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Powering Up Your Middle Performers’ Sales Results

Unlock the potential of your middle performers by utilising tailored goal setting techniques and tangible rewards. Improve sales results and achieve top-line growth.

It has been well established that success in sales is dependent upon the performance of the entire sales team, and not just the top tier of performers.

However, despite making up around two-thirds of a typical sales team, middle performers are often neglected. Managers often have the misconception that those in the middle have maxed out their talent, as evident in a study where only 26% of leaders reported themselves as proficient in developing middle performers. 

In contrast, most tend to focus on top performers, who are often seen as the driving force behind a company's success. They may also be trying to address the needs of low performers, who are at risk of underperforming or being let go.

Research by BI WORLDWIDE has found that the top 10% to 20% of a sales team, who are the typical recipients of sales awards, only generate 35% to 40% of incremental performance. This means that engaging the next 60%—our middle performers—is critical for top-line growth.

Why the middle often stays stagnant

Middle performers are employees who meet expectations but do not necessarily excel in their roles. Generally speaking, these are employees who know their stuff: script, product and process to close the sale.

Yet, what separates them from the cream of the crop can be a combination of different limiting factors.

A lack of recognition and feedback—typically reserved for outstanding sales reps—could lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and a lack of engagement in the middle.

There are also usually limited opportunities for growth and development for middle performers, as managers often focus on providing resources and support towards reps at both ends of the spectrum.

Poorly designed sales contests and incentives are also a key factor for mediocre performance in the middle . A common pitfall for sales managers when designing programmes and incentives is to do so only with top performers in mind. 

While managers desire for all their salespeople to reach the level of their top performers, it is counterproductive to benchmark every sales rep against the very best. 

Middle performers might take a look at unattainable incentives and feel frustrated, since the sales targets will likely be out of reach for most except the top sellers. This can lead to them feeling unmotivated and undervalued, which can end in disengagement and even quiet quitting.

How to address these issues with behavioural economics

The key to successfully motivating your middle performers is to first understand what drives them, by applying techniques from behavioural economics.

Here is where the notion of idiosyncratic fit comes into play. It refers to the extent to which an individual's characteristics, such as values, motivations, and abilities, align with the requirements and expectations of their job or role.

Thus, when designing sales contests and incentives, it is critical to tailor the targets to each employee—especially in the middle. 

Applying the idiosyncratic fit here is critical because it significantly affects their potential results. If the goals and incentives offered do not align with the individual's characteristics, motivations, and abilities, they may not be as motivated to achieve them.

Help your salespeople set realistic sales targets

Using a sales performance solution such as BI WORLDWIDE’s SalesMaker can help incentivise middle performers to hit their sales targets by providing a powerful combination of goal setting and tangible rewards.

GoalQuest, a goal-setting module within SalesMaker, allows eligible participants to self-select a goal tailored to the group, which creates a level playing field of opportunity with higher goal levels offering greater potential rewards. 

Using GoalQuest, sales managers can also view ROI estimates and forecast incremental lift even before implementation, allowing them to evaluate the expected impact of the program and make adjustments if necessary.

In tandem with an employee rewards platform, this allows middle performers to set ambitious but achievable goals for themselves and strive for them, with the incentive of earning rewards for achieving them.

Unleash the potential of the Mighty Middle

Moving the middle is much more effective than trying to squeeze more out of your top performers or trying to motivate the lowest performers.

A Harvard Business Review article confirmed that managers often see larger payoffs when focusing on improving the middle performers than compared to the weakest or the strongest ones.

It's important to note that middle performers can often have the potential to become top performers with the right development, resources and support. In addition to applying goal-setting techniques that are backed by behavioural economics, providing adequate support to the middle performers can help bridge that gap.

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