Some reps have no trouble exceeding every goal and expectation you lay in front of them. You could even argue that selling is in their DNA.
The average rep, however, could use a little help, and developing the middle of the pack is well worth it. Yet, many sales leaders default to the same old misconception—hiring more top performers will increase the bottom line. It may be true that the top sales reps drive much of the company’s revenue—80%, in fact—but it isn’t the most effective way to improve your sales force’s performance.
In this blog, you’ll learn the advantages of closing skill gaps, the most prominent gaps across any sales team, and methods for developing and coaching reps to close their performance gaps.
A Stacked Roster of All-Stars Isn’t the Best Way to Grow
The above statement might sound counterintuitive, but there are compelling arguments for focusing your efforts on developing the existing talent rather than hiring on top performers.
Access to talent is one of them. Hiring for sales roles is highly competitive and there are only so many top performers to go around. You’ll need to contend with other organizations bidding against you for the best of the best.
Star reps often shine the most where they are. Just because a rep exceeded quota the last eight quarters at their current company, doesn’t mean they’ll continue to perform well at yours. In fact, a study cited by HBR reveals how, typically, a star rep’s performance plummets by 20% at a new organization—and it doesn’t return to prior levels.
Let’s consider another option, then: developing and coaching your existing reps into top-performers. On the surface, it’s no silver bullet, but the returns are significantly greater than hiring more reps—top performers or not.
First and foremost, you already have those people in the company. You don’t have to spend time and resources to recruit and hire them. Second, you probably won’t have to completely retrain them. Your average sales reps are already familiar with your processes and likely just need a little help mastering them. Developing your reps also contributes to employee satisfaction, which leads to longer tenures and a stronger sales culture.
To start creating tangible business impact by changing your reps’ behavior, you need to first recognize the most common sales performance gaps. Then, you need to be able to proactively address them.
The Most Common Sales Performance Gaps
Even your best reps aren’t immune to skill gaps. There are a handful that you’ll encounter time and time again as a sales leader. While this list is not exhaustive, it will prepare you for quickly spotting opportunities to upskill the team as individuals and as a group.
So, what are the most common sales performance gaps?
Reps not following your sales process is a big one. Low performers often skip or rush certain steps of the process. They’ll miss things like following up on their email cadences, forget to follow up with leads more than once, or give up too easily.
Not preparing properly for calls. Reps come into conversations without an objective or a back up plan if things go differently than expected. In more extreme cases, the rep shows up completely unprepared: they don’t know the basics of the account, who the prospect is, or why your solution may be a fit.
Poor listening skills. Top salespeople actively listen to their prospects. They use verbal nods and ask probing questions that get prospects to open up. Top performers also avoid filling pregnant pauses which prevents the rep from assuming for the prospect. This gap is easy to spot. Take a look at talk-to-listen ratios across your team: low performers spend upwards of 70% or more of the time speaking.
Pitching and discussing pricing too early. A number of studies show that top performers leave pricing discussions for later in the conversation. Their average and low performing colleagues often jump on pitching far too early and easily cave when asked about pricing. This habit prevents them from getting a good grasp on the prospect’s business challenges and needs before jumping into pricing.
Interrogation-style discovery. Qualifying leads and opportunities requires asking a lot of questions, but that doesn’t mean playing 20 questions with your prospects. The best reps know how to work their questions naturally into the conversation while still getting all the details they need.
Another potential performance gap is no fault of the rep. Poor management—in the form of disengaged leadership, confusing processes, and/or inconsistent or no coaching leaves reps struggling to deliver results. Even worse is that managers tend to default to coaching existing top performers more than their peers, despite it providing little return. Great managers know who to coach and how to coach effectively to drive performance across the board.
How to Address Common Sales Performance Gaps
Some sales performance gaps are easy to close. Take your sales process, for instance. If a rep isn’t following it, coach them on each step. If it’s confusing, or simply not working, revise it and retrain the team. Same deal for preparation—get the rep to do it, and add repetition and sleep to make it a habit.
For more complex gaps that require a bigger behavior change, it requires a more structured approach. First, as a sales leader you need to identify the performance gap and its cause. Second, the rep needs to acknowledge the necessary change. Lastly, action needs to be taken to close the gap whether in the form of coaching or retraining.
Let’s break these steps down further to address the challenges you may encounter:
Identifying Performance Gaps & Their Causes
Different performance gaps require different identification processes. Your CRM dashboards aren’t going to tell you that your top five sellers have slightly modified the value proposition and it’s helping them book more meetings. The only way to uncover this is by listening to the conversations. This may be cumbersome if you can only rely on ride-alongs, but if you already have call recordings or a conversation intelligence platform, you just have to make time to listen.
A regular practice of listening to calls can help sales leaders identify performance drivers of their top reps. Then, average and low performers can be measured against those performance drivers and organizational best practices to reveal performance gaps.
Once a gap is identified, you need to determine the cause. Knowing why a particular rep fails to perform well in a specific driver can reveal a potential solution and point to actions to take to address it. For example, if a rep struggles with closing and asking for the sale, then, the logical action is to coach them in closing techniques more.
The most prevailing causes of sales performance gaps include:
- Poor training or coaching (or even none at all)
- Lack of confidence
- Lack of business acumen for that vertical
- Not understanding the support options available
- Not understanding the processes or feeling uncomfortable with the company’s sales stack
Getting Rep Buy-In
Getting reps to acknowledge their skill deficiencies starts with their manager. Many coaching sessions look like the feedback sandwich (something good, something to work on, something good) or the manager jumping right into what they think the rep should improve. Both are ineffective. Review sessions should be opened with “How do you think that went?” before getting into the manager’s thoughts.
Eliminating the Gap
Finally, take whatever actions you’ve determined as appropriate to address and eliminate the performance gap. This last step is where most managers fail. They coach a skill once and don’t circle back to it until they notice the rep hasn’t made any progress toward improving it. The same thing happens with training—so much so that only 13% is retained after 30 days. Closing performance gaps requires consistency and accountability on both the rep’s and the coach’s part.
Performance gaps are a fact of life for every sales team. While many sales leaders accept that not all of their team will hit 100% quota, the benefits and rewards of getting each rep closer to that goal are enormous. Organizations that prioritize developing and coaching their sales reps, and even their other employees, see dividends in the form of higher revenue, better customer retention, and happier people.
Taking the time to identify, address, and close performance gaps will strengthen your reps’ skills, improve productivity, and ultimately give your team an unfair advantage.