January 3, 2020

Are You Too Dependent on Your Top Salesperson?

By C. Lee Smith, CEO, SalesFuel

If you’ve got a rock star on board, your department is probably crushing your sales goals. Maybe you’re counting the days until you and your rock star take the annual President’s Club trip to Hawaii. Go ahead and enjoy your moment in the sun because, in the long run, that sales rock star is likely to cause you and your department plenty of trouble.

Why? It’s not because he or she is a problem but because you (the sales manager or sales VP) may become too reliant on that one star performer. Here’s how to avoid potential disaster.

Why Relying on Your Rainmaker Leads to Trouble
Don’t get me wrong. Every organization needs some heavy hitters in the sales department. In fact, the 2018 CSO Insights Sales Talent Survey tells us that the top 20 percent of sales reps generate 60 percent of an organization’s revenue. We all know sales is a numbers game. You’ve got the weight of those quotas coming at you every month. To stay ahead of the deadline, the easy choice is to give the best leads to your rainmaker.

However, if your rainmaker fits the usual pattern, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out the political capital they have. That’s when the trouble usually starts. Rainmakers begin to throw their weight around – asking for bigger bonuses and better travel arrangements. To keep them happy and your bottom line healthy, you give in.

When you do, your other reps notice and their attitudes sour. And, of course, your rainmaker won’t stay long. They never do. They will be recruited and tempted by greener pastures. They’ll move on… and you’ll be left scrambling. It might take you three months to hire a replacement and another nine months to get them properly trained and up to speed. If a salesperson leaves, this catastrophe could cost you nearly 100 percent of their annual salary by the time you replace them, according to a Center for Sales Leadership study.

I’m throwing a lot of numbers at you. That’s because sales managers need to keep numbers in their heads. They also need to understand that sales is not just a numbers game; it’s an intelligence game. And they can use specific pieces of intelligence to better manage their reps and avoid depending too heavily on rainmakers.

Coaching the “Middle 60” Can Make All the Difference
To be a successful sales manager, you should always plan for the future. You don’t have to worry too much about your A-level reps. And your lowest-performing individuals – usually the bottom 20 percent? They are happy to plug along and hope not to be noticed. Don’t waste too much time here.

To make a big impact on your bottom line, you need to develop the middle players in your sales team. These B-level folks account for about 60 percent of your headcount. Some of them have what it takes to perform at the A-level; they just haven’t been encouraged to do so.

Turning a B-level sales rep into an A-level contributor will take time and effort on your part, but nowhere near what it will cost you to fully replace a rainmaker – and it will create a much more stable sales team all around.

Before you make that kind of investment, use these key factors to decide if a person is likely to succeed.

  • Attitude: The top-performing rep needs an A-level attitude. I’m not talking only about whether the rep sees the glass as half full in life. To succeed at your company, they need to have a positive attitude about their manager, about the product or service they are selling for you, and about the marketplace in general.
  • Economic motivation: Top-selling professionals understand that time is money. They aren’t going to be gossiping in the break room every morning – unless they’re scoring a key piece of information that will benefit them later. The economically-motivated rep isn’t interested in wasting time in meetings, either. They are happiest when they can invest their time and energy in activities that will bring them success personally.
  • Resilience: We’re all dealing with the tendency of clients and prospects to ghost us. A contact who seems ready to sign a contract can suddenly disappear. Some sales reps will drop the ball in a situation like that, but resilient reps won’t give up. They will keep calling and emailing the contact and work the deal.
  • Coachability: Your B-level sales reps are doing a lot of things right. But they might be falling short in one or two areas. They could be having trouble giving presentations. Or, they might be hesitating when it’s time to negotiate. These folks will need coaching on these sales skills in order to succeed at the A-level. If they resist coaching or fail to change after you try to coach them, you’re probably wasting your time.

Beyond these four factors, you should take a rep’s personality into account. For too long, sales success has been associated with extroverts. In today’s world, more sales are being carried out online or through video conferences. And customers expect greater accountability in our data-driven world. Today, an introvert who’s comfortable with data and analysis can use these strengths to their advantage during a remotely conducted presentation. When you consider who to hire or who to focus on developing, don’t automatically dismiss the introverts.

Sales Management for Long-term Success
As you work to improve the skills of your mid-level sales reps, review the way you’ve structured your department. If you’ve given your team members a sales skills assessment, you know that some folks excel at discovery. Other reps know exactly what to say to save an account or turn around a soured customer service situation.

Use that assessment information to design jobs and responsibilities that allow your reps to show their stuff. This strategy is especially important for your millennial reps. They are eager to score new opportunities and advance in the organization. When you coach reps to strengthen their innate abilities, you’re developing your entire team. In return, they’ll commit to you and your organization.

But don’t stop there. Too many managers make a habit of recognizing and rewarding only their top rainmakers. Of course, you have to praise the person who lands the whale. To keep reps motivated, I’ve always made it a point to consistently recognize other contributors. When you publicly praise the folks who have done the most demos, who have retained a big account, or who have sold the most upgrades, you’re showing that you value every hard worker. All these practices will allow you to avoid relying too heavily on just one salesperson.

Lee Smith is CEO of SalesFuel, a Selling Power 2019 Top 15 Sales Enablement Vendor.