Hey Boss – Are you why some of your reps are lagging?

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If your sales team is like most I’ve seen, you’ve got some reps who are self-motivated go-getters. Ya gotta love those reps!

But then there are the others.

The ones who show up and do just what it takes to get by, if that.

Not much in the way of new business generation. Just enough results and lots of complaints and excuses.

While the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) is numerically off target in most cases, the concept seems to hold true. Most of the great work is done by a few, and the rest are doing either good work, just good enough or goodness gracious (in a bad way).

Is this just how it is?

In any given group of reps is this the normal distribution curve of effort and output that we need to accept?

Or more to the point – How did we get here and how can we turn it around?

How did we get here

Let’s take a look at your sales organization – not just the reps that are in it, but the infrastructure you set up to support them.

Statistics vary by source, but most studies support these points:

  • Most sales managers were promoted from rep
  • Most don’t get much if any training about how to do the new manager job
  • Most carry a big quota
  • Most spend very little time with their direct reports

So the front line sales manager (FLSM) was promoted to the role because they were a strong rep, but they didn’t get much if any training and still carry a big quota.

Oh – and they are so busy in their new role that they don’t have time to manage their reps

Where does this leave the team as a whole – when the FLSM spends their time selling to their own accounts and doing administrative work, and senior management accepts this.

Every rep for themselves!

In this scenario, reps are on their own. There is a number at the end of the month / quarter / year and they either hit it or they don’t. How they get there is up to them.

Sure, sometimes they get leads, but how (and sometimes even if) they pursue them is totally up to them.

Sure, sometimes they get to go to a one-day, event-style training, but that doesn’t have much impact because there is nothing that happens before the training to make sure they learn the right stuff and then nothing that happens after the training to help them incorporate the stuff they learn into their work.

Pretty bleak, but fully understandable.

In this environment, you get the full spectrum. Some reps will be self motivated go-getters, and then you have the others.

Pareto.

So how can we turn this around?

The person in your org chart to turn this around is your FLSM. Instead of (just) chasing their own quota and pushing paper, they should be working with reps in a meaningful way:

  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Motivating
  • Holding reps accountable
  • Recruiting

This all sounds good in a post or in theory, but there are three big problems that keep it from happening in the “real” world, and they all fall on the shoulders of senior management:

No training

Knowing how to coach, mentor and motivate are not skills we are born with, so we shouldn’t assume that the FLSM we promoted from rep is going to know how to do this as soon as they get their new business cards. Senior management needs to recognize the value of this former top rep sharing their own success in a structured way with their reports to help their reports thrive, and to feel supported as they do.

No granular accountability

Accountability is more than just “did you hit your number”. Accountability should be about what are you doing to get there. Here too, there is no reason to assume that the FLSM will know how to do this without some structure in the sales organization (i.e. selling process / system that is high level enough to work for everyone but granular and flexible enough to work for each person).

No bandwidth

When the FLSM needs to spend their time chasing quota and pushing paper, and senior management has made their priorities clear by NOT providing training and NOT setting up systems around which the team can succeed, the FLSM can’t really be blamed for prioritizing the non-rep oriented work they do.

Rinse & repeat….

When the FLSM gets no training, is allowed no bandwidth and is not supported one way or the other to establish and work with an established selling system, they are not set up for success in their role as a team leader.

They often get fired for lack of results, as do the laggards on the sales team – but if you are leading a sales organization and are tired of this kind of turnover, recognize that while some people won’t work out no matter what you do, some who you fired were not set up for success.

If you would like to turn that around, start with a long look in the mirror and some reflection about what you are doing to set your reps and managers up to succeed beyond the collective mediocrity baked into The Pareto Principle.

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