The buzz continues these days around salespeople who are swimming in the middle of the bell curve—that complex group otherwise known as middle sales performers. Do a search and you can find lots of information about how to identify middle performers, how they stack up compared to others (the 20/60/20 rule), and the impact they have on business.
But what about their actual sales performances? How do you get those to change?
Before you can answer this, you might need to first adjust your thinking about who your middle performers are. Yes, they’re the ones right now producing adequate or average results. They seem to always be hovering at the edges of their quotas. But if some serious head-scratching brings you to the conclusion that they—and possibly you, as a sales manager or sales enablement leader—could be achieving more, you’re not wrong.
Consider the concept of potential energy in physics. There’s a lot of energy stored in your middle performers. These presumably smart and capable individuals are likely positioned for high performance, but for various reasons their output (or results) are “just OK” at best. The full force of their potential energy lies untapped.
Hitting Your Targets
Let’s put things into perspective:
- Only about 57% of salespeople meet or exceed their quotas*
- Which means about 43% aren’t delivering as planned*
- 60% of enterprise deals end in no decision,** likely because the message is somehow failing
- But just a 5% gain in your middle 60% can yield over 70% more revenue than a 5% shift in your top 20%***
- Which means your middle performers matter…maybe a whole lot more than you thought they did
To improve overall sales performance, you have to focus on your middle sales performers.
Motivation vs. Situation
Is it just a question of better motivating the middle? Not likely.
Forbes points out that while a small percentage of your middle performers may be working at the highest end of their capabilities with nothing more to give, other factors may be inhibiting the rest of the group. Some lack the confidence to really go for it. Some want to improve their performance, but don’t have clear indicators about how to improve their performance. And as many as half of your middle performers may be stuck in the mindset that the perceived trade-off of improving sales performance isn’t worth it (obscene hours, quick burn-out, no incentive, unfulfilling…who wants that?).
When the middle group drifts, the top performers toil on an island, carrying most of the sales weight. When the top performers are the only ones rewarded for their efforts, the middle performers see no reason to aim higher and may be discouraged even further from trying.
What’s happening is less about lighting a fire under your salespeople as it is about understanding the needs and expectations of the middle group in conjunction with an intimate knowledge of your industry, your offerings, your multiple selling scenarios, and—this is key—your messaging.
Knowing that the majority of your middle performers aren’t doomed to be average and that your sales landscape is as unique as a snowflake sets you up to unleash potential energy.
Turning It Around in 3 Steps
Most of the time your only awareness of sales performance comes through quarterly pipeline reports, but once you get wind of a problem, it’s often too late to turn anything around. Lagging indicators don’t bode well for proactive problem-solving.
What you need to know is:
How well do your middle sales performers understand the value of what they’re selling and how well are they able to verbalize it?
With this challenge in mind, here are three steps for improving performance:
Step One: Practice and observe
Gone are the days of watching webinars and completing quizzes as a way to measure a sales rep’s knowledge of offerings. Why? Because they don’t measure the rep’s ability to effectively articulate in the field the value and benefit of said offerings.
With a video practice and coaching platform like CommercialTribe, sales reps can view various business messaging prompts and submit their responses as if they were speaking to a prospect—in effect practicing their pitches.
Step Two: Gain visibility
Using a resource like Spotlight, trained CommercialTribe coaches review those responses and score them based on how well the reps were able to articulate their answers. These comprehensive reports are then shared with busy sales leaders and frontline managers to give them visibility into the overall ability of their reps to perform.
Armed with this information, middle performers can get targeted coaching and practice their pitches early on. With this visibility and insight, reps don’t have to waste time floundering in the field and risk not making their quotas. You can see exactly what’s happening upfront and who it’s happening to.
Step Three: Focus your coaching
And knowing that sales managers must often play the role of coach, it’s important to target these scarce coaching resources only where they’re necessary. When you and other key stakeholders know what it’s like on the front lines, you can make necessary incremental changes.
Is it obvious there’s some messaging confusion? Do you see training gaps that need to be filled? Can you ensure overall that your sales reps are able to speak knowledgeably about the basic business model and value to potential customers?
What if all of this could be solved or bolstered with targeted coaching?
Assessing areas where sales reps are unsure or under-informed doesn’t replace coaching but works together with coaching to address specific weaknesses in both individuals and message segments.
Better yet, targeted coaching gives middle sales performers a boost in confidence and shows them exactly what to work on to improve performance. They can see it’s not about working 12-hour days, but rather making specific adjustments that will help them be more efficient, effective, and therefore successful in the field.
And remember, just a 5% gain in the middle can make a world of difference.
Now that’s good energy.
* CSO Insights
** Corporate Visions
*** Sales Executive Council, “Shifting the Performance Curve”