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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