Bending A Sales Team’s Performance Curve to Greater Profits

Bending A Sales Team’s Performance Curve to Greater Profits



Everyone is eagerly looking for the end of the pandemic and for the business environment to return to a more normal state. For Sales Managers and Dealers, the faster they can get their sales organization to true full productivity, the quicker the company can recover from any damage or profit drain that COVID 19 created.

Managers typically try several approaches to increase a sales team or even an entire sales organization’s productivity. One approach is to double down on training in the hopes that it will improve skills and will result in an increase in the percentage of prospects being closed. Another approach focuses on prospecting and building the pipeline by setting higher activity targets and enforcing compliance. The third approach is two try to motivate or implore salespeople to sell more.

Each approach can have a positive effect; however, each has significant limitations. Simply attending training does not naturally improve a salesperson’s selling skills and ability to close sales. Setting higher activity targets and increasing accountability to reach those targets can even have a negative effect by causing resentment and even demotivation if not achieved. Simply imploring salespeople to sell more assumes they were not trying their best to generate their income and personal success. A better way to increase performance is to use a tailored strategy tailored to the individual’s performance level.

Performance Levels

Let’s look at a very effective approach to improve a sales team significantly by applying three different strategies based on the individual’s level of performance. Most organizations consist of these three groups, which are bottom performers, middle performers, and top performers. Typically, sales organizations have approximately 25% of the salespeople that are top performers who are doing great. Also, there are typically 25% of the salespeople are bottom performers and are struggling. The remaining 50% in the middle are consistent performers but are constantly striving to improve. The proportions of these three groups in your sales team may vary, but these strategies still apply.

Management Focus

First, examine your team and determine who are the true top performers and bottom performers. Each level requires and responds best to different strategies. Many managers focus their time on the top performers because working with them feels good, and they enjoy the thrill of closing sales.  While other managers concentrate more of their time on the bottom performers out of an obligation to try and resolve their performance problems. The middle-level performers may receive less attention and performance coaching because their sales calls may not be exciting, and their performance meets expectations. 

Bottom Performer Strategies

Let’s examine the distinct strategies for each level of performance. For example, in a sales team of 12, there could probably have 25% or three salespeople who would be bottom performers. First, determine the reason for their performance level.  The typical cause is either a lack of training and development or a lack of “job fit” to the position.  If it is training and development, devise a development plan that addresses deficiencies and enables them to develop their sales competency in order to be successful.  If they have been fully trained but still do not have the level of sales competency needed, then it appears they do not have the necessary attributes to be successful.  If the person doesn’t have the necessary attributes or “job fit” to the position, there is no option but to replace the individual with someone who has a high level of job fit that matches the attributes of your top performers. 

Job Fit Now

Remember, as the requirements to be successful have changed, a person who was successful in the past may not “fit the job” as it is to be done now, especially in a post COVID world. For example, a person may have been a relatively competent account “farmer” but may not have the capability to be a “hunter” to gain the needed new business needed now

If you are planning to replace less successful salespeople, it is very important that you replace them with individuals that have the capability to be true top performers. To do that is, it is necessary to have a very clear definition of the attributes required, as evidenced and defined by the true top performers. In order to accurately measure these attributes in candidates you are considering, you must have a current Benchmark or Success Pattern that can measure and define the true performance potential of a candidate compared to current performers. The relative range or level of attributes of your top performers attributes, such as cognitive ability, competitiveness, drive, manageability, assertiveness, attitude, accommodation, independence, decisiveness, and even what motivates them, enables a very accurate measurement of the candidate’s success capability.  Determining what is required for success in a specific sales position is a valuable activity that will pay great dividends as you move forward in future hiring.

Middle Performer Strategies

For the middle performers, use a focused coaching approach to help the person identify Sales Skills and Sales Behaviors, if improved, will boost performance. Once done and actively guide them in the development of those areas. Begin by with a careful examination of each salesperson’s Sales Competency and determine their level in each. Sales competencies consist of not just knowledge and skills but, very importantly, their application in activities and actions.

Through our experience and research, we have found that there are seven primary Sales Competencies for business technology sales.  These competencies are Sales Approach, Sales Knowledge, Identifying Prospects, Developing Prospects, Securing the Sale, Professionalism and Sales Effectiveness. These competencies consist of 15 specific Sales Skills, measured by the degree or application frequency of the 65 different Sales Behaviors. Sales Behaviors enable the accurate measurement of a person’s Sales Skills and ultimately Sales Competency, which determines their level of performance.

Very importantly, the ability to observe the salesperson and accurately how often and how well he or she demonstrates the   65 Sales Behaviors enables a Manager to identify the individual’s specific development needs.

We have found that if both the salesperson and manager independently evaluate their perceptions of the Sales Behaviors and compare their perceptions, it forms a solid foundation of understanding and creates motivation for positive change. The analysis and feedback from the manager are the basis of a mutually agreed-upon development plan.

Later the same process can even measure the level of improvement resulting from the development.   Using an objective and focused development approach makes the Sales Manager’s job of coaching much easier and significantly improves the probability of middle performers to increase their performance. Imagine the impact if each of the middle group, about 50% of salespeople, improved their Competency and increased their effectiveness in gaining new business and growing current accounts. What would it do for the sales team’s overall results if this middle performer group could improve 5%, 10%, or 15% more in sales performance?

Top Performer Strategies

Research has proven that low performance drags down the performance of others. Suppose the bottom performers are either replaced with individuals with a high level of Job Fit or developed into middle performers by increasing their Sales Competency and the middle performers increase their performance,  the natural result will be there will be an improvement by top performers. Even top athletes like to compete against skilled competition because it invariably raises their game to a higher level. Raising the level of performance of both bottom and middle-performance groups raises the standard of excellence. It will motivate top performers to do even better to stay ahead of the group.

Strategy Implementation

To Implement this strategy, First, develop an accurate Benchmark or Success Pattern for each sales position by defining and measuring the degree of level of the attributes. They include cognitive ability, behavior, and even interest of top performers in today’s selling environment. This accurate measurement of what is required can allow you to assess not just new sales candidates but also existing staff accurately. This assessment information is invaluable in coaching current salespeople to develop their behavior to more closely match that of top performers.

Second, replace those who do not fit the position, as it must be done today, and will not be successful despite ample training and coaching. Be careful not to trade a bottom performer for someone who cannot do any better. It may take many candidates to find one who can not just be a middle performer but can be a top performer.

Third, conduct an objective evaluation by both the salesperson and the Sales Manager of each person’s sales competency. Use that information to create awareness of the need for improvement and help build a Development Plan to focus both the salesperson and sales manager’s effort consistently. Create a culture of consistently observing salespeople making sales calls( not just selling for them), prospecting, interacting with others, and even how they approach handling problems. This targeted development approach focused on consistently observing and coaching to improve the 65 Sales Behaviors that will pay great dividends.

The change in both an individual’s and sales team’s Sales Competency, Sales Skills, and Sales Behaviors can be accurately measured and even the improvement compared to the revenue or profit to determine ROI of the assessment tools used and effort expended.  If you would like a report that defines the 15 Sales Skills that make up the 7 Sales Competencies along with a more detailed explanation of how to apply these strategies to improve your sales team performance- email [email protected]  with “Measuring and Improving Business Technology Sales Competency” in the subject line.


There is no more critical time than during change for a manager to focus on assisting salespeople to improve.  Having every sales position filled with those who can be successful now and in the future is essential.  Ensuring each salesperson has a high level of Job fit is essential for the effort you expend in developing their Sales Competency to pay dividends. The better you implement these strategies the better you will be able to capitalize on an improving business climate. As the economy improves, ensure your sales organization is staffed and has the level of sales competency to take advantage of it to the fullest.

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