How To Handle Your High-Performing Rural Sales Reps According To Research

 In Rural Marketing, Rural Sales

SouthWest Airlines some years ago decided it was better to focus on their happier 5, 6 and 7 ranked customers rather than their unhappier 1, 2 and 3 ranked customers.

Research showed them that a ‘4’ customer only spent $800, whereas a ‘7’ customer spent $2,200.

The happier the customer, the more money they spent. So it made sense to elevate the positives rather than eliminate the negatives as the Heath brothers explained in their brilliant book The Power of Moments

By focussing on the positives ie. making a 4 customer a 7 customer, rather than making a 1 customer a 3 customer, they made 9x more money.

Until they’d done this research, SouthWest airlines had spent 80% of their budget trying to fix their 1, 2 and 3 customers because they, and us, always think the bad stuff is the thing we need to fix first.

The reality is some customers will never be happy customers so it’s best you let them go, and focus your efforts elsewhere.

Some suggest you should be firing your bottom 15% of customers on a per annum basis to free up resources to focus on the customers that matter more.

Sound advice in my book. They drag you down like an anchor so cut them off as quickly as you can.

The same principle applies to your rural sales team.

  • Have you found yourself disproportionately focussing your scarce time, energy and management on your lowest sales performers whilst running the risk of alienating or ignoring your highest sales performers?
  • Have you considered the risk of focussing on the lowest performers vs the risk of your highest performers leaving? What would your calculations show you?

Too often, we see exactly the same thing happen as it did at SouthWest.

We are often brought in to “fix” the lowest sale performers. Clients think this is where they will get their biggest bang for buck.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

You must always focus on your highest sales performers first because they are the ones that earn you the most money.

Some low performers can be fixed but it can take a lot of time to get them to peak performance. Much better to focus on your middle and upper tier that have the potential to kick on to higher honours. 

We also know this because US Department of Labour data shows that only 46% of people ever intended to go into sales. That makes for a majority of very reluctant sales people!

Your job is to weed out those that have potential, from those that don’t.

For those that do have the potential and can perform at a higher level, here are some tools you can use to keep them on your team and keep them engaged:

1. Give them responsibility before they are ready

High performers thrive on recognition. They love a challenge and are always eager to show people what they’re made of. They’re always up for a challenge to grow themselves professionally because they always want to be better.  

One of the easiest things you can do is create your own SLT (Senior Leadership Team) that sits below the Management Team.

Clearly communicate what responsibilities you want them to fulfil, the tasks or problems you need them to solve and then leave them to it.

You’ll be surprised by what they come back with. And they’ll become another asset for you in the process. 

2. Give them special assignments

This signals their worth to them and their peers. This signalling is vitally important to them as competitive, striving professionals.

Giving them valuable projects demonstrates you value them.

3. Play favourites

No one rural rep is equal. There is always a hierarchy and always an alpha male/female amongst the pack.

You have to have favourites. This will create the constructive “co-opetition” you need.

Publicly praise those who are performing to a high level showing others what you expect. Doing this will pull the others up.

Reward them with a day off or a dinner date with their partner where you pick up the bill.

Clearly communicate that high performance is rewarded and recognised and poor performance isn’t.

4. Don’t tolerate poor performers

This is the quickest, fastest and surest way to make your high performing sales reps leave you.

As a high performer I always hated management tolerating poor performers that I felt I was carrying or worse subsidising.  

You get what you tolerate in this life. Do not tolerate poor performance. 

5. Design the right environment

Environmental design as a holistic concept. Think of the All Blacks. Every new recruit always comments on the special “environment” they experience.

  • What ways could you create the peak environment for your ‘high fliers’ to perform at their very best?
  • What tools and training could you expose them to?
  • Who could you bring from outside to mentor them?
  • What could you learn from industries outside your own?

Culture is another word for environment. What will you do to create a winning culture that people can strive and thrive in? What latitude will you allow?

The famous Netflix Culture PPT that did about 1.5m download rounds in Silicon Valley said it all:

“The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets promoted, rewarded or let go.”

For a company whose share price has risen by 34,340% over the last 18 years, I’d listen to them.

Take the time to work out what makes your higher and highest sales performers tick. Talk to them, ask them what they need and want and get feedback on the debris and distractions you need to clear out of the way as management. 

You will be paid handsomely when you do.

9x more to be precise.

What methods do you use to successfully manage your highest performing sales reps?

What tools and techniques do you use?

What have we missed from this list?

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