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I recently spent time with a friend of mine who runs a sales team to talk about sales coaching and developing sales people. His sales process is highly transactional, with short sales cycles and lots of activity. His organization is in the mode of high volume hiring, sales training of just a few days, and then putting people on the phones with call lists and leads. His comp plans have a low base and are highly leveraged.
His performance evaluation methodology is simple. The “A”s are the people who are just killing it. “B”s are the ones making their quota. The “C”s are able to close deals, but struggling. The “D” players just don’t have what it takes. They can work cold leads until the next training class is filled and he needs the desk back.
His sales training plan is just as simple. The A players were born, not made. It took just the right mix of personality, skill and motivation. Not only do A players not need training, he feels no amount of training can make someone into an A. The D players are the same way, but in reverse: no amount of training will get them to meet the minimum standard.
Because of this, it is his belief that the very best thing a sales manager could do is to spend time turning Cs into Bs, and then getting the Bs to B-plusses.
For him, this is clearly the right strategy, and Enkata’s analysis of sales performance data shows the same thing. 15% to 25% of reps at the top are head and shoulders above the pack. 50% to 60% of the team is somewhere in the middle. At the bottom, another 14% to 20% consistently bring in less than half what their peers do.
My friend’s view is that many sales managers take the opposite approach to his. There are two ways they get off track. First, they want to be hands on, watching the sales funnel and engaging on the larger deals. Since most of the pipeline and large deals are in the hands of the A players, this means they’re spending time supporting the people who already know how to get it done. A players don’t need the help, and they may not even want it. The other mistake managers can make is getting sucked into working with the D players. This guy was pretty clear in his take on that: “If someone can’t get to C on their own, nothing anyone can do will get them there.”
What should managers be doing to coach the sales people who need it? Perhaps the most important thing is to understand what it is that the A and B players are doing that the C players can learn to do. It can be as simple as the subject lines on their emails, or the time of day they’re placing calls. They may be getting single threaded on accounts where they should have more contact with more people. They may need help qualifying out opportunities that are taking too much time. These are the exact things that people can be coached on, and that can change their productivity substantially.
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