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Can Your Average Sales Performers Ever Be Rock Stars?


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Are your “average” sales performers the real secret to revenue success?

​If your goal is to create a higher-performing salesforce, focusing on your top closers is far less effective than engaging your average or "middle" tier reps.

Why? Greater numbers and more room for improvement make this middle core of your team a much more likely source of significant revenue growth. In fact, data shows that ​a 5% performance improvement from the middle 60% yielded over 70% more revenue on average than a similar 5% shift in the top 20% alone.

In this eBook, Qstream's experts explore the untapped potential of your sales organization’s “middle” tier, and share how new, mobile technologies are helping to transform sales behavior and drive new revenues.

Published in: Sales
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Can Your Average Sales Performers Ever Be Rock Stars?

  1. 1. Why You Must Stop Ignoring Your “Average” Sales Performers Strategies for Making Them the Secret to Your Revenue Success
  2. 2. | 2 Table of Contents 3 If your goal is to create a higher-performing sales force, focusing on your top closers is far less effective than engaging the middle. Why? Greater numbers and more room for improvement make the middle core of your team a much more likely source of significant revenue growth. 5 6 page page page Introduction Who Makes Up ‘The Middle’? Shifting the Focus from Process to People page 7 The Science of Changing Sales Behavior page 8 Building Better Coaches page 10 About Qstream
  3. 3. | 3 Introduction Are Your “Average” Sales Performers the Real Secret to Revenue Success? According to CSO Insights, on average only 57% of salespeople make quota, which of course means that 43% fail to deliver on target. This is the perennial quandary of every sales manager: “How do I keep my biggest closers performing at the highest levels, while developing my non-performers to increase our chances of successfully, and predictably, achieving quota?” This eBook aims to answer that. When evaluating team performance, the experts will point to the established 20/60/20 Rule: 20% of the sales organization will be top performers; 60% percent will reside in the middle and consistently fall shy of quota; and 20% will dramatically underperform and remain at risk. Some managers subscribe to the axiom that “success breeds success,” and simply choose to focus on their most valuable team members to close revenue short-falls. While its tempting to allocate more resources to your biggest closers, data shows that focusing only on top performers yields limited results. In contrast, the revenue math is solidly behind the upside of creating performance gains in the middle of the organization, rather than relying solely on the top 20%. A recent Sales Executive Council (SEC) study1 found that a 5% performance improvement from the middle 60% yielded over 70% more revenue on average than a similar 5% shift in the top 20% alone. Success requires not just increased focus on this key group, but also new techniques and technologies that can: • Clearly and quickly identify key skills or knowledge gaps that are holding back your “middle” reps; • Reinforce key messages and data points that will make reps more successful in the field, while creating behavioral changes that can support more deals over the long-term; and • Support more effective coaching among your sales leadership that helps not just the middle, but everyone. “At the end of the day, WHO your managers coach is just as important as HOW they coach. The data suggests that organizations should do away with coaching democratically and instead shift the majority of their focus away from low and star performers and towards the core.” - “The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching,” Harvard Business Review
  4. 4. “A 5% performance gain from the middle 60% yields over 70% more revenue than a 5% shift in the top 20%.” | 4 Accelerate Growth or Evaluate for Reassignment Sales/Revenue Performance Number of Employees 20% Source: “Shifting the Performance Curve,” Sales Executive Council. 60% Accelerate Growth 20% Maintain and Grow
  5. 5. | 5 Who Makes Up the Middle? At 60%, this identified “middle” is the majority of your sales workforce, and thus represents the greatest potential return for improvement. But this 60% is not created equal, and unlike your top performers, this group is likely to be highly diverse. Demographics may vary widely based on age, competency, work experience, and access to resources. Many may be former A-players who have simply fallen behind their potential. Others are likely younger or less tenured employees who have not yet developed the necessary skills to meet their goals. This diversity also means that no one incentive model, financial or otherwise, will be universally effective. Sirius Decisions’ annual Sales Enablement study2 revealed some interesting new data about what managers believe are the biggest business issues affecting sales. Given the growing complexity of most B2B sales cycles, the top vote-getters in this study, which highlighted the challenge for reps to connect with a prospect’s business issues and/or convey business value, are perhaps not surprising. More astounding was respondent data that identified issues related to key knowledge and skills gaps within their sales force. For example: • 35% of respondents cited an inability of their reps to respond to today’s more educated buyer; • 24% said their reps lack the required knowledge to sell successfully; and • 29% said their reps lacked the necessary selling skills. Given the tremendous investments in sales enablement technologies in recent years, up to $2.4 million per company in 2014 according to the same Sirius Decisions study, why are so many reps still “average”? The good news is that in practice, this group can reap the most benefit from coaching and targeted skills reinforcement, once gaps are clearly understood. But for many organizations a distinct shift away from processes and assets, and toward people, is required. “While organizations are making ever greater investment in technologies and operational processes to improve performance, sales leaders cited training and development as being one of their greatest challenges to improving performance. This included better sales skills, product knowledge and industry knowledge.” - Sales Management Association
  6. 6. For many organizations, these solutions have provided unique benefits, particularly when a sales force has specific challenges around communication (based on geographic diversity, for example) and/or marketing asset management (based on the sheer number and flavor of products and services sold, and the need to keep them updated based on new versions, etc.) These solutions may also help to reduce the amount of time your sales force spends on non-selling (i.e., administrative) tasks. But can these technologies really impact revenue achievement, and do they address the root-causes of poor performance? | 6 Shifting the Focus from Process to People Most sales managers would agree that success requires reps to possess the necessary skills, knowledge, tools and assets to maximize every interaction with a potential buyer. To address this need, a fast-growing segment of sales enablement solution providers have emerged in recent years. Whether software or services-based, the vast majority of these providers are focused on aligning sales and marketing processes to ensure that sales reps understand the library of tools available to them, and that they can successfully apply them based on a buyer’s specific need within the sales cycle. Sales education is no longer just an HR or training function. • Since 2012, there has been a 19% increase in the sales enablement function reporting to the sales organization3. • The average sales enablement budget doubled between 2012 and 2014 from $1.2 million to $2.4 million4.
  7. 7. | 7 The Science of Changing Sales Behavior What is clear is that the world of B2B buyers and sellers is complex. In most cases, your reps will have just minutes to add value to the conversation. This requires not just recall, but mastery of the product, market, competitive and business dynamics driving a customer’s buying decision process. Despite the specific training methods or sales methodology employed by your organization, sales reps SELL, based on what they KNOW. So, how do you get visibility to what this core group really knows and understands, and once gaps are identified, how do you transform your reps’ behavior to truly “move the needle?” While traditional, in-person sales training and e-learning systems are an important part of the sales enablement puzzle, they are rarely sufficient on their own. Post-training reinforcement and coaching is key, particularly in light of ‘the forgetting curve.’ Simply stated, forgetting is a natural, physiological occurrence and must be factored into any change process. The forgetting curve specifically describes the dramatic drop-off in knowledge over time – often before new information and skills can be put into practice. Studies show that in just a matter of days and weeks, up to 79% of new information is forgotten. It’s simply a matter of how the human brain works. Add to this the normal chaos of any time-starved sales rep’s day, and you begin to see the problem at scale. To replicate the success of top performers among the middle 60%, sales executives must design a program that addresses the forgetting curve and behaviors inherent to this dynamic regardless of time or money spent on training. For the middle 60%, this means recognizing the importance of not just results (a lagging indicator), but also readiness (a leading indicator).
  8. 8. | 8 This transformation begins with the acknowledgement that sales reps are people, and people are complex. People possess ingrained behavior, and changing that behavior – equipping sales reps to win – doesn’t happen with death by PowerPoint. While this may sound very academic, a team of researchers at Harvard has shown that using a combination of interval reinforcement and active recall in short bursts can effectively increase retention by up to 170% and durably change ingrained sales behaviors. Build Better Coaches with Predictive, Data-Driven Management Insights A 2014 Sales Management Association (SMA) study5 on sales coaching revealed that despite the stated importance of coaching as a sales performance accelerator, the biggest obstacle to consistent coaching was lack of time on the part of managers (and to a certain extent lack of coaching skill). As a result, managers were more likely to engage on a highly informal basis, often focused on a single opportunity. Given the strong links to coaching and higher-performing organizations, many sales executives are turning to technology to deliver the insights they require for more focused coaching. But how can these powerful insights be derived at scale? For more and more companies, it can be as simple as letting reps play a game for minutes a day on their smartphone. Employing a mobile platform such as the one developed by Qstream, managers across an array of industries push simple, scenario-based challenge questions to sales professionals every few days. Using their mobile device, reps submit answers and can immediately see the correct answer and why. A combination of onboard game mechanics and social collaboration deliver engagement rates of 90% or greater, while a sophisticated, onboard analytics engine instantly compiles the data points from aggregate responses to deliver actionable, real-time insights to management – including targeted coaching opportunities. Is Your Sales Enablement Solution Really Built for Sales? Applying technology to bolster selling skills, reinforce key messages and improve sales performance requires them to be: Simple - to both learn and use, ensuring reps will participate. Fast - how much time must reps devote on a daily basis? Convenient - can reps access the solution in a time and place that works best for their on-the-go lifestyle? Engaging - what motivation does the solution provide to keep reps coming back for more? Measurable - what reporting and analytics are available to help managers target performance issues and develop appropriate coaching strategies?
  9. 9. | 9 Qstream’s data showed that within regulated industries some 31% of reps could not correctly answer questions identified by sales and marketing teams as critical for broad market context within their respective industries on the first attempt. Figures were significantly higher in unregulated industries involving generic selling skills with 46% of respondents answering incorrectly on first attempt. After presenting sales reps with key market and product questions a second time, following a short interval of a few days, sales rep performance improved substantially, with only 18% of reps in regulated industries answering incorrectly on their second try, and 28% in unregulated industries. Conclusions Transforming the middle begins with the acknowledgement that sales reps are people. They possess ingrained behavior, and changing that behavior cannot be achieved through traditional methods alone. The key to success is two-fold: • Understanding, with data-driven insight, where individuals are today (what they know and don’t know and their strengths and weaknesses), and • Executing a program that embraces the three key elements to success at scale: simplicity, convenience, and motivation. Most managers would also agree that few productivity investments come close to coaching for improving performance of the “middle”. But coaching the right people, and understanding how to drive the right behavior for long-term success is critical to driving sustainable business results. Recall that even a 5% performance improvement in the middle can yield, on average, over 70% more revenue. Clearly the size of the prize is worth looking after. The dependence on lagging indicators such as quota attainment, however, is not enough. For most, the ability to assess leading indicators, such as real-time measurement of sales readiness through ongoing mobile reinforcement is unprecedented. And, it’s here today. How Do You Manage and Measure the Strengths of Your Team? Think beyond your once-or-twice-a-year sales meeting for compelling opportunities to truly impact the performance of the middle, including: • Product lifecycle milestones • New hire training/onboarding • Competitive threat management • Key market, regulatory or legislative developments that impact your company or customers • Mergers & acquisitions • Changes in sales leadership, business process or sales methodology • Quarterly business updates Sources: 1. “Shifting the Performance Curve,” Sales Executive Council 2.-4. Savo Group/Sirius Decisions Sales Enablement Study, 2014 5. SMA,“Management’s Sales Coaching Impact,” May 2014
  10. 10. | 10 About Qstream Based on research originally conducted at Harvard Medical School, Qstream challenges are presented repeatedly over spaced intervals of time until content is mastered. Reps can complete their challenges in just minutes a day, providing managers with real-time insight into their team’s capabilities, and allowing them to intervene quickly to improve effectiveness, and provide targeted coaching. Today Qstream’s SaaS solution is used by six of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies, and by industry leaders such as Oracle, Charles Schwab and SunGard, as well as a growing network of solution providers who deploy Qstream-powered programs to transform their clients’ sales teams. To learn more, visit, follow @Qstream on Twitter, or like us at Qstream is a mobile sales force enablement platform that helps reinforce key market, product and competitive messages by engaging employees in a series of fun, Q&A-based sales challenges, delivered directly to their mobile device.
  11. 11. p: 1-855-GO-QSTREAM +1-781-222-2020 e: w: Copyright Qstream, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.