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Learn to Love Your Underperformers

May 20, 2015

Written by: Dave Smith & Tim Houlihan
(View Author Bio)

How to find value in the bottom 20% of your sales force.


At BI WORLDWIDE Canada, we use the principles of behavioural economics to create the best engagement strategies on the planet. We work with expert academics who advise us on the latest research on human behaviour, engagement and decision-making. We use non-cash rewards and recognition to engage and motivate employees and sales teams.

Poor performers. Losers. Bottom feeders.
Every company has a derogatory term to describe sales people who are in the bottom 20th percentile. Some sales managers openly deride and ridicule their team members who are not meeting expectations. The human condition responds to motivational “sticks” like ridicule and mockery but only in very short-term bursts. If what you’re looking for is
commitment and improvement, try carrots. If what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you’re focused on the wrong carrot. What does a sales manager do with reps who are underperforming?

Goals Are Carrots
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Why would management let someone in the lowest 20% of the sales organization (who isn’t even close to approaching quota) pick their own goals?

As crazy at it sounds, this is what was practiced by the eight companies whose
sales data is included in the chart to the left.

For these firms focused on increasing revenues from their outside sales reps, we
split each sales organization into five equal segments, or quintiles. This allowed us to measure them separately and use relevant goals for each group. Our analysis included Fortune 1000 firms in telco, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and medical devices. Each ran a “select-your-own-goal” sales incentive for 90 days with payouts indexed to participants’ salaries.

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