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Improve Sales Performance By Focusing On Your Top & Bottom Performers

improve sales performance

agrodnitzkyAugust 26, 2013Blog

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Focus on Your Average and Bottom Performers to Improve Sales Performance: Yeah, I know. Based on the title, you’re already shaking your head, wondering if I’ve finally lost my marbles. Hang with me… I’m pretty sure you’ll see what I mean.

In an earlier post entitled “Which Top Producers Should You Study to Develop Sales Training Programs?”, I introduced a sales analytics approach that I’ve use for analyzing top producers and placing the sales organization into six major bands.

Socrates is quoted as saying, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms,” so I want to clarify some terms for this post:

  • I typically define “Average” as the group of producers that surround the mean and median averages, for the metrics you are using. The “Above Average” group is simply the group that lands between your upward cut-off for Average and the bottom of the Top 20 Percent. To avoid saying “the Above Average and Average groups” every time, when I say “Average” in this post, this is the combo of groups that I’m referring to.
  • The bottom performers are simply those in the Bottom 20 Percent.

Improve Sales Performance with Continue | Start | Stop Coaching

In the previous post I referenced, I discussed using a form of task analysis and comparative analysis to create Continue | Start | Stop lists between performance bands, to coach performers in one band, up a notch. I’ve had great success with this approach and the resulting sales coaching. It will improve sales performance.

What I didn’t share in that post, was where I encourage sales managers to focus their time and the type of sales coaching support most often needed by band, to get the maximum benefit from coaching time. This is a gross oversimplification and generalization, so I want to clarify that upfront to avoid giving the wrong impression. (It’s “directionally correct,” but my recommendations may vary quite a bit based on real-life context.)

Having clarified that, here’s what I’d offer, generally:

In my experience, you’ll get your biggest lift from two places. And they are (drum roll, please):

  • The Average groups above the Pareto Line (where you should spend the largest percent of your time, when working to improve sales performance)
  • The established low performers (not the new hires or recent trainees) in the Bottom 20 Percent group (where you should spend 10% of your time, appropriately moving these performers out of the organization)
To do this, the Continue | Start | Stop work (resulting from your sales analysis and task/performance lever analysis) and sound sales coaching training will both help you improve sales performance in the Average groups. This deserves a post (or several) in itself, and we’ll certainly write more about this type of sales coaching. It works.

Improve Sales Performance with a Bottom 20% Replacement Plan

Your Human Resources team should provide good advice on how to move out these consistent low producers effectively. Do it professionally, with empathy, even kindly. But move them out. In addition to being a heavy drag on your organization’s sales performance, these people deserve an opportunity to find success doing something else (maybe even within your organization). By the way, unless you haven’t hired recently, this won’t usually be the entire 20 percent in this band. Hopefully, some of the reps in this group are newer players who are “just passing through.”

There’s also big “BUT” with the Bottom group.

If you don’t have a solid plan for sourcing, recruiting, selecting and onboarding replacement reps at a higher degree of effectiveness than what you did previously when hiring the incumbents, you risk prolonging the status quo (or making things worse).

Obviously, since I’m recommending sales performance management and replacement, I don’t intend to suggest you shouldn’t release poor performers (or “return them to the community,” as a former employer’s CEO used to say). Nor do I want to foster paralysis. But if you don’t have great sales selection systems and processes, it is deserving of significant effort to establish them, and worthy of continuous improvement over time, based on what you learn with each hire.

So, if you were scratching your head at the outset, did I redeem myself? Or do you have a different perspective? I’d enjoy hearing either way. To close, here are some questions to ponder and some related reading, if this topic is pertinent now or of interest.


  • Are you analyzing, banding, studying, and doing comparative analysis with your sales organization? If not, why not? If yes, how is it working?
  • Do you spend enough time doing sales coaching? Do you focus on moving up your average and above-average performers? If not, why not? If yes, how is it working?
  • Do you have a compliant, structured way to manage out your low performers who are not improving? Why or why not? How’s it going?
  • Do you believe your sourcing, recruiting, selection and onboarding is as good as it should be? If yes, what are you doing? If not, what are you planning to do about it?
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