How to Eliminate the Effect of the 80/20 Rule on your Sales Force

Today I spent an hour on the phone with Jeff Angus, author of Management by Baseball and a Blog by the same name. What a fun call that was! In addition to being a management consultant, Jeff is a sabermatician. Cool. So I shared some Kurlanian statistics with him.

Since 1990, my company, Objective Management Group, Inc., has evaluated more than 250,000 salespeople and 7,500 sales forces. We have all kinds of statistics on salespeople, sales performance and sales trends. When we attempted to correlate the sales effectiveness of those 250,000 salespeople to the accepted bell curve, instead of getting a top 20%, a bottom 20% and a middle 60%, we found an elite 6%, a group that was part of the top 26%, and everyone else, an enormous bottom of 74%. When I shared this with Jeff, he told me how consistent that is with his statistics about bell curves in general. He told me that in most cases, bell curves do not reflect reality. Wow, our statistics line up with Angus’ Law of Distribution!

Getting back to the statistics, why don’t most managers recognize the bottom group’s feeble attempts at success? They do – whenever the economy tanks – however, given today’s strong business climate, orders are coming in and if those weak salespeople have learned one thing, it’s how to take orders and grow existing accounts. So we’re talking about account managers masquerading as sales producers and the numbers masking the reality of their performance.

I mined the data some more. Were there many new salespeople in that bottom group? No. Mostly veterans. Were they working for companies where they wouldn’t have access to training? No. Plenty of training, coaching, mentoring. Plenty of books, CD’s and videos. Were many of them new to their industry? No again. Were many of them appointed to non-hunting roles? No, they were expected to hunt for new business. So why are so many so very weak? Tough question.

The sales experts of the last 30 years designed systems, processes, methodologies and curriculums that were quite sophisticated and complex. They consisted of contradicting multiple steps that most salespeople failed to remember and understand. Compounding the problem, the experts made it difficult for salespeople, left to their own devices, to apply these methods to their businesses. So with inconsistent direction, incorrectly applied methods and seldom practiced approaches, they set out every day, prepared more for failure than success. This prompted me to write Baseline Selling – How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball. Jeff Angus and I have a truly unique connection in that we’re the only two authors I know about that wrote entire books using baseball as the metaphor for business.

So what’s a management executive to do? First, take the 80/20 Rule. My version of that rule states that 80% of your sales force will suck. Obliterate it. Erase it. Forget it. Stop following that rule now!

Second, replace the 80/20 rule with Kurlan’s 100/0 Rule which states that all of your salespeople will be overachievers. You certainly won’t get that kind of performance until you have that rule in place.

Next, evaluate your sales force to determine which of your salespeople can become overachievers and what it will take for them to accomplish that.

Then, hire overachievers, using a best practices sales recruiting process and an accurate assessment to predict whether the candidates will succeed in a sales position in your business.

Finally, hold everyone accountable to these loftier expectations.

Thank you Jeff for a delightful conversation and an idea for today’s topic.