By Dr Thomas Brown | August 20 2018
Sales reps who took part in the boot camp programme improved their quota attainment by 31% on average.
You want to improve sales performance, so it’s only natural you’ll turn to your highest performers to pull more wins out of the bag and drive the revenue growth you need for when you stand up at the departmental meeting next month.
There’s nothing wrong in this approach. ‘Your highest performers are your top players, after all', said Ben Cotton, HubSpot’s Principle Marketing Manager for Sales Enablement. 'It makes sense to think of them first when you’re looking to improve deals closed.'
But is this really the best approach to take? Could improving your lower performers actually have a bigger impact on your department’s quota attainment?
It's more unusual for companies to try and improve their lowest performers, but the quickest, most efficient way to increase overall performance in the sales function is to focus on the folks at the bottom, getting them to improve their average.
The approach was popularised in The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, a book written by Chris Anderson and David Sally.
In the book, Anderson and Sally explain that basketball is a strong-links sport and soccer (ahem, football) is a weak-links sport. What they mean by this is that in basketball, you want to improve your star players because there are so few people on the team that you just need to pass the ball to the top people.
In football, you actually want to improve your weakest players and elevate them towards the middle. ‘This sounded a lot more like a sales organisation to me’, said Ben.
‘Hypothetically, if a sales rep is averaging 70% of their quota attainment month on month, it’s clear you can get them to 100%’, Ben explained. ‘People are doing it every single month. Whereas the top quarter, say they average 200%, it's debatable how much further improvement is possible. So that's why it seemed like an efficient approach to use.’
There’s a more human side to the approach, too. ‘I think if there are people struggling, then providing the coaching, the deal strategy, and the training they need to grow into better salespeople is likely going to be a good idea.’
At the beginning of 2017, HubSpot made some sweeping changes to its business model. It went truly multi-product, meaning there was a great deal of change to the products and services its sales reps needed to sell. For Ben, this meant pulling up his management socks.
‘Unsurprisingly, we kept a very close eye on the data and how each rep was performing, and as a result, we identified a cohort that was struggling. A boot camp seemed like an effective way of addressing this.’
Ben began with a needs analysis on the group. He also spoke with the sales reps’ line managers to get a clearer understanding of where they might be weaknesses. Then, based on his findings, he rolled out the programme over the course of eight weeks.
‘The boot camp was made up of coaching and training plus deal support. What we found was that many of our top reps were fully leveraging deal support, and at the other end, the reps that were struggling, they weren't using sales enablement services’, said Ben. ‘They didn't know when to ask people to help them or leverage the right resources, so running compulsory sessions really showed them the value and how and when to use me, which was good.’
In terms of the content, Ben’s boot camp was programme-managed by sales enablement but delivered by the relevant subject matter experts.
‘It was actually our managers who were running the sessions. Between their subject matter expertise and their experience, they were best placed to coach the reps on the relevant products or services.’
A five-slide limit was imposed on the content, meaning that every session had to be tailored to each group, as opposed to a heavily templated approach, and the results were significant.
Sales reps who took part improved their quota attainment by 31% on average, leading HubSpot to roll out the programme globally.
10 of the reps who were in the programme and who were consistently struggling to meet their quota attainments have since gone on to promotions, as well.
In any scenario where you are singling out individuals or groups who are facing challenges, you have to be empathetic and thoughtful about how you position yourself.
‘We were honest and direct’, said Ben. ‘We basically said that with some extra support, we think you're going to get to where you need to be. We wouldn't be doing it unless we genuinely thought we would see this improvement.’
And here’s the thing: most of your sales reps will want to see this improvement as much as you do. When positioned correctly, you’ll find that many of your reps really engage with the programme, and will be as delighted with the results as you are.
‘You can tell if someone is meeting you halfway’, said Ben. ‘I found that the vast majority of people attending the programme really committed to it. They wanted to be better at their job.’
Is a weak-link approach always best? Not at all. ‘I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong answer when it comes to a weak or strong-link approach’, said Ben. ‘Each business and context is unique, after all. The key is to evaluate whether a weak-link or strong-link approach will have the bigger impact, and then how quickly it can be achieved.’
But if you’re hiring well and you recognise high potential in even your lowest performers, or you’re in an area where sales speed is important, it can make a lot of sense to focus on strengthening your sales team from the ground up. When you stand up at your next department meeting, you might just have a stronger team and better revenue to show for it.
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Topics: Sales Enablement
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Principal Copywriter at BabelQuest. PhD Creative Writing from the University of Southampton. Novelist with Sparkling Books.
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