How to Make Your Ducks Soar Like Eagles

By Heather Baldwin

When it comes to coaching and training your reps, are you a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of manager? That is, do you find yourself zeroing in on what your people are doing wrong and trying to fix it? Or is your focus more on getting average reps to emulate what your top performers are doing right? If it’s the latter, congratulations – you’re on the right track to improving the performance of your team, says Nino Lamberti, senior partner at Corporate Insights, a company that aligns human potential to business strategy (

Lamberti says companies that want to lift the performance of their mid-level reps should take a scientific look at the qualities that make their superstars excel, and then train their average performers to those standards. After all, he explains, “If you want to hunt like an eagle, you study eagles. You don’t study ducks.” Here’s how to study your eagles.

1. Identify your eagles. It’s not as easy as pointing out the five reps who made 150% of quota last quarter, says Lamberti. Instead, managers should pick out reps with a pattern of performance. In addition to consistently surpassing quota, your eagles should be thought leaders. They should be the ones everyone goes to for advice and those who give that advice freely. Eagles are team players and collaborators and their customers consistently give them strong ratings.

2. Define the playing field. Consider all the components of success: What’s the current culture of your sales organization? Is it an ownership-empowerment type of culture? Or is it autocratic driven? What are some of the common competencies of the top performers? What are the challenges they’re faced with every day? What are your customers’ future needs and requirements? Your aim should be to “get a really good understanding of what it takes to flourish in your organization,” Lamberti explains. “Everyone has a gut feeling about what makes top reps good, but no one takes the time to define it.”

3. Identify critical success factors. Corporate Insights accomplishes this task by interviewing the top performers – the eagles – and compiling a list of the characteristics they have in common. The list often is comprised of about 20 traits, says Lamberti, and might include behaviors such as assertiveness, organizational skills and the ability to influence others. Corporate Insights also interviews a group of the company’s average performers and compiles the same kind of list. The traits then are laid out side by side. Any behaviors that are exhibited by the top performers but not the average reps are singled out as critical success factors. Lamberti calls these the silver bullets – the four to seven characteristics that are absolutely critical to success.

4. Train and hire to the critical success factors. Now that you have defined what drives success in your organization – what sets your top reps apart from the main pack – train your mid-level performers to excel in these areas and you should see a marked improvement in performance. “It’s a scientific way to categorize human behavior,” says Lamberti. “You build your team around what makes you successful given your environment, culture and what you need to do as a business to sell and distribute your product. There’s no way you can do that unless you study your best people.”