The Secret of the Top 20% of Sales Producers

You know I don’t believe in secrets, right? Everything you would want to know about how to produce great sales results is known—it’s just difficult to execute and lots of hard work. Making the top 20% of sales producers is no different.

The top 20% of sales producers are in the top 20% because they sell to clients who put them in the top 20%.

Big Enough to Make a Difference

Your dream clients aren’t always the largest prospective clients in your territory. In fact, it’s likely that some of the very largest prospects in your territory are nightmare clients.

In order for you to create breath-taking, jaw-dropping, earth-shattering results worth paying for, your dream clients have to have significant needs. Their need for what you sell has to be great enough that you can make a difference for them.

It isn’t likely that you can make a tremendous difference for smaller, transactional clients. When you can, it usually takes a lot of small, transactional clients to build up the kind of numbers you need to make the top 20% of producers. That ain’t easy!

Your dream client has to be big enough for your solution to make a difference. Your solution also has to be big enough for you make a difference.

Your dream clients are the prospects that are big enough to make a difference to your number.

A Certain Way to Avoid the Top 20%

It’s very difficult to make the top 20% of sales producers by calling on prospective clients that are merely receptive or by failing to disqualify prospects that aren’t in your sweet spot.

You can’t make sales with prospects that don’t really buy what it is you sell. Just because a prospective client is receptive, doesn’t mean that they deserve a place in your pipeline. Most of the time, they end up in your pipeline because your dream clients are much stingier with their time, because your dream clients already have a partner, and because you need the activity and the opportunity for your reports.

This will keep you in the bottom 80%.

Matching Up

Almost invariably, most of the clients that make up the top 20% of sales belong to the sales reps that make up the top 20% of producers. There are usually some outliers, some salespeople that are just outside of the top 20% ranking with a client or two at the top of the client list. But for the most part, the lists match up nicely.

This is not coincidental. It is not an accident.

The top 20% of salespeople have big enough visions of themselves, a great enough confidence in their abilities, and great enough abilities to create value for their dream clients that they actively pursue meaningful opportunities.

That is how they make the top 20%. It’s no secret.


What prospective clients in your territory would you need to win to make the top 20%?

Why aren’t the largest clients in your territory always your dream clients?

If you look into your pipeline, how much of a difference would it make to your sales ranking were you to win what you are now forecasting?

What do you need to change about your sales effort to move up the rankings from where you are presently?

Join my weekly Newsletter or apply for membership in my exclusive Inner Circle Mastermind Group.

Subscribe to my weekly podcast In the Arena.



  • Wim @ Sales Sells

    Hi Anthony, I love your focus on dream clients. This focus is what distinguishes the good from the great. The top performers don’t care about activity numbers in their reports as they know the more important numbers (sales, revenue) will speak for themselves.


  • Jwavra

    Anthony, thanks for the terrific information. I have a question for you. In my line of work our top competitor and the company I work for are old rivals. We go back and forth daily with advertising and customer testimonies. I’d like to swing some of their top dealers into selling our products. That’s not true I’d like to swing all of their dealers into selling our product line. Haha   I have a new product that their company does not have and I believe this product could swing the dealers to our side of the fence. But I need to get over the brand name hurdle. It’s like a Ford/Chevy battle, any thoughts on breaking the ice between myself a dealer developer and a seasoned “competition” dealer. I know I have a better product, larger sales margins, a new market to offer them, and a better advertising and support center for them. I need to get them to “take the red pill” and open their minds to see the potential of what a change could mean to their business. I guess what I’d like from you is advise on a way to hook their attention right away, keep their attention, and help them make an informed decision about switching sides. Or at least getting started with the new product line.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Hi Jwavra. I’d have to know more about your product, but generally, it shouldn’t be hard to get attention and keep attention if you have a better product that produces higher margin. That said, long time loyal clients are never easy to win, and to do so you have to play the long game. You have to begin nurturing those relationships over time. I’d start with a plan to create value before claiming it by nurturing the relationships I need. Then, I’d start asking for time to listen . . . it’s very hard not to like higher margins!


  • Roz Bennetts

    Thanks for another great article Anthony. In this case what you said brought clarity to a situation/problem that I was definitely aware of but hadn’t thought about tackling in a purposeful way.

    I was always aware of my dislike for chasing smaller opportunities and used to wonder if I was lazy. I also wondered whether I was addicted to the thrill of the chase as bigger opportunities that were much more difficult to win were the ones that excited me.

    There perhaps was an element of the latter in the mix but your article neatly spins it in a different way and I see that there were good reasons why I naturally gravitated towards certain opportunities and away from other. You’ve opened the door to a plan.

  • Pingback: The Edge: Why the Top 20 Percent Are Mostly Coachable | Il Commerciale – The Salesman