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Move Your Middle To The Top

May 13, 2021

What would it mean to you if 100% of your sales team achieved their targets?
This article discusses an approach you can use to motivate your Middle sales

You have a number of salespeople to achieve your financial goals and deliver on your brand promise to customers.

You’ve invested time and resources to train them on technique and product.

You’ve given them a target you believe they can achieve and, ideally, exceed. There are a group of top performers you can rely on every month to drive sales across the line, and you recognise and reward them well. Beyond these top performers… well, it would be great if you could get everyone else to execute in the same way.

How can there be such a difference between top performers and that large, majority of the group who live in the Middle?

Getting to know your Middle

Generally speaking, “Middle” sales performers know their stuff: script, product and process to close the sale. Achieving their goals will depend on their current rhythm, prospects and motivation. There are three simple questions to identify Middle performers:

• Do they go beyond the initial pitch to really understand the customer’s needs?
• Do they represent your brand well and put in that extra effort to create a positive experience for their customers?
• Most importantly, do their customers come back to them?

If you struggled to answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may need to shift the Middle into higher gear to achieve your financial targets and create a high performing sales culture.

Moving the Middle to strive for more

If you could get 37% greater performance across your sales team, you’d jump at it. That is proven to be achievable when ALL salespeople opt in to a sales performance program.

When you set targets at the start of the year, as an experienced Sales leader, you could probably predict the top 10% of your performers. You want them to perform at their very best, so you design your reward and recognition program around them. But, you want your entire team to achieve their goals and aspire to be top performers.

Middle performers immediately evaluate this rules structure, and when they see they won’t achieve the top performer goal, they become disengaged. They don’t believe you, and they don’t think you really pay attention to their effort. They do just enough to keep their jobs, maintain their quality of life and drive you a little bit crazy.

Let’s put this into context. You’re driving home from work and you hear an ad that your local grocery store is offering $1,000 prizes to the first 10 people who buy $50 of fruit today. It’s 5:30 pm and the store opened at 8:00 this morning. You probably believe your chances are very slim: dozens of people have already been to the store! Are you willing to devote that extra time, modify your journey and spend money you hadn’t planned to spend for the small chance that you will get the $1,000? No. You’ll just go to the store on your normal shopping day or when you actually need fruit.

You can change this “disengaged” thinking in your sales team.

Ground your incentives program in behavioural economics.

Let’s dig deeper into what makes the Middle tick and apply a little science to the program. Let’s examine how the Middle is influenced by rational thought and emotions when making their work-effort decisions. Let’s talk about behavioural economics.

Put simply, behavioural economics is the practical understanding of what drives people to do what we do.

Now, think about behavioural economics in the context of a competitive sales environment. Salespeople are naturally competitive, and they’re motivated by winning, success, achievement. However they are also quite savvy and they will quickly evaluate if the effort is worth the prize – or if they actually have a real chance to win it. Here are three behavioural economics principles you can use to your advantage in driving engagement across the Middle.

  • Idiosyncratic fit: people like to believe their situation is unique, and they assess their uniqueness by comparing themselves to others.

In practice: if they don’t feel they have an idiosyncratic fit, they won’t participate. Personalised goals and segmented communications make people feel like the opportunity has taken them into consideration. Successful programs give each person an individualised baseline and ask them to improve from there (rather than telling everyone to achieve 100% growth).

  • N-effect: decreasing the number of competitors increases people’s motivation to reach the goal.

In practice: in our minds, competing against 150 people is much harder than competing against 12. Segment the sales team into several small groups so that the participants are competing in like-for-like scenarios where they feel they have better “odds” of success.

  • Social comparison: people evaluate their self-worth by comparing themselves to others.

In practice: No one wants to be listed last on a ranking list – or not listed at all. Publish progress reports and consistently update best practices or success stories. Keep track of how many times people are recognised and create a competitive environment for positive changes in rank. Create frequent chances for measurement so that no one is stuck at the bottom of the list for too long.

The recognition experience is just as important as the reward

A figurative ‘pat on the back’ is a key part of the rewards and incentives experience, as 45% of salespeople feel they don’t receive truly engaging recognition.

You can actively improve this by clearly communicating what behaviours you want repeated – those behaviours that, when executed, are proven to drive sales. Then when you see a salesperson demonstrate the behaviour, recognise them right away. Whether with a quick “Hey – you did that well,” an email or written on a post-it note, the behaviours will be reinforced and form the basis of a habit.

If you’ve got success stories, go LARGE on recognising the individual or team in a high-profile setting. You are actively providing role-modeling and encouraging competition along the way. By giving a shout out in a social or public setting, you’re actively creating a longlasting recognition experience.

Technology is key to driving participation

How fast is technology and automation changing the face of sales? How many salespeople check emails, tweets, Facebook, etc. whenever they can during the day? You can drive continuous action and accountability from your salespeople in a similar way.

Have a program that delivers the information salespeople need: anytime, on any device. Ensure the program shows real-time metrics and reports, so they can check on progress and company updates at their convenience.

Make the program visual and memorable to ensure consistent usage. Graphical themes, interactive dashboards and leaderboards drive people to frequently engage with you and your messaging.

The trick is to use technology to make it easier for your salespeople to adopt and repeat the right behaviours.

The bottom line on moving your Middle

You don’t have to move mountains to move your Middle.

The Middle is your biggest segment. It makes sense that they deserve some attention, but their needs are different from your top or bottom performers. Adopting the tactics in this article will result in motivating a larger segment of your team, and from that group you’ll see more people achieve their targets. You’ll also notice an increase in job satisfaction and staff retention.

This is a philosophical change in approach that creates a high performance culture for the entire sales team, rather than an incentive approach that recognises a small percentage of the performers.

We know these principles sound good on paper, but at BI WORLDWIDE our expertise is applying these elements to your specific culture and goals.

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