A powerful myth is at work in the sales field today: the Myth of Sameness. This myth says that all the people in the sales force are about the same. They have the same skills, knowledge, motivations, and desires as each other, and they function as a monolith.
According to the Myth of Sameness, any difference in sales results is assumed to be because someone works harder, is more motivated, or follows orders more closely or sometimes because one performer has a “better” personality than his or her colleagues. The Myth of Sameness is a powerful force, but it’s dangerous and it’s wrong!
An analytical look at most sales organizations shows a lack of sameness. In fact, the performance of the people in most sales organizations is distributed across a spectrum that typically takes the form of a normal distribution curve.
Some performers are doing great. We’ll call them the top performers. Some are barely meeting the minimum expectations to stay in the organization. And the great majority are clustered in the average or good performance range.
It is important to understand the size of the gap between the top and average performers. This is where the Myth of Sameness starts to breaks down.
Though sales leaders have a general sense that their top and average people are different, few have stopped to put numbers on those differences. Fewer still have analyzed the numbers to determine the real cost to the organization. Beginning with McKinsey’s talent studies in 1997 and in 2001 and continuing through our own work there are discernable differences that point to a huge performance gap between the best (A) and average (B) performers:
A 2001 study by McKinsey, which formed the basis for the book, entitled “The War for Talent” shows:
- A players on average grew revenue by nearly 50 percent.
- B players showed little or no ability to grow revenue.
This type of data is consistent in our work with sales teams across various industries. To put it bluntly, A players drive the organization, C players hurt the organization, and B players, despite their best efforts, are just along for the ride. So the old adage that a sales organization should routinely get rid of the bottom performers is true. But a new and much more impactful motto is that organizations must move B performers up to A-level performance if they want to see any meaningful positive impact.
Even when recognized, this type of disparity often results in Band-Aid fixes, or worse yet, the gap between top and average performers is just accepted as the status quo. Instead, the situation requires focused action to close that performance gap.
Questions to consider
- What is the performance distribution of your sales force?
- How much time and energy are you devoting to improving the performance of your average or good salespeople?