Enabling the Middle Pack of Sales Reps
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In sales, the middle tier of performers is often forgotten. Though managers might dedicate energy to coaching and building their team, when it comes down to it, odds are that their top performer will still be their priority.
This is natural; after all, the top performers are the ones closing the big whale deals and consistently moving buyers across the finish line. On the other hand, sales enablement often focuses on the lowest performers, implementing initiatives to help those that are struggling to hit quota every month improve. While both are important and worthy of attention, middle performers should not be neglected.
It is easier to elevate a middle performer to a top performer than it is to boost a low performer to that level. At the end of the day, companies will get more ROI from focusing on their middle pack of reps, increasing the number of people that meet and exceed quota consistently.
By fostering peer-to-peer training and mentorship, sales enablement professionals can help mold middle performers into top sales reps.
Peer-to-peer best practice sharing
Encourage the sales team to be open with each other in sharing what works well and what doesn’t, as well as resources and advice they have found useful. Talk to the middle and low performers and figure out what their questions are and the information they are seeking. Then, make sure that a community of practice exists for those areas.
One easy way to nurture active communities of practice is through the company’s internal messaging platforms, such as Slack channels. That way, reps can select to join communities of practice for a skill or area they want to refine, and they can participate without taking up too much of their time. At the same time, they are very dynamic, with resources regularly shared and lively discussions about content.
The valuable thing about this format is that the communities of practice for best practice sharing are not driven by what the sales excellence team thinks is important. Instead, it’s driven by what is actually important to the field. Because of the informal format, they can share articles and anecdotes in real time and ask for advice as they encounter obstacles. It’s a great way to get the conversations about best practices going and keep the momentum building through active participation.
Another strategy to help empower the middle performers is through a more formalized mentorship program that begins for a new rep as they are onboarding. Rather than your typical one-to-one mentor/mentee relationship, consider a mentorship program in three tiers: buddy, advisor, mentor.
When a new rep is first hired at a company, they are assigned a buddy, a person to help them learn the basics of day-to-day life at the company. For example, a buddy is somebody that is going to show the rep how to log into certain sales systems, where people typically eat lunch, and things of that nature. Think of them like a co-locator, someone the new rep can rely on to answer simple questions and help them get acquainted with office culture.
The next level up is an advisor, another rep that is technically still ramping but a few months ahead of the new rep in tenure. Think of them as an academic tutor. They understand the work and problems that are likely to arise for new reps because they were just in their shoes a matter of months ago.
The advisor’s job is to make sure that their partner knows the essential information about the product and processes in order to be productive. In contrast to the buddy, they are not the ones that are going to be taking the rep to lunch; their role is just to review the rep’s assignments, make sure that they are ready for their scorecard assessments, and generally help them keep up with checkpoints as they ramp. Limit this time to a few hours per week to keep it very focused and tactical.
As a new hire is ramping, their manager should regularly be assessing them through things like role plays and cold call monitoring. Keep advisors in the loop and encourage them to attend those assessments. That way if there is a new hire that is floundering, it drives accountability. Managers can look to advisors to help enforce feedback and transform behavior.
Meanwhile, if new hires ask an advisor something that the advisor does not know, it is the advisor that ends up going out to try to find the answer. So, while it helps to develop new reps, it also helps advisors maintain their skills and fill in knowledge gaps along the way.
Finally, the last tier is the mentor role, occupied by the top performers. Where typically organizations will have the top performers be tapped to onboard new hires, that can be a recipe for disaster in sales.
While there may be some top performers that love to train, often such a structure ends up burdening or causing resentment from the top performer because it limits their productivity. They are not going to want to be spending all of their time teaching a new hire the basics, and the new hire will often catch on to this and in turn hold back some of their questions. This can be detrimental to the dynamic needed for a truly beneficial mentorship.
Instead of making the mentor responsible for some of the tactical training and baseline information elements, free up the mentor to be able to provide more strategic guidance. For example, mentees can schedule 30-minute fireside chats once a month with the mentors so that they can ask for advice on specific topics without taking the mentor away from valuable selling time. Mentors can even provide beneficial guidance without disrupting their daily workflow by opening up the opportunity for mentees to shadow them.
Through a structured model that delegates out various mentorship roles to reps at different levels, it divides and conquers what a new hire is going to need. Different people are able to devote their attention to the specific needs of a rep in a very focused manner, allowing them to continue to do their job while giving reps the attention they need to improve.
The key to enabling the middle is to start early. It is rare that sales reps will possess the natural talent to be a top performer right away. Companies need to focus on enabling the majority of reps, not just the ones that stand out, to help them hone their skills and become highly productive.