Beware Your Top Performing Sales People!

By Peter Helft, KONA Group, Victoria

Everywhere I go companies talk about the 80/20 rule. Most companies know that they are too dependent on just a handful of clients for the bulk of their revenue. Your competitors are yapping at your heels (usually on price), and if those clients walk you’re in trouble. Sound familiar?

I also usually discover that this small group of incredibly important clients is attached to an even smaller group of sales people! In small to medium businesses that’s often only one person.

While I completely advocate that your top sales people need to be looked after as they’re very important to your business, it is worth acknowledging, however, that your “number one” sales people can come with all sorts of challenges.

First, they carry the relationship with the major clients, right? And it’s them that the clients are buying, right? If you were to lose that staff member you’ll sure as night follows day lose the client as well, so you put up with their “eccentricities”, right?


One observation: these “most important people” in an organisation tend to build “brick walls of fear” around themselves. They tell you things like “I don’t need to report because my results speak for themself”; “I don’t need to go to a training session – look at my revenue”; “I’ve been doing this a long time and I know what I’m doing”; “I get job offers from our competitors all the time”.

You may also find that sometimes your “top” performers seem to make your service delivery harder than it needs to be. Their stuff is always going wrong! You can be sure they’re blaming the business for any issues that may arise.

Now I’m not suggesting that your top sales people are bad and you should get rid of them. However our experience has proven that that closer scrutiny of their activities would give you real opportunity to grow your revenue as well as improve the skills of the particular staff member.

But it’s like walking on egg shells isn’t it? How do you move in to an environment where you can start to check what’s going on with your top staff and major customers?

Firstly you need to continue to support and nurture your staff. You should also discuss their careers, ambitions and personal growth with them. Most people want to go higher and get new skills – even if it’s just so they can earn more.

In many cases there are products or services that your major customers could buy from you but don’t. You’ve been given many reasons why they don’t and pushing the point is tricky. An idea of a way through this is to offer your top sellers some help. What about an independent audit of the client’s needs conducted by the sales person along with you there manager or an external “consultant”? Call it a client business review – a logical and acceptable thing to do with a major customer (and something the customer will welcome). Visits to the client by both people will give you a good view of both your client’s, and the sales person’s needs and behaviour.

Once you have that knowledge you can add some further incentive (perhaps for both sales person and client) for growth achieved from particular areas. With it can come some ongoing coaching or training to help that person in those particular areas of need that the audit may uncover.

In addition, how are your managers and sales people measuring their relationships with their clients? If it is on gut feel and revenue then this is only 30% of the relationship.

If they don’t have an ‘Interlocking’ strategy or a ‘Brickwalling’ Process in place then your top accounts could be vulnerable!!

Each case is different and yet I will guarantee that there is growth opportunity within your top clients that is currently not being achieved through either a lack of ‘Interlocking activity’ or particular sales/attitude skills.

At KONA we love to talk about these things and to find specific and tailored ways of working through challenges like this to get you revenue growth and happy, open staff that stay for the long haul.