There’s Money In The Middle

By Malcolm Fleschner

Most sales teams can be divided into three groups: at the top are the 20 percent who take a rifle-shot approach to selling&#46 They know which clients to pursue and which deals they need to win. In the middle are the 60 percent who take more of a shotgun approach, calling on too many clients and not always selling the right products to the right customers. Then at the bottom are the 20 percent who, to put it bluntly, are shooting blind.

According to Brendan Keegan, president and CEO of Bravanta, a leading business-performance solutions company, too many sales organizations focus their motivational and incentive efforts on the top 20 percent, who need the least pushing, when it’s that critical middle 60 percent who offer the most gains from motivational programs. “A lot of sales leaders drop the ball on that middle 60 percent of the sales force,” he says, “yet that can be the most powerful segment of the sales population to motivate, where you can see the greatest ROI.”

Keegan goes on to explain that sales managers typically focus on the top 20 percent because these are the performers who are already carrying the water for the company and getting the department to quota. To change that trend, Keegan suggests companies adjust the way they arrange quotas for individual sales departments. “At a lot of sales organizations if the sales manager hits quota something great happens,” he explains, “whether it’s a non-cash reward or a trip. The way to rework it is to tell them that they still have to hit quota, but 60 percent of their people have to hit their individual quotas as well. Suddenly the sales manager isn’t just focusing on the top people – he or she is now forced to think about the greater percentage of the bell curve and helping that middle group reach quota as well.”

As to how to design programs that actually motivate this group, Keegan suggests a two-pronged approach: first, show the middle performers what the winners are doing to sell so effectively, then design a Web-based incentive program that gives people instant rewards. “If there are behaviors that top performers are having success with, we can incent that in an online program,” Keegan says. “So say, for example, that Joe is really doing well selling product X to financial-services markets. But the middle 60 percent have been beating their heads against the wall trying to hammer product Y into the health-care market. You can run an incentive saying, ‘This quarter we’re focusing on product X. You get two times the points for selling it to a financial-services client.’ All of a sudden you’ve aligned and focused your sales force to be successful, and the middle 60 percent is seeing improved performance because now they realize the real win is selling product X to financial services.

“Plus, when you have online scoreboards and people are getting points and awards, it has trophy value – badges of honor that say, ‘I am a top performer.’ Instead of the typical club targeted at the top 10 or 20 percent, you’ve created an environment where the middle 60 percent are winning. Online incentives let 80 percent of the organization feel like they’re part of the company’s success.”