Or should it be “getting the biggest quota for your quid”?
Anyway, within any normal selling operation a typical performance mix would see 20% of the team routinely averaging 120% of the target, 60% averaging 80% of target and the other 20% well under at 60% or less of target and perhaps being considered for the exit door. So, if you were going to invest in some time and money to help improve performance where should you focus your efforts and what should you do – where and how can you get the best return in terms of performance improvement?
The answer might seem obvious; sack the under-performers, leave the middle/average performers alone as they are “doing OK” and focus on the top performers as you cannot afford to lose them so they need to be spoilt!
- If the top performers are exceeding target by 20% they are probably close to capacity and they are demonstrating that they already know how to do the job effectively. Also as they are only 20% of the workforce an improvement of say 10% would only provide a 2% improvement across the whole company. So this is not the first place to consider.
- What about the bottom 20%? Before making any decision about terminating their employment you need to consider whether they have been recruited, trained and coached properly. If they are good people, apparently right for the job, but not performing then you need to properly explore the issues before deciding what to do. If there are issues with the way you recruit, induct and support new people you need to fix that before recruiting anyone else. So, for this group we suggest:
- Potentially half may simply be wrong for the job so assigning them to a role which plays to their strengths or, as a last resort termination, is probably the best option for all concerned.
- Those that you identify as being right for the job, but who have been let down by your systems, deserve some special treatment to turn them around. This will be a win-win for you and them.
If the performance of half this group can be improved by as much as 30% this would amount to just 3% across the company. So, while the remedial work does need to be done, as a matter of urgency, this group will not provide an immediate or huge boost in overall company performance.
- So, what about the middle 60% who are averaging 80% target achievement? Performance suggests they are generally good at the job and they seem to have found their way around any obstacles created by your systems. Therefore they should respond well to some focused effort to help them improve their performance. The great news is that a 20% improvement in target performance in this group will amount to almost 12% improvement across the company so the return is good and should be achieved quickly.
Because the middle group will give the quickest return, the increased margin they contribute will quickly grow to fund the whole improvement programme. For a team of 10 people targeted to achieve £1.0m margin in a year but only achieving £840k the potential improvement gain is at least £160k. This will cover the cost of the performance improvement programme, leaving a significant amount of change that will improve the bottom line. Perhaps of greater value is the fact that you will now have a higher performing team who will deliver more this year, next year and on into the future.
- Review the whole team to establish your top, middle and bottom performers.
- Analyse your process for recruiting, inducting, training and managing people and act to fix problems you find before bringing any more new people on board.
- Now you must remediate issues with existing people created by problems identified in the review and analysis stages:
- For the bottom group decide if anyone needs to go or whether a restructure of your selling team and adjusting their role in your business might be a more productive way forward. For the remainder, put them through an intense programme designed to remediate issues caused by your previous approaches. This may involve a process of “re-recruitment”, revisiting the induction and training (both soft and hard skills) followed by a period of focused coaching. You could create a “boot camp” to provide the focused coaching until the sales people have demonstrated they are performing at a higher level. Use of external agents for the boot camp may allow unbiased discussions and reveal additional opportunities for performance improvement. This will also leave your own Sales and HR managers free to do their day jobs.
- For the top group, decide on an individual basis whether any additional development would be beneficial. They will also benefit from any improvements in your systems arising from the review and analysis stages.
- The middle group will require similar attention to the people that you retain from the bottom group. They probably won’t require the depth of attention that the bottom group will need but you will still need to revisit issues that have arisen from poor recruitment, induction or training and inadequate management and coaching. It may prove that the boot camp approach is right for this middle group meanwhile there are development benefits to be gained from mixing people from the two groups.
At the end of the process you want to have one integrated sales team so a part of the process will involve some team building activities that are applied to the whole team. Although you will have identified the top, middle and bottom performers through this process such terms should not be used openly as this will make the job of creating one integrated team harder to achieve.
To bring this together we would recommend the creation of an internal Sales Academy which will be the umbrella function for; improved recruitment, better induction, meaningful training and development, and powerful management and coaching. By creating a series of “qualifying” steps you can offer sales people a career ladder that sees them develop from basic sales through, intermediate and senior levels as well as a stream that will identify and develop sales managers for the future. Your internal Sales Academy will become a vehicle for staff development and will provide outcomes that people will aspire to achieve, all of which will make them more effective ambassadors and sales people for your company.