From the June 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

When it comes to coaching your sales force, you musn't wander down Egal-itarian Avenue--it's a corridor of dashed expectations and unmet challenges. Well-meaning entrepreneurs may be forgiven for thinking a sales team should run like a democracy, but don't confuse the wonders of our social and political structure with the rigors of sales management. It's imperative that you focus on the fundamental few salespeople who'll afford you the lion's share of the results. Squeamish about playing favorites? Vanquish any unease by digesting the following reasons for devoting your coaching time to your elite sales performers:

  • The money's at the top. For centuries, economic theorists have fashioned elaborate formulas to arrive at what you know from just taking a look at your receipts: About 20 percent of your employees are pulling in 80 percent of your business. So it just makes good fiscal sense to put the majority of your resources where you expect to getthe greatest return on your investment. Alan Fine, a sales coach, is the president of InsideOut Development LLC in American Fork, Utah. Fine, who has spent time working with both top golfers and tennis players, equates outstanding sales performers with professional competitors: "You coach and support the top athletes because that's where the greatest ROI is."
  • Coaching marginal performers is a waste of time. You must take care to differentiate between average and awesome. Todd Duncan, the author of High Trust Selling: Make More Money in Less Time With Less Stress (Thomas Nelson), argues that coaching average performers is largely worthless. "In selling, you either have players or pretenders," Duncan asserts. "Players shouldn't have to compensate for the inadequacies of pretenders."
  • Stellar sellers are more coachable because they have the right traits. After interviewing more than 400 sales luminaries--earners who rake in between $250,000 and $2 million per year in commissions--Duncan pinpointed several behaviors that separate superstars from their underperforming counterparts: a belief that there's no limit to what they can accomplish, a burning desire to help clients, and organizational systems that allow them to eliminate daily time bandits and squeeze the most productivity out of every hour.
  • Sales isn't about fairness. As tough as it may sound, you aren't in business to support the sensibilities of marginal performers. "The tough decision for the coach is to balance fairness and results," says Fine. "Many coaches get seduced into neglecting top performers because they want to be fair." Fine's sports metaphor extends into this area as well-professional athletes know very well the week they start losing is the week they stop earning. Fine calls this implied (and often explicit) contract "no pay, no play."
  • Top performers can raise the selling bar for other employees. Spending the bulk of your coaching time with superlative sellers may cause dissent in the ranks, so look for ways in which the success of the top dogs can hearten the team. Seleste Lunsford, sales portfolio market director for international sales training company AchieveGlobal in Tampa, Florida, says entrepreneurs can strengthen the entire team's performance by "surveying top performers to identify best practices that can be shared with less stellar performers."

Lunsford adds that managers can also work with the elite crew to have them serve as mentors to any up-and-comers or those in a sales slump. Mentorship, believes Lunsford, "helps the poorer performer, provides recognition for the top performer, and encourages the top performer to be more mindful of the detailed procedures that may have been 'shortcutted' over time."


Kimberly L. McCall (aka Marketing Angel) is the president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc.(www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Durham, Maine.