August 5th, 2013

Which Top Producers Should You Study to Develop Sales Training Programs?

sales-training-programs-study

Which Top Producers Should You Study to Develop Sales Training Programs?

Huh? Isn’t that a silly question? This is pretty clear, right? A top producer brings in the most revenue. You study them.

Well, maybe. It depends.

Some questions I’d ask first are:

  • What’s the context for “top producer?” What does exemplary performance mean in your company?
  • Are you truly looking at the right things?
  • What exactly are you trying to accomplish with your sales training program?
  • What behaviors do you need to replicate to do that?

Context is the New Black

If revenue is what you pay for, as your primary criteria for variable compensation, those who bring in the most business will receive the biggest rewards.  That’s your decision, based on your company objectives, and those are the producers who will likely: be lauded with recognition, walk across the stage, take the trips, and reap the financial rewards. In many cases, if that’s your sole criteria, I might question your decision, but that’s another discussion and not the topic for this post.

If you’re studying exemplary sales performers to gather top-producer practices to provide content for sales training programs, however, “bringing in the most business” or “highest revenue production” is usually not the only criteria you want to consider. This may seem counter-intuitive to some. If that’s you, suspend disbelief for a moment and I’ll explain.

Let’s start by looking at the performance of some reps.sales-training-programs-performance

Imagine you’re conducting a study of top producers compared to mid producers, to develop Continue | Start | Stop content to improve the performers of the middle 60 percent of your sales force, and move them up a notch.

Out of the 80 reps in your company, you’ve asked your sales leaders to give you their “top 10 percent” A-Players and another 10 percent that is representative of the middle 60 percent B-Players. The graphic represents what you were given by Sales Ops for the top ten percent, for the last quarter. And, as you’d imagine, it’s all about revenue.

> Question 1:  So, is this the group you should study?

Correlation Doesn’t Prove Causation

My answer is, “I don’t know.” I need more information to make that decision.

What if I added this information to the mix?

  • Andrea has been with the company for 18 years and is managing more accounts than anyone in the company, many of which she has inherited over the years as other reps left. She obviously does a great job with her accounts as an account manager and continues to grow them steadily. She is not doing any business development.
  • Phillip took over his territory from Sally, who left the company 10 months ago. At that time, Sally was the top revenue producer with $54K in her final full quarter. Phillip has lost one major client to a competitor and the vast bulk of production for this quarter came from one large client that he inherited. He has a very weak pipeline, closed no new business, and hasn’t grown any of his other assigned accounts.
  • Rayelle started 4 months ago, in a new territory with no inherited clients. The $18K from this quarter was produced in the last two months, once her training was completed, all from her own prospecting efforts. Based on her pipeline, she could give Jon and Peter a run for their money next quarter.

Question 2:  Does this change anything for you?

Probably. But not so fast.

Connecting the Other Dots

Let’s layer another detail… the desired outcome of the training we’re building.

Now let’s say that your senior sales leader shares the goal from the majority of sales leaders surveyed in the last CSO Insights survey. Sixty-seven percent of those sales leaders stated their primary objective for the year as new account acquisition, yet 65 percent of them rated their sales team as “needing improvement” in lead generation.

Question 3:  Does that change your opinion again?

I’d imagine so.

We could play this game all day, so I’ll stop here, but this is the game of real life, isn’t it? and a common failing of generic “best practices” methodology. To get the best results, context matters. I strongly suggest that you consider internal top-producer practices study (instead of general best practices), conducted in context with a specific sales performer analysis that is connected to the organization’s strategic sales goals. 

Strike Up the Bands

In most of my sales performer analyses, I band performers in the following categories.sales-training-programs-results

  • Top 20% (divided into top 4% and remaining 16%)
  • Middle 60% (divided into above average, average and below average)
  • Bottom 20%

But to do an analysis to determine who falls where, I start by defining what results we’re hoping to achieve and which shapes our definition of top producer. The part that confuses many linearly thinking people is that the reps in the categories may change, based on the definition and desired outcomes – sometimes, even within the same study.

Skim Milk Masquerades as Cream

As an example, I once did a study where a small subset of performers excelled at cross-selling, which was a strategic focus for management and needed to be included in the resulting sales training program. Oddly, these exemplar cross-sellers were not all part of the general Top 20 Percent category (although some certainly were). For that part of the study, these cross-sellers became the Top 20 Percent and were analyzed separately in a spreadsheet and with SPSS.

To have even more impact with your training content and sales training reinforcement (including sales coaching), once you determine the practices that produce the best results in one band, you can compare that to the band directly under it, and create a Continue | Start | Stop list, to help sales managers coach those team members up a notch or completely in the next band. But that, my friends, is an entirely different post for the future.

In the interim, identifying and studying various bands of performers compared to top producers can fuel great gap-closing content. You can include what you learn whether you build your own courses, or work with one of the few sales training leaders like Richardson, that will deeply customize courseware to accomplish your goals and get the results you need.

For now, I hope this has given you some food for thought about what you consider a Top Producer when developing sales training programs and how you might approach it differently, driven by context and your desired outcomes. As always, I’ll leave you with some additional reading and hope to hear from you in the comments. It would especially be interesting to hear your responses to Questions 1-3, as they were presented in the post (given what you knew at the time).

Additional reading:

Increase Sales with Top-Producer Practices

Is Your Top Rep a True A Player?

Business Needs for Customized Sales Training

Tracking Progress and Learning from Top Performers

Best Practices Aren’t

Top Performers Produce 4x More Output and Higher Quality Referrals

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About The Author: Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle is Richardson's Director of Product Development. Bringing over 25 years of experience in the sales profession, Mr. Kunkle is a training and organizational effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation. After his initial years on the front line in sales and sales management, he has spent the past 16 years as a corporate director or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose — to improve sales results. He led major sales optimization efforts in both B2B and B2C environments, producing significant results for both employers and clients.

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3 Responses to “Which Top Producers Should You Study to Develop Sales Training Programs?”

  1. August 05, 2013 at 5:17 pm, Leanne Hoagland-Smith said:

    Possibly instead of developing sales training programs maybe a better solution is to develop sales performance initiatives. This might create some intrinsic motivation. Just a thought. Thanks for a great and sometimes often ignored slice of reality.

    [REPLY]

    • Mike Kunkle

      August 05, 2013 at 5:24 pm, Mike Kunkle said:

      Hi and thanks Leanne! Thoughtful and accurate, as always.

      Most of the work I’ve done in the past, and much of what we do at Richardson, is part of a larger sales performance initiative, for sure. Many of our clients and readers, however, are in the L&D/T&D community. Their work is still primarily developing and sourcing the right training, which plugs into those larger initiatives. And for building or customizing the sales training, they need to pick the best exemplary performers as SMEs. So, the advice works in both contexts.

      [REPLY]

  2. June 05, 2014 at 4:14 pm, Focus Less on Learning Innovation and More on Business Outcomes said:

    […] your analysis, study the right top producers and exemplary performers to identify the right […]

    [REPLY]

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