“I only want a team of A-players!” says every Head of Sales and CEO. Unfortunately, having an entire team of A-players is rarely, if ever, the case for a specific team or organization. “Why?” You may ask. Well, for a few reasons:
- The simple fact that past performance doesn’t automatically lead to future performance
- How someone conducts themselves in the interview (confidence, polished rhetoric, maturity, etc.) doesn’t reflect how they’ll actually act once they’re hired
- People, unfortunately, aren’t predictable. We, as humans, are mercurial, volatile and often inconsistent.
So, if no team is purely made out of A-players, then surely there are B, C, D, E F G and ad infinitum levels of players. But, you can slice a cake any which way you want. For simplicity and sanity’s sake, let’s say there are only three types of players on your team: A-players, B-players and C-players. Before we get to how to manage the three (hint: they’re all managed differently), let’s define them.
Defining your Players
When I used to bring up the concept of A, B and C-players to candidates or recently hired salespeople, I’d say the following: “C-players miss their numbers often. B-players hit their numbers more often than not, but miss once in a while. The question of, ‘Will I hit my number?’ never occurs to an A-player. They’re more concerned about how early they’ll hit and by how much they’ll surpass their number.”
Now, that quick and dirty definition is all fine and well if you’re looking to motivate and inspire people with typical sales bravado, but it’s not good enough; it’s too qualitative. In order to build any scalable system, there needs to be a healthy balance between qualitative and quantitative data.
The easiest way to classify your reps is based on performance (quantitative) and non-performance related (qualitative) data.
Note: Before getting to examples, it’s very important to note that how you break out your reps into A, B and C-players depends on how much weight you ascribe to performance versus non-performance related items. For example, in my previous place of employment, we placed an emphasis on non-performance related items more than performance-related. In other words, if you were top closer but also most disrespectful, you’d be more likely to being out the door than an average closer who does all they can to positively impact the team and overall company. I’ve expressed this in a screenshot of FakeCorp, Inc.’s SDR team below the examples.
Examples of performance and non-performance related items below:
- % of quarterly goal achieved
- Conversion rates
- SDRs: Lead to SQL, SQL to deal, Calls / Emails to SQLs, Meetings to no-shows
- AEs: SQL to deal, meetings to disqualifications, % of deals lost, % of no-pays, % of churned deals
Note: With performance data, it’s best to look quarterly. Month-to-month creates a level of unnecessary pressure and while a rep could have a horrible January, they could set themselves up for a monster March.
- Non-performance related
- How often a rep offers to help newer reps
- The extent to which a rep can take, and implement, feedback
- Which reps step up to own a new project / share knowledge
- Who looks to leave once the clock hits 5/6pm (staying longer doesn’t equate better rep, but a manager should be able to distinguish who’s efficient vs. who just wants to leave or, conversely, stay for facetime)
- General respect for other employees
- Ability to take ownership and responsibility vs. blaming leads, manager, season, etc. (list is endless)
- How often a rep needs to be disciplined for not following the rules
The list of non-performance related items can go on and on. Despite being qualitative, it’s still data and should be treated as such. Meaning, managers document both good and bad non-performance related behavior (quick Google Doc or Evernote is perfect for this) and cite to reps when necessary.
How to Manage Them
A-players are your all-stars. They consistently perform, both in numbers and in ways that move the organization forward. They typically move quickly and are encouraged by success, positive words of affirmation (albeit, some couldn’t care less for them) and more often than not like making a nice commission check. The best way to manage them is by doing the following:
- Establish career “pathing” that makes sense. Make sure there’s a clearly laid out career path for them within your organization. If not, they’ll either become de-motivated, plateau or decline in performance.
- Acknowledge their performance. People no longer just bust their asses for a paycheck. There’s a human side to sales and the human needs to be recognized. Buy them lunch, bring them and other top-performers out on an excursion or just give them props in a company email. It’s the little things that count.
- Get out of their way. Being an A-player doesn’t mean they know it all. And, if the rep is self-aware, they’ll know this. This means that managers need to trust them to get the job done and ask for help if and whenever they need it while also checking in every once in awhile to make sure all is well.
- Give them projects / opportunities for learning. A-players want to move up. Whether that means becoming a manager, AE or some other role, they are goal-oriented. Provide them with opportunities to formally step up (e.g. projects, mentorship, trainings, etc.) and learn. If your top reps aren’t learning, they’re leaving.
B-players are necessary! Yes, read that again. They’re necessary. Not every rep is going to be knocking their numbers out of the park, each month, and the chunk of reps who are good, albeit not great, performers need to also be recognized and motivated. The need for this became so apparent in my last role that I needed to think long and hard about B-players. The best way to manage them is by doing the following:
- Give them the coaching they need. The best thing about B-players is that they can be turned into A-players. The worst thing about B-players is that they can be turned into C-players. This means that while part of the responsibility falls on them, much of it falls on their manager. Identify where they’re lacking and help make them better.
- Recognize them. In many organizations, A-players (yes, as I said above, they need to also be recognized) get all of the glory. When you have ten reps and everyone only hears two or three of the same names over and over again, people begin to feel devalued. If they feel devalued, they are demotivated. When they’re de-motivated, they hurt the company and themselves. Counteract this by recognizing and giving some of the glory to B-players who deserve it.
- Bring focus to their days. Unlike with A-players, make it clear that they’re not allowed to do any extra projects, trainings, etc. (unless this is where they’re lacking) until they earn the right to do so. What’s great about reps, especially younger ones, is that they want to do it all. What’s not so great about reps, especially younger ones, is that they want to do it all.
Ah, the C-player. For one reason or another, it’s not working out. But, that doesn’t mean they need to go (yet). Some C-players are unaware they’re C-players; some think their A-players because of their quarterly performance but are actually C-players because of behavior. Others feel it on every call they hop on, in every meeting they have to speak in and when they see their name on the board. The best way to manage them is by doing the following:
- Make their performance (or lack thereof) known. If a rep isn’t performing, they need to know it. It should never be a surprise. This means that managers need to communicate this, formally, in a meeting. And, in some cases, via email so that the company and rep has it in writing if they’re going on a Performance Improvement Plan (PiP). Also so that no one party is at fault or liable for any termination (legal stuff, etc. etc.).
- Give them the coaching they need. This is where you manage a C-player like a B-player. The simple fact is that their lack of performance (whether in numbers, behavior, etc.) is a reflection of their manager. This means that managers need to give them the coaching they need in order to work their way out of the trenches of the Cs and up to the Bs and, hopefully, As. I’ve seen a handful of C-players, with the right coaching, encouragement and guidance, become A-players.
- Let them go. If a manager has done all she / he can to communicate the rep’s lack of performance to them, work with them (in a defined time period e.g. 30, 60 days) to improve and the rep has not improved, the best way to manage them is by ceasing to do so. Keeping them around is not only hurting the organization, but also them. Letting them go will let your team know that you value those who work hard and positively contribute to the organization’s success, as well as let the rep know that at the end of the day, they need to perform (again, could be numbers-wise or not). In some cases, if a rep performs well numbers-wise, but has serious infractions behaviorally, I’d give them a one-strike policy.
Calling a rep an A, B or C-player doesn’t mean their status is set in stone. They can move throughout the rankings for better or for worse. The best thing to do to make your team A-player heavy is to ensure that managers are doing everything in their power to make everyone an A-player with the knowledge that not everyone will inevitably be one. Different players require different types of managing in order to make them successful, which is what everyone wants at the end of the day.
Solid tactical advice, Mateo. Bookmarking this for future playbook. Of course, we would love to have all A’s, but is there a general rule of thumb in terms of % of A, B, and C players for startup sales teams?
Miles, it’s all relative. Obviously, the more As the better, but as long as you have more As than Cs and a healthy pipeline of Bs to mold into As, you’re in a good place. The issue is when your % of Cs begins to become bloated.