I once had a salesperson who just wanted to be left alone.
He was one of my top salespeople, an A player, and I figured he knew best.
“Leave well enough alone”, I thought. And I happily spent my time coaching my other, less effective sales reps; the ones who “needed me”.
I figured this was a pretty solid sales management strategy.
That is, until he left to go to the competition in his third year with the company. It was almost exactly a year after I had become his sales manager.
I always regretted that “leaving him alone” decision and I learned never to do it again…especially after he started eating our lunch in the territory he vacated to go to the competition.
The Sales Management Dilemma of The A Player
Your sales people probably tell you that they want to “run their territory as if it’s the business”. They think they’re in charge of their own destinies and all I have to do is just perform certain tasks and they’ll make their numbers.
They say they want to be left alone.
If a C player says this, is this a good strategy?
Most sales management professionals would say “no way” on that one. In fact, they would probably start working with them twice as much because they said it!
But if an A player says this, what do most sales management professionals say?
They welcome it, thinking “less work for me!”
In actuality, its the WORST thing you can do as a sales management professional…
Sales Management Is Not About “Leaving Them Alone”
Leaving your A Players alone is a recipe for disaster.
This is primarily because of “The 20% Gap”.
In his book More ProActive Sales Management, Skip Miller states that the 20% Gap is a death sentence for any high performing sales person because it clearly shows the lack of sales management expertise of most sales managers.
The reason for the 20% Gap is because for A players, as Miller states:
“A players take one year to learn, one year to master, then one year to look for something else to do”.
This result is a 20% Gap in sales productivity in year three.
In year tow and into year three, A players start “believing” their own press clippings and then stop doing many of the things that go them to the top of the heap in the first place.
The Sales Management Law of the A Player
If you have been pruning out your C players over time and boosting the productivity of your B players, then chances are pretty good you have a good group of upper tier performers.
This is an ideal scenario to help you reach sales management nirvana.
Jack Welch says in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut, he and his management team would routinely clean house of his C players every year, removing the “bottom 20%”. They ended up building one the longest lasting and formidable corporations the world has ever known in General Electric.
With the A players that are left standing, there are certain things they both do well and are supremely confident in. They make great contributions in meetings, they consistently exceed quota, make excellent presentations and oftentimes position themselves in an ideal position for promotion.
Even though A players have extremely high levels of skills, these are not the things that keep them motivated over the long-term. This kind of sales person eventually becomes complacent after their many successes and starts to believe that they’re even better than they really are.
That same talent and drive to get things done in years one and two, starts to diminish at the end of year two and into year three.
That’s when the 20% Gap occurs.
Sales Management Strategies for A Players
So what do you do about it?
Most sales management professionals make the horrendous mistake of leaving well enough alone…just like I did.
They have a few A players that are on “auto-pilot” and they tend the flock elsewhere.
They spend an inordinate amount of time with their C players, spend even less time with their B players and the least amount of time with their A players.
The problem is that spending more time with your worst salespeople or even your average salespeople sends a powerful message that you validate mediocrity!
In a not so subtle way, it tells your salespeople: “the crappier a salesperson you are, the more of my time I’m going to give you”.
You are unwittingly reinforcing mediocrity, or worse outright failure…
Plus you also are far less productive as a sales management professional because you are never augmenting the superstar sales efforts of your best salespeople.
You end up spending most of your time on your “lose” projects instead of your “wins”.
It’s kind of like spending all your time yelling and reprimanding one child while the other well-behaved one goes completely ignored.
It’s a “self-reinforcing” message: “the more you stink – the more attention I give you”.
Is this really the right message to be sending your sales team?
What The Best Sales Managers Do To Cure The 20% Gap
Simply put: the best sales managers in the world spend the most time with their best people.
Not only have I seen this work firsthand, but it was also proven as fact was validated in the Gallup study of thousands of front line managers world wide in Marcus Buckingham’s book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.
There’s an old expression:
“Feed the stallions and starve the ponies”
In Jack Welch’s case, he fires the bottom 20% each year and spends all his time developing his best people.
As a sales management professional, you need to do the EXACT same thing.
And that way, you’ll beat that that 20% gap…and turn it into a 20% rise instead.