I once had a friend who asked a company to come in and observe their sales force to understand what their highest achieving sales reps were doing so they could uncover what would need to change for the rest of the sales force to improve their results. As it turned out, the only thing the lower performers would have had to do to improve their performance was to wait until their peers left the company and inherit their clients.
There is a lot you can learn from high performing salespeople. But there are also problems with trying to model your top performers directly.
High performing salespeople’s effectiveness allows them to win more deals with less activity than their peers.
One of the primary challenges you have when you use them as a model is that it is difficult for most reps to model their effectiveness. Some top 20% salespeople produce greater results with less activity. In many cases, poor performing salespeople find themselves in this category because they aren’t doing enough of the work necessary to create new opportunities (i.e. prospecting). Coupling low activity with a low effectiveness, using something like win rate as a measurement, only worsens their performance.
Producing better results means pulling the Gaussian curve to the right, moving every rep towards the best performance possible. More activity provides more opportunities to learn, to make distinctions about what works and what doesn’t, and more coaching to improve their effectiveness over time.
Many high performing salespeople have very strong intangibles, many of which are difficult to replicate.
Here we run dead into the old question about whether salespeople are born or made. The answer is that salespeople can be made. But many are born with a set of intangibles that make selling easier for them.
Some people are charismatic, possessing the intangible that causes people to be attracted to them very quickly and with no effort on their part. Others have very fast rapport skills, allowing them to connect with people, causing them to engage with these reps without needing time to develop the relationship. Other salespeople have the type of business experience and demeanor that looks like executive presence and allows them to have their advice heard, received, and taken.
None of this is to say that one must have all these intangibles to succeed, and there as many different types of clients with different preferences when it comes to what the right partner looks like to them.
But the intangibles that make success easier for some than others are difficult to replicate in others, meaning that you may not be able to model some of what make them successful.
High performing salespeople win larger deals and their success gives them more time and space to focus on larger deals.
One thing you’ll notice about the top of any stack ranking of salespeople is that they didn’t get there by winning a lot of small deals. I would like to write that it is rare that you see a rep at the top of the stack with small deals, but because I have never seen that myself, I am not sure it has ever happened.
The best performing reps tend win large deals—and with higher success rates than their peers. It takes time for salespeople to learn to sell larger, more complex deals-especially those that require consensus from a large group of stakeholders. Learning requires an investment in development and coaching. One of the reasons successful reps do well is because they win large deals, and winning these deals provides them with the time and space to pursue other large deals, a luxury other reps cannot afford.
There is much to learn from people who produce a result you want. But not everything is easy to replicate, and not many are achieved without great effort—and time.
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