Every team in the National Football League and Major League Baseball all would love to field superstars at every position. The same is true for sales-centered companies. Sales managers devote countless hours devising ways to lure, hire, and retain all-stars for their lineups. The limited number of exceptionally talented salespeople, the high cost of finding and compensating them, and the ever-present threat of a better offer make this dream impossible. The good news for sales managers – if not for NFL coaches and MLB managers – is that a roster full of rainmakers is neither critical nor even desirable.
While the impact and performance variability factors will change from company to company and industry to industry, the grid below may be typical. Successful companies place their most capable salespeople in positions that rank high on both variables.
The key to developing a solid sales force, as with any team, is to focus on the areas with the greatest impact and the greatest variability. Football teams build their Super Bowl hopes around Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks, 1,000-yard rushers, or stingy defenses. Sales managers should strive to hire and retain reps that contribute the most to their companies’ go-to-market strategies. These are positions that will deliver the greatest influence on the firms’ profitability and that exhibit the greatest variability in performance from person to person. In some sales environments, low price and wide selection drive sales. At others, personal attention and aftercare are the determining factors. The skills and personalities of the salespeople and the purchasers targeted should determine which departments, products, and locations should receive the most focus. Other areas, with less impact and variability, can be staffed with sellers who receive less compensation and require less managerial time and support. Managers can uncover positions with high impact and high variability by asking a few key questions:
- How is the product delivered?
- Is the product highly differentiated, or is it a commodity?
- How is the purchase decision made?
- Is there strong potential to cross-sell or upsell?
- How would a superstar salesperson approach the job?
Frank Cespedes, author of Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors that Drive Effective Selling,” contends that “focusing on hiring only ‘the best,’ as many firms say they do, is not the best approach….Sales tasks are determined by your strategy and target customers, and selling behaviors are heavily influenced by your control systems and culture. Those are firm-specific factors. When you hire a star, or when a competitor hires one from you, that salesperson leaves all of that behind.”