Managing Sales Team Talent: How to Help Reps at Any Level Sell More

By Nancy Martini

One of the most difficult challenges any manager faces is helping an employee improve performance. Creating a high performance sales team is even more complex. A typical sales team includes a number of top producers (10-20% of the team); these are the folks who crank out the numbers month after month — either with incredible skills, sheer effort, or a combination of brains and brawn. The middle group (60-80%); often includes reps who are adequate but not yet reaching their potential — various reasons get in the way, from confidence, to commitment, to limited skills or motivation. Finally, there is the small group (10-20%) of those struggling with the position and trying to figure it all out — they may or may not make it. Ultimately it’s up to the sales manager to drive the performance of the entire team, fortunately (as I discuss in my new book) science can help determine the exact scenario and who needs what.

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As a manager it’s important to look first at the relationship between the reps’ sales skills and their actual sales results. There are four science-based scenarios that occur to help diagnose and guide you for accurate coaching.

The “Muscle” Scenario: High sales results, Low sales skills.
These are top producers who get the job done, but likely in their own way. Their success may come from years of experience, superb product knowledge, or they’re simply extremely hard workers. The good news is, they get superior results. The bad news is how they do it. A rep with high sales and low skills tends to be highly reliant on a single muscle (for example closing skills, presentation skills or questioning skills). They are most likely working inefficiently. By building other muscles, they could potentially increase their performance and efficiency substantially. Most top producers are all over increasing skills that can help create more sales; managers tend to shy away with a fear of messing with success. Gather the sales skills assessment data and dive in; this effort is well worth the return.

The Execution Scenario: Low sales results, High sales skills
These are the folks who know what to do but have trouble executing on that knowledge. They’ve attended the sales training, they even get it, but they just have a block getting it done. We all know the old adage “the knowing-doing gap” and this the classic issue in this scenario. It may be from lack of confidence, lack of drive, or simply lack of coaching but this rep needs help with the “doing.” In this scenario, a focus one-on-one coaching is ideal. The rep gets to see how his or her judgment and knowledge plays out live with feedback from a skilled coach. When a person has the sales skills assessment needed for the role, it’s also helpful to examine their behavioral assessment to uncover the drive behind their selling.

The Knowledge Scenario: Low sales results, Low sales skills
Your sales reps who score low on the sales skills assessment and have low sales results need one thing — training.  You can hire the best reps in the world, with all the drive necessary to succeed, but if they don’t have core sales skills, they become a rocket without a direction. This one is fairly easy to adjust: start with solid sales training and reinforce with focused skill builders. By increasing a rep’s core sales skills, you are giving them the tools necessary for the role. These reps tend to be sponges and the sales skills training is absorbed and used.

The Leverage Scenario: High sales results, High sales skills
This one is the most complex of all. A terrific rep who emulates all the sales skills you want and creates outstanding sales results. Good as it is, you have two risks to stay on top of: 1) the rep may plateau because of time constraints; and/or, even worse: 2) he/she gets bored when “been there, done that” kicks in. In either case, your top producers need to be kept engaged, challenged, and leveraged. The leverage approach suggests that you examine all aspects of the person’s role to remove obstacles and increase support to give them as much selling time as possible. It may be additional technology or it may be a part time assistant but ultimately your goal is to leverage this talent with more time to sell.

In each of the four scenarios sales analytics help remove the guesswork and provide you with laser sharp focus of what’s needed. Pay attention to the sales skills assessment scores, the behavioral assessment profile, and the reps’ actual sales results — those three data points provide the accurate insight needed to impact the sales performance of every member of your team.

Nancy Martini
Nancy Martini is President & CEO of PI Worldwide, publishers of the Predictive Index (PI) and Selling Skills Assessment Tool (SSAT). She is the author of the newly released Scientific Selling. In October she will present Sales Coaching 2.0: How Using Scientific Data Leads to Better Sales Performance as a keynote  speaker at the Sales & Marketing 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.
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