Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
April 11, 2017  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
NAW-You Can Drive Organic Sales Growth By Up to 25% – Distributors in the Digital Era #11

Middle-performing salespeople—not your top performers—are the key to driving untapped sales growth from a sales team.

Top performers set the standard for what is achievable by any team, and it is not uncommon to find that the average middle performer delivers results that are about 60% of what a top performer achieves. Most often, it is that middle performers cannot become top performers. If they could sell at that level, they already would. But, if you can move them, on average from 60% to 80% of top-performer results, you can grow sales by up to 25%. Most organizations would consider that level of growth to be a game changer.


I know this is possible for two reason. First, it’s math. If your salespeople fall on a continuum of high, middle, and bottom performers, and if their performance is something like a bell curve, then calculating your realizable growth is a matter of putting the numbers in formulas and determining the potential uplift.

This exhibit from our book, Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors, tells the tale. Your numbers may be different, but the opportunity for organic growth is something that can definitely be calculated, and once known, can serve as a goal or metric for your sales leaders to deliver.

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The second reason I know that a focus on middle performers can deliver dramatic growth is because I have seen it done. More than once. The path to success is about the head of sales taking the calculated potential growth goal as an objective, then putting in place a three-part plan to enable middle performers. The key steps of these plans include:

1. Identify new behaviors for middle performers to adopt

New growth requires new behaviors and it is your leadership’s responsibility to identify them. The required new behaviors can come from several sources. One is to look at the behaviors that make your top salespeople excel. Another is to identify the specific customers with your greatest growth potential, and then to define a sales strategy and process to drive growth. Still another is to look at all the behaviors of middle performers and identify those that do not lead to sales success. Sometimes, sales success is achieved by doing fewer non-productive behaviors and doing more behaviors that are proven to be winners. Once you have identified the new sales behaviors for middle performers, you are on your way.

2. Enable the growth with digital tools

This is where CRM can help, but be careful not to use it as an oversight tool. Instead, use CRM to help salespeople execute the behaviors in step #1. Properly deployed, CRM can help guide salespeople to do the right things at the right time in the right accounts. This is about using CRM as a pipeline tool build around your sales process to track progress and results. Used this way, CRM helps middle performers set priorities, follow the plan, report progress, and envision the compensation they will receive through sales incentives. Ultimately, success is an intrinsic reward and achieved success leads to personal fulfillment, recognition, participating in a high performance culture and competing as a team.

3. Adopt a disciplined coaching process executed by first-line sales managers

This step is critical. First-line managers are the fulcrum for driving change and improved results in any sales organization. It is their job to make sure that middle performers adopt the right behaviors, use CRM as a sales enablement tool, and achieve the targeted sales growth. The method for doing this requires adopting a rigorous and consistent coaching process.

This is sometimes easier said than done because sales managers are promoted from sales position on sale prowess, not managerial skills. They often tell salespeople to sell the way they sold. Coaching is the opposite. It’s about leading, not telling. There are coaching programs that can be adopted and applied; the key is to get sales managers to commit to the targeted growth number, to understand that success lies in their efforts, and to follow through with a sustained and disciplined commitment to achieving growth through sales coaching.


I know of a sales leader of a small team in a large company that applied this method to drive significant growth, almost entirely with resources that already existed. His success was noticed and he was promoted to lead a larger sales team. He applied the same process and achieved the same results, and was promoted again. Then, he did it again. Eventually, he led the entire company. This leader had a game plan that recognized that middle performers were the key to growth and that a disciplined process built around the three steps defined above would yield results. His success can be replicated in any sales team, at any distributor. Manage the middle to drive game-changing organic growth again and again.

For more ideas about how to improve sales performance with digital tools, read these other blog posts: How to Build an Industry-Leading Sales Channel and Digital Sales Builds on Inside Sales Expertise.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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