When consulting with sales executives, leaders, and managers, I often find that sales managers focus their leadership, management, and coaching efforts on their poorest performers exclusively--leaving their top performers to fend for themselves.

But, when you're working on the low performers, what upkeep and regular maintenance is happening on your high-performance sales reps? Everyone could use coaching. Everyone deserves the chance to perform better than they did last week, last month, or last year. Both groups need attention, but you must take a planned approach.

Here are three (3) steps to focus your attention on improving sales performance:

1. Evaluate

Evaluate your underperforming reps objectively to determine why they are not meeting expectations. This is a critical first step so that you know which sales reps need help: what issue to fix, gap to fill, or skill to develop. Here are just a few items to consider that may adversely impact their performance:

  • Insufficient # cold calls
  • Lack of trust built during sales call
  • Product-focused sales call
  • Price-focused sales call
  • Not asking enough questions
  • Not asking relevant questions
  • Personal issues at home
  • Lack of product knowledge
  • Lack of motivation
  • Personality conflict with sales manager

Be sure to evaluate successful reps, too. Determine why each of them is successful in order to replicate that success with new hires. Communicate your observations about your top reps to your HR department that will help them improve the hiring process such as: key personality traits, levels of experience and specific sales skills.

2. Coach

Invest time in coaching your entire team, but be discerning when allocating your limited time. In some cases, you're better off spending more time with your best reps. For example, a top performer at 105% of quota can go to 115% with some specialized coaching, such as: leveraging major account referrals or adding sales support. This can create an excellent ROI for you, the rep, and the company.

With an underperformer, one who's hanging around at 40% of quota, a 60% jump can be an unrealistic goal if they are not wired for the job. This means discovering if they are capable of being coached and if they are willing to be coached. Either way, you may not get the return on your time and energy. This may call for an appointment with HR to recommend other options for this sales rep.

A 60% jump in quota can be achievable with someone who's a good fit for the role, but just needs some coaching. This may require more of your time working on developing their prospecting or qualifying skills. Role-playing and field observations are time consuming, but yield tremendous results with consistency.

3. Advance

An underperformer will struggle to do even the very basics of sales: generate leads, gain an appointment, ask questions, facilitate a presentation, and close.

Top sales performers can do most, if not all, of the basics easily. The quality of their activities should be at a much higher level, though. Keep this in mind when you're switching hats from coaching an 'underperformer' to a 'superstar'. Sales reps who are consistently achieving 100%+ quotas should focus more on things like positioning, becoming a recognized industry expert, acquiring larger accounts with more complex sales cycles, and other advanced sales activities.

Focus your efforts on helping your top performers continue to develop advanced skills and move your mid-tier (70% sales reps) up in performance. With the bottom tier (40% sales reps), you may need to examine their level of fit with the role and, again, offer suggestions about how they might be better suited for other roles where their skills are much more in alignment.

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