Build a Better Sales
Focus on Your “First String”
By Nathan Jamail
companies look for ways to increase sales. This year is no
different, only with today’s economy, the answers seem to be harder
to find. One sure way to increase your sales: focus on your first
string. This concept of focusing on your first string is very
simple in theory, but it is not easy to execute. Much like great
coaching of great sports teams, it takes a long commitment to make
the team better by challenging the best players and working with
them to improve constantly.
New England Patriots football team or the Orlando Magic basketball
team practices, does the coach spend the week before the game
working with the third string players, or does he focus on working
with the first string players? Answer: the first string players, of
course, because they are the ones who are ultimately going to win
the game. They score the most points and usually play the most
amount of time. The coach spends a lot of time with them because
they are good enough to merit his attention. The coach’s focus on
the first string players sets a positive goal for all the players to
strive for. If the third string players want his attention, they
have to work for it! If the first string players want to keep their
coach’s attention, they have to work hard to stay the best! In sum,
this program requires every player to desire and pursue excellence.
the norm is the exact opposite. Many companies have a culture in
which managers leave the top performers alone and focus on the
bottom performers. It is very common to hear a sales manager or
leader say, “ Oh, Bob is one of my top guys, so I leave him alone
and let him do his job.” Wow, what a mistake! Another organization
that understands a different philosophy will eventually approach Bob
and inform him that he is being robbed. Bob will be told he is
investing all his time and energy in the company, but the company is
not investing in him by coaching him and helping him to develop.
Bob will thus be wooed over to a new company. Companies with
leaders who ignore to their top performers will soon lose them.
Even worse, the company’s culture is one that says if the manager is
working with an employee on a regular basis, then that person must
be a low performer. The leader’s involvement with an employee is
viewed as a negative. The leader is a manager and not a coach. It
is difficult to coach a person if the person feels that the leader
thinks he or she is there to manage poor performance. It’s like
rewarding your kids with attention only when they are bad.
How do you
fix this disordered culture?
Make the commitment. All leaders want to create a culture where
winning and being the best is the goal, and to do that all players
have to want to be on the first string. A leader needs to create a
culture that dedicates all of their coaching efforts to the top
performers and those who are willing to do what it takes to become a
top performer. Fight the tendency to leave the top performers alone
because you normally focus on the weak. A leader must commit to
coaching the top performers or committed performers and manage the
bottom performers up or out.
Spend your time with the top performers, conducting ride days and
practicing role-plays with them. Your goal is to help make them
better every month. The leader must let the team know that she or
he plays favorites; if team members are successful and doing the
right things, the leader will spend time with them, and the others
will have limited coaching. Once this is done, leaders will find
their top performers will improve dramatically, and will find their
jobs more satisfying. The bottom performers will ask the leader
what it takes to become a top performer, and they will do what it
takes, or they will find another team. Neither one of those options
is a bad thing for the organization or the person. This might sound
cold at first, but it’s not. Think about a person who is struggling
at his job: he knows it and he usually has very low job
satisfaction. A leader’s job is not to ignore the bottom
performers, but instead to move them up or out. A leader who
tolerates poor performance is a leader who will always have a
struggling team and disappointed top performers.
companies find internal competition to be bad because some of the
lower producing sales people get their feelings hurt, so they stop
recognizing the top performers or stop conducting contests in
general. This is another instance of sacrificing the top performers
to satisfy the bottom performers. In sales, just like in life, it
takes skill, talent and discipline to be successful. When a
salesperson does a great job and delivers great results, he or she
should be recognized. Kids love to be recognized and feel
appreciated, and professional adults are no different. Remember:
when a leader tries to recognize everybody equally in order to be
fair, his blanket recognition devalues the recognition for the ones
who deserves it most. Winning is important, so do it.
is in the numbers. Let’s look at this example: a sales leader has
five sales reps. The top two reps generate $100 each while the
bottom two sales reps generate $50 each. If the leader works with
the top reps and they improve by 20 percent, then the revenue is
increased by $40. If the sales leader works with the bottom reps
and they improve 20 percent, then the revenue is increased by $20.
It is obvious where a leader should spend time. Successful sales
leadership comes from focusing on the program or process that gives
the greatest return on investment, much like successful retirement
plans, marketing efforts and finances.
don’t spend time with your first string and invest in their success
as much as they invest in the organization, someone else will.
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