Smart Sales Managers Focus on Moving the Middle


Smart Sales Managers Focus on Moving the Middle

In our current business environment sales leaders are faced with unrelenting pressure to deliver results. They are also being stretched in so many different directions they must deal with a daily dilemma: “Where should I spend my time and with whom should I spend it?”

Of course, time is the scarcest of all resources and as a sales manager you only have 8 to 10 hours a day during which you can really impact the sales productivity of your team.

In the early part of last decade, the Sales Executive Council commissioned a ground breaking study on sales coaching. One of the areas that study focused on was what separated mediocre sales managers from superstar sales managers.

The study concluded that mediocre sales managers, much like Kevin Spacey’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, spend the vast majority of their time managing policy, reviewing reports, approving expenses, and sitting at their desk. Rather than being mentors to their salespeople, they become tormentors.

Superstar sales managers, on the other hand, spend the majority of their time positioning their people to win. They focus on account strategy, pipeline management, training, mentoring, and coaching. The conclusion was simple, (and frankly common sense), sales managers that spend the majority of their time with their salespeople, focused  on getting their people in the right place at the right time, are most successful.

So the question begs: Which salespeople do superstar sales managers work with?

  1. Top Performers
  2. Average Performers
  3. Low Performers

Let’s first look at this question from a purely statistical point of view. On any given sales team there is a high probability that there’ll be a normal  statistical distribution (bell curve) of sales productivity. At the high end of the bell curve will be a handful of top performers and at the bottom end will be a handful of low performers. That leaves the majority of the salespeople, the average performers,  in the middle of the bell curve.

What most sales managers do (especially new sales managers) is focus their attention at either end of the curve. They either spend all of their time with low performers, in an effort to drive improvement, or all of their time with high-performers – usually because it is just easier work or more fun because high-performers go on many closing calls.

The problem with this approach – focusing on the extremes – is it rarely moves the performance of the team as a whole. Over the long-term, performance stagnates.


Sales Coaching - Move the Middle

At the top-end, the high-performers are internally driven to be successful. They are likely to succeed in spite of anything you try to do to make them better, which means you get very little return for your efforts. Of course top performers require care and attention and you should remove roadblocks that impede their ability to sell. Yet, time spent with them will not improve your sales team’s performance as a whole. Basically love your top performers and leave them alone.

At the bottom end, the low-performers are likely to fail in spite of all of the coaching and effort you put into helping them improve. No matter how gifted you are as a leader, you will never be able to turn turkeys into eagles. Of course there are situations with new reps, reps with personal issues, and talented reps that have just gotten off track, where your coaching and intervention will make a difference. As a whole though, spending your time with low-performers will yield little return and will not move the overall performance of your team.

The majority of your salespeople will be in the middle of the bell curve. These are your average salespeople. They are not failing, nor or they likely to be reaching their potential. Superstar sales managers focus their time and attention here. They move the middle because the money is in the middle. Because most of your salespeople are in the middle, even incremental improvement has the tendency to shift the performance curve of the entire team.


As a sales coach you get a much larger return on your time investment with an average player because:

  1. The average player has the talent to sell and in most cases the average player is not living up to their potential (for a variety of reasons).
  2. These salespeople will be most open to your coaching and intervention – they want and appreciate your help.
  3. Your coaching will have the most impact because it actually bridges knowledge, skill, and experience gaps that are impeding optimum sales behavior.
  4. When you focus your attention on positioning average players to win – getting them in front of the right prospects, at the right time, with the right offering – they will sell more (sometimes much more).
  5. There are more of them. Because there are more of them, when you improve the performance of the middle, you improve the performance of the entire team. Simple statistics prove that out. This is where the money is.

There is one additional benefit to focusing your attention on the middle. When you move the performance of the middle you naturally push the high-performers to even higher levels of productivity. Why? It is natural for high-performers to perform down to the level just below them. What this means is they keep their sales numbers just high enough to stand out on the top, but far below what they are capable of delivering. So naturally, when the middle moves in their direction, the high-performers increase productivity to stay ahead of the curve.


People Follow You Leadership Book by Jeb BlountIn my bestselling book People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership I provide you with a formula for leading and developing high-performing teams. If you’ll take the time to read the book you’ll gain valuable insight on how to best position your people to win. Most of all you will learn what highly successful sales managers already know. When you invest in your people with your time they will thrive, become extremely loyal to you and ultimately your career as a leader will -soar.

Subscribe to My Blog and You’ll Be the First to Get New Posts and Insights


Get Free sales training straight to your inbox.

More than 360,000 sales pros build their skills with Jeb each week!

Get Free sales training straight to your inbox.

More than 360,000 sales pros build their skills with Jeb each week!