Revenue is Optional: The Benefits of Making Your Middle Sales Reps More Productive

What makes an “A” rep different than a “B” rep and how do we ensure everyone has the resources to contribute consistently and efficiently to the team?

The reasons sales teams fail at meeting their quota are all influenced by productivity — this article provides you with insights on how sales reps learn and retain information with the goal of understanding what a 10% increase in productivity has on a sales team.

Designed to Learn as Fast as Possible

The other day I came across a post by Tim Gruffub, the author of the popular blog, on a dozen lessons on growth. He made a lot of great points, but I couldn’t help but identify strongly with one passage in particular:

“If you can run more experiments than the next guy, if you can be hungry for growth, if you can fight and die for every extra user and you stay up late at night to get those extra users, to run those experiments, to get the data, and do it over and over and over again, you will grow faster.” — Alex Schultz

I bolded the words, “do it over and over and over again, you will grow faster”, for a reason. This resonated with me deeply, I immediately wrote in my notebook in red “Coffee is for closers.”

The quote from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross with Alec Baldwin is perhaps the most referenced sales movie in the last few years. It’s easy to get swept up in the narrative of clear winners and losers when it comes to sales but what if the coffee was available for the whole team? Companies that focus on improving sales productivity as a team while enhancing individual performance and learning will dominate the battle for business.

I think this summarizes things so well. It might sound crazy because I’ve never met a sales team that says they don’t want all their sales reps to hit quota. Yet, many teams don’t do the things required to get the whole team to succeed. It reminds me a lot of a basketball team where as a team you want everyone to be at their best; you want everyone to play at 100% despite physical pain or fatigue. Each player has the desire, and everyone is equally prepared, but like in today’s basketball teams, usually, only one person in the team carries the team and is willing to do the hard work — the results show.

Despite the intention, by not focusing on the team, the pipeline and revenue are impacted. Salespeople who regularly kill their quota have done the work; they are so good despite changes in the market or competition—they understand what works and what doesn’t. Indeed, at times the numbers are so much in their favor that the company—and even the rest of the team in general—may not fully understand what behaviors are making this impact. They are the winners, and between them and the rest of the sales team, the question of how you help other reps learn to perform similarly to these Top Performers remains.

Let’s get very basic for a second: sales reps learn and retain information differently. What makes an “A” rep different than a “B” rep and how do we ensure everyone has the resources to win? A way to measure this is by productivity. A good productivity increase is one that generates a lot of business, allowing a team that is currently moving at 50 MPH to move further towards its potential of 100 MPH. Of course, any increase in team productivity would also mean individuals are performing better. Moreover, it’s important to dive deeper into how sales reps learn and access information by focusing on sales behaviors.

Dials. Emails. Demos. Repeat.

For years buyers relied on salespeople to communicate with them using three activities to stay informed:

  1. Dialing the phone
  2. Having meetings/demonstrations
  3. Sending emails

While these activities are still highly effective means to communicate with potential customers in the B2B space, it’s important to understand that like any channel of distribution, channel saturation eventually happens, and the impact of these three activities has dropped today as the buyer’s journey changed. Looking at the buyer’s journey in more detail, CEB found out that 57% of the buyer’s journey is complete before the buyer talks to a sales rep. This statistic tells sales teams that they must ensure that the customer understands how a solution will help them do their job better with insights that go beyond product knowledge.

Add Value and Provide Deep Insights

Think of how many sales emails you get daily from sales professionals with similar messaging, not to mention the closing email, ‘right person’ email, and ‘break-up’ email. Which of these emails, calls, or presentations did you actually take the time to listen to and what about them made you respond? If your sales team is not maximizing value for the buyers, according to SAVA, 74% of potential customers will choose the one that is first to add value. Consumers measure value added by evaluating the reps:

  • Market Knowledge — Problem the customer is looking to find a solution for.
  • Product Knowledge — How your solution solves the customer’s problem.
  • Sales Knowledge — How you present a solution to the problem.

Indeed, when considering how sales reps learn it’s important to ensure the rep can develop the skills to convey these three types of knowledge.

Focus On Using Your Time Wisely

Sales reps usually work in teams with a leaderboard approach to motivate and amplify winning behavior where there is a clear 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and the rest.

Here are two hypothetical 60-person sales teams.

Company A

  • Has periodic monthly boot camps (5 new reps onboarded monthly). Onboarding takes about 5–7 weeks. During this time, reps are strictly doing onboarding on the product, competitors, and company culture. The Sales Manager has said that the current onboarding process is not scalable to promote consistent and efficient reps. The organization wants to promote ongoing engagement and professional development to ensure reps stay consistent as reps who were top performers in the past are no longer top performers.

Company B

  • Is currently hiring an additional 15 reps who will focus on new business. The organization as a whole has a built-in LMS with existing content and a new sales training program. The Sales Manager has no current way to ensure the development of existing reps while also promoting the development of the 15 new reps.

The data sets contain not only average revenue, but also achieved revenue for a 60 person sales team each with a $2M quota. It’s common for most sales organizations to perform with averages representing the 20/60/20 rule. What this means is that the top 20% will be the top performers that often meet or exceed quota, the middle average represents the 60% percent that is often on or usually just short of meeting quota, and the bottom 20% are typically far below quota.

Let’s say Company A and B each had goals this quarter to contribute the most to revenue. The question most managers would ask is, “Where should I spend my time to make my job easier?

We can answer this by considering the above example. A performance improvement of 5% by the average middle performers can be close to double that compared to the same increase for top performers. Equally important, even a 10 % increase in low performers productivity doesn’t even come close to the business impact of improving the middle performers’ productivity by 5%.

In other words, improving the middle contributes to 95.65% more revenue. This significance is compelling, even with ten sales reps, let alone 10,000 sales reps; managers should focus on delivering solutions to enhance the middle productivity. The deeper you dive into the data, the more you realize that improving the middle drives the most impact on productivity.

What’s the best way to do so? Looking at the two companies in more detail, it’s clear having the right knowledge is an important goal for both. Each month Company A spends a significant portion of a new rep’s time (5–7 weeks) on activities designed solely around knowledge delivery. Company B has the LMS and training tools ready for the 15 new sales to understand in terms of knowledge delivery. What this digestion typically looks like is a rep is coached on great storytelling, effectively handling questions, competitor information, and managing the sales process efficiently and consistently. The LMS houses all these resources and the hope is that the reps regularly use the system. What’s interesting to know is according to 70% of employee training is forgotten within five days. This means that teams must ensure that their sales reps can apply what they learn. It’s still necessary to coach at this knowledge introduction stage, but one key thing to keep in mind is that research has suggested that individuals learn 70% of their knowledge from on-the-job- experience, 20% from interacting with others, and 10% from studying and reading.

Company A and B have both invested heavily in sales enablement tools that hold knowledge. However, they will be better off if they can shift focus beyond learning delivery (Bootcamp experience/LMS knowledge) and instead improve how sales reps access the right pieces of knowledge to on the job quickly. The National Academies Press has shown that a key difference between an expert and a novice is the experiences on which the expert has to draw on.

Senior sales reps win because they remember thousands of situations and play more quickly and strategically because of their experience. New reps rely more on abstract rules— what to say to objections when the customer has a rebuttal, how to close the sale, etc. Both companies would benefit from finding a solution that reinforces moving the ‘abstract’ knowledge to strategic knowledge in a way that gathers knowledge without disrupting their workflow.

When your sales enablement strategy lacks the ability to maximize learning while on-the-job deals are lost. Sales teams should invest their time in solutions that promote this active learning process. How do your reps handle questions that they don’t know how to answer quickly? It shouldn’t involve shoulder tapping a peer. Having the resource or answer when you need it quickly is necessary for deals.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that according to a study done by the CMO Council, sales reps waste over 40% of their time every day trying to find the resources and content needed to do their job. It’s also common sales knowledge that every 5% increase in selling time can amount to a 20% increase in revenue. Having a mechanism in place where your reps can proactively find the right content for each selling situation is important. When this mechanism works quickly, a rep is able to have answers to a question or find the right resource almost instantaneously they are more productive and learn on the floor. Now imagine if this process was automated within Slack, where the team lives daily, directly into reps workflows, so they don’t have to waste 40% of their time every day looking for the right resource. Sales Managers can expect to recognize their investment in new hires sooner, making it easier to focus efforts on coaching the middle performers.

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