How to Upskill Your Top, Middle, and Bottom Performers

Defining upskilling as a process isn’t the hard part, the trick comes in execution.

To define your upskilling process, take your existing sales team and segment it to strengthen and develop new capabilities. The goals are typically better win rates and faster sales cycles.

The trick comes in execution: when completed effectively, the entire bell curve of your sales team’s performance moves to the right.

While there are many ways to segment your sales team (by tenure, role, or market segment), one of the most fundamental ways is to look at it by performance – your top, middle, and bottom performers.

Segmenting Performance

A typical performance curve is a bell, plotting quota attainment against a number of reps. Your stars typically represent ~20% of the team, the right side of the graph, and also represent more than 60% of your revenue at most sales organizations. The core is the middle 60%. Last, but not least, are the dogs, the bottom 20% to the far left. With a closer look, you can approach upskilling for each of these segments differently.

Top Performers (20%)

Your top performers are on top because they already know how best to guide their own development – best known as autonomous learning. Top performers succeed because they are voracious learners and natural sales rock stars.

The goal in upskilling the top is to amplify what they already do, for the benefit of the rest of the organization. By giving them a video-based platform to promote their ideas, messaging styles, and skills, you not only increase the recognition that they receive across the team but also create the content that your middle performers can model against.

Bottom Line: Rather than upskilling top performers yourself, let them upskill each other.

Middle Performers (60%)

“Moving the middle” is the heart of any upskilling effort. With a wide variety of learning styles represented and often inconsistent motivations to do more or less, they can also be the hardest group to consistently upskill. Yet, the lift from successfully moving the middle will have the greatest impact on your organization’s performance. Another great byproduct? Your top performers will have to raise their game if they want to stay on top.

A solid middle performer upskilling program should start with a gap analysis, which looks at where the team is today vis-à-vis where they need to be, in order to succeed given market conditions. Top performers can be brought in to support the identified gaps, sharing best practices.

A continuous learning curriculum should be built, so that it is not only sensitive to the set of behaviors your team has mastered today, but also includes what they need to improve upon in the future. If you can layer behavioral-based practice at the center, you’ll be more likely to change how your team actually sells. But be warned: the worst thing you can do is use certification as a blunt instrument, catering to the lowest common denominator and losing the interest of your other reps.

Bottom Line: A little effort up front to assess what the core needs goes a long way in getting reps to respond to training.

Bottom Performers (20%)

Treatment for bottom performers is designed around remediation: either moving them up to the middle or out of the organization. The old saying, “shoot the dogs,” applies here, as you’ll want to have a mechanism to act swiftly and confidently to remove non-starters. With a performance improvement plan in place, managers have a SMART approach versus an ad-hoc one.

This plan is made up of clear, concrete goals that a rep’s performance can be measured against. The goals are both qualitative – certification-related checkpoints – and quantitative – how results stack up against activity-related goals. A well-designed underperformer plan also includes tools to assess performance, through disciplined self-study, roleplay and practice.

Ultimately, a great underperformer plan puts the onus on the rep themselves to move up or out. You still need the right system, process, and tools to ensure consistent measurement across management, but the rep needs to be engaged with their own learning.

Bottom line: Being consistent, yet firm, in your approach creates clarity and leads to an optimal result for all those involved: move up or out.

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How Two Former Oracle Leaders Dissected Sales Skills vs. Behaviors

In part 1 of our interview, we spoke with Drs. Tom Tonkin and Mark Tuggle of the Sales Conservatory about their role in developing comprehensive sales skill and competency training programs. Both Tom and Mark worked previously with Oracle’s Sales Performance Team, and later co-founded the Sales Conservatory. Part 1 covers the concept of sales skills versus sales behaviors, creating reps that take lasting abilities away from training and can adapt to any situation.

The Sales Conservatory creates reps that act like entrepreneurs, learning key skills that they can take and apply in any situation. Skills differ from behaviors – you can apply a skill in any situation, whether selling or in real life, but behaviors only apply to specific situations. By teaching reps the right skills, they can take themselves into any selling situation and make an impact.

CommercialTribe: Looking at the Oracle Sales Performance Team, you created a progressive, customer-centric program. What are some of the core themes that you hoped a rep leaving sales training would actually absorb?

Dr. Tom Tonkin: I want to make sure that we distinguish skill versus behavior. It’s the idea transcends behaviors through context. With the ability to have the skill to do something, I should be able to do it anywhere. Behavior has context – if I’m measuring a behavior, I have to behave in a certain way.

A great example is a guitar player – I can be taught to put my fingers on the right strings and strum at the right place, and I look like a guitar player, but I have no skill.

Dr. Mark Tuggle: The self-efficacy, the belief in themselves that they have the skill that transcends context, so that they can feel confident going into any sales conversation, is key. Their behavior isn’t dependent on it looking a certain way, but having the skill to adapt to any context. We want them to walk away with is the confidence and belief in themselves that they can do sales successfully in whatever account they walk into.

CT: It’s interesting that the first focus isn’t just on the employer, but on creating a person that you can fit into any puzzle.

TT: Exactly the case. The idea here is that, while there is a flavor to what we train, when we talk about skill, we’re creating methodology that is transferable to the company.

First, it’s very effective – we call it encoding the process. My ability to finish training and get up and use the skill gets encoded. We also moved from a corporate-centric view of training to a rep-centric view because we wanted reps to know that we were investing in them as individuals. Organizational commitment and job satisfaction rise, and therefore we know that your performance and longevity will rise as well. The cost of ramping goes down, because the turnover isn’t there.

CT: The process flips the normal arrangement of sales kickoff and onboarding.

TT: Exactly. Usually, it’s “let me beat you over the head with the company mantra and mission and objectives.” When we came into this, we said, “we want to make this rep a better rep.” Obviously, product and company knowledge are in there and are vital, but we wanted to focus on making “you” a better you.

MT: We go so far as to tell reps that we’re not giving them sales skills – we’re giving them life skills.

CT: We call this “practice to performance,” tracking how individual abilities tie into greater sales KPIs and goals. Are you hoping to connect the skills and behaviors to performance?

TT: That’s what we did – we actually designed from the bottom up to be able to do that. These skills are not exactly willy-nilly, not something that we think all sales reps should do. What are the skills that you as a rep, at Oracle, need to have to be the best performer?

CT: When do you find these key skills to be critical to an organization? Teams will often note a lack of budget for training or no desire for a formal program. When does it become crucial for a company to invest in a comprehensive training program?

TT: It happens when there’s a need – you’re not performing, or we’ve missed numbers, or attrition is high. One of the challenges from the training perspective is that, even though we believe that you should start training people when things are good, it often starts when things go bad.

One of the challenges continues to be, “how can I quantitatively measure success?” Am I actually moving the needle based on training? That’s what the Sales Conservatory does, helping to find the key competencies that move revenue.

CT: What do you personally see as the measure of success? Is it revenue, performance, something else?

TT: Because your funders are usually senior management, it’s going to be an aggregate of revenue, with attrition, because that quickly erodes margin. If you take a look at rep training, over 3-5 years, it’s usually front-loaded. The idea is that you spend all of that money up front, but need reps to stay as long as possible and produce.

The attitude is that managers believe that they can know what their reps can and cannot do. The problem is that, after spending all this money up front, they can’t even adjust anymore.

The last one that we were measuring is the idea of time to revenue. The philosophy we took isn’t revolutionary, but we didn’t just come out and say, “you’re going to be a great rep in 3 years.” We took it further and said, “you’re going to be a great rep in a year and a half.” It’s called time compression – the ability to reduce time to revenue.

MT: If we’ve got an onboarding program where, nine months into the first year, reps are already hitting quota, that’s time compression.

TT: If you can scoot that extra into the same fiscal year, you can actually see that revenue being creating. You don’t have to negate the first 12 months of the year to see revenue gains.

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5 secrets of CommercialTribe’s Colorado success

Published by: Anthony Sodd | Built in Colorado

If there were truly a secret recipe that made a startup a wild success, it would surely be patented or the subject of many successful books. While many books on Amazon allege to have that recipe, I’ll save you a lot of time and money – they don’t. That said, we can take some advice from those who have been there, done that and been successful. We caught up with Marketing Director Gavin Matthews to find out 5 of the secrets to CommercialTribe’s success here in Colorado…

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Three Ways to Increase Adoption of New Sales Tools

A recent article by Jim Dickie of CSO Insights highlighted an issue we think about constantly at CommercialTribe: how do we help companies drive adoption of new sales tools within their team? With a full array of tools and solutions for different aspects of selling and learning – CRM, CMS, LMS: the acronyms may have your head spinning – every organization’s worst nightmare is failing to utilize its tools.

Working with CSO Insights, Jim Dickie surveyed sales leaders on their tool adoption. What he found should make any sales leader pause: while 37% of sales teams had purchased a sales collaboration/networking tool, more than 60% found little to no adoption or impact. That represents not only a failed initiative but also a significant lost investment.

Jim shared a number of excellent strategies to plan for and launch new tools, focused on adoption. Further strategies can help lift the chances that a new tool will see widespread use.

1. Pair With an Existing Initiative

One of CommercialTribe’s first actions in 2015 was to review the data from 2014 and find hidden truths about adoption. The clearest outcome is that driving team-wide tool adoption happens best when paired with an existing commercial process like onboarding or new product introduction. Aligning a new tool with existing organizational muscle memory offers the best chance to set process and goals around the entire operation. As a result, the process is strengthened, better than trying to implement a new technology by starting from scratch.

2. Find a Champion

Even with a strong consensus built before a purchase, adoption rarely happens without one key leader spearheading the effort. While reps are naturally going to adopt the tools that benefit their selling behavior and drive results, getting initial support will often be seen as intrusive or needless. To prevent failed adoption, a champion can standardize use, prompt feedback and discussion, and check-in on the results continually. Once established, the tool can then rely on die-hard users and top performers to drive deep and lasting adoption.

3. Benchmark and Identify the Right Gaps

Since tools are designed to solve for gaps in your team’s abilities, identifying the right areas to fill is a great first step toward supporting adoption. Reps are more likely to use a tool that addresses a clear need, rather than one that adds complexity or a new step onto their workflows. By first sourcing the existing areas for improvement within the team, either by doing gap and market analysis or surveying the organization, the chances that day-to-day adoption will increase. The goal, after all, is to reduce complexity

And lastly, it pays to remember that 100% adoption of new technology is an unfair expectation. According to Accenture, nearly 40% of teams see less than 50% adoption of processes and tools.

How do you adopt new tools on your team?

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The Recipe for a World-Class Onboarding Program

Is your onboarding program setting your new sales reps up for success?

At 2015’s SiriusDecisions Summit, Sharon Little, Research Director, Sales Enablemen Strategies at SiriusDecisions, led a breakout session on the “Sales Onboarding Programs of the Year.” Pairing with top SiriusDecisions clients – Oracle Marketing Cloud, PTC, Zebra Technologies, and PrimePay – Sharon was able to not only identify classifications and goals across different approaches to onboarding, but also to reveal the top-line results that denote a “best in class” methodology.

Depending on your company’s trajectory, your approach and need may vary, but what SiriusDecisions found applies across the board. No matter the route or motivation for onboarding, a clear set of characteristics are shared by all of the “best-in-class” programs.

Among numerous unique case studies, Sharon revealed some of the traits that companies of any type should aspire toward in building their onboarding plan:

1. Begin onboarding before the start date

New reps often accept their offer, and then wait two or more weeks to enter into “boot camp.” With time for training already thin, getting reps into the basics of the company, role, and space before they walk into the door is crucial. Top onboarding programs use video-based tools to introduce new hires to the core of the business, meaning that they carry a point of view from day one. Even sharing a plan or brief outline can cut down the time to productivity. Yet, few companies are pioneering this space.

2. Blend different styles of learning

What is the most effective format for learning? As it turns out, a blended approach works best to cater to different learning styles.

SiriusDecisions found that best-in-class organizations blend Self-Study and Practice, eLearning, classroom instruction time, formal certification, field learning, and peer mentoring. PrimePay found using this multi-faceted approach that they could get 50% of new hires to close their first deal within the first two weeks.

3. Formalize and monitor the process

Onboarding needs a champion – not only does the process need day-to-day leadership to inspire and continue motivation, but it also needs someone to monitor the program and refine.

Onboarding also needs metrics, so that success and change can be tracked. The best-in-class organizations all leverage a basic set of metrics that track to ROI – time to productivity, win rate, sales cycle length, etc. – and use these to adjust the program as it matures. Tying impact of what’s learned with field performance is critical. Without an understanding of the levers that can be pulled and the expected results, it is hard to make meaningful changes to the program.

4. Leverage mentors and peers

What made PTC a best in class program was its foresight to pair new sales hires with experienced mentors from their future team. This not only built strong relationships within the sales team, but also gave each new hire a personal steward to drive training and answer questions.

The benefits of peer learning and mentoring are well known – CEB research suggests that peer-taught reps have an edge over their manager-led peers in closing business – but actually enabling peer mentoring can be challenging. PTC introduces mentors after their boot-camp, which they found creates the right set of expectations for an effective partnership.

5. Extend the process beyond the first three months

One of the classic breakpoints in onboarding is the time dedicated to learning: not enough. Top performers excel because they continue to independently seek out knowledge through their tenure, and encouraging continued learning over any rep’s tenure will spark the same benefits. Rather than losing sight of the learning after two weeks or 90 days, best in class organizations think about a year in the life.

Oracle Marketing Cloud has shown leadership in continuous onboarding, with a program that extends from day 1 through the first year. Reps move from boot camp and best practice exercises to accreditation, new product education, and even opportunities to mentor and train their peers. The results show: Oracle is able to move over 250 sales participants through product expertise training, while dropping time to productivity and boosting the average deal size.

What does your organization do that is “best in class”?

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