s impossible to eliminate this completely, but including psychometric testing in every hiring decision can certainly reduce the risks.
Imagine the Potential
Just imagine - how much more could your sales organisation achieve next year if you could bottle up some of the “secret sauce” that drives your top performers and sprinkle it over the motivated middle of your sales organisation? Imagine the potential!