The topic of grading sales people came up on a recent Sales Readiness webinar we hosted when an attendee asked for benchmarking approaches beyond traditional quota attainment.  The question deserved more detail than we could offer on a live call so we decided to treat it here.

First, we’ll reference a prior post (The Revenue Clock is (Always) Ticking: Three Approaches to Improving Strategic Sales Planning) which reminded sales leaders that historical success does not always guarantee future results, particularly for outsourcers in markets where a great deal of change is occurring.  In that respect, one excellent evaluation approach which looks beyond pure financial performance is based on GE’s Vitality Curve.  This well documented model classifies an organization’s workforce into three categories and suggests strategies for addressing each group.  Forgetting numbers for a moment, this model helps leaders evaluate their teams against more subjective criteria.

GE table

Now looking back and numbers in the context of GE’s Vitality Curve, it’s important for sales leaders to recognize that sales execs consistently ranking in the bottom tier rarely catch fire and become top performers.   Yet these bottom performers are the ones leaders spend the most time supporting, defending and coaching.  Use quarterly results as an opportunity to evaluate all sales personnel and eliminate that “bottom ten percent” that are holding back the rest of the team.

Another dimension to apply to grading the sales team is including external benchmarking data.   While “sales” in general is not as flush with this kind of best-practice information as some other industries, there are two excellent resources worth considering for benchmarking and peer ranking data.  In no particular order, check out the folks at both CSO Insights and Sales Benchmark Index.   These two organizations provide a wealth of sales industry knowledge and information for the leaders of professional selling organizations.   Including external data is way of getting closer to understanding how effective your sales team is relative to other teams (and reps) in similar models and industries.  This kind of data also helps evaluate other aspects of the selling process such as proposal teams, pricing organizations, lead generation and even quotas and compensation.

Sales leaders, now is the time of year to make those difficult people decisions which means identifying and taking action on your own Bottom Ten Percent.   Remind yourself that above all sales is a performance based business.  Someone failing to meet your requirements is letting down the entire company.  For some this is the most difficult aspect of being a sales leader, but you could argue it is also the most important.