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Love your Underperformers

May 21, 2015

Written by: Dave Smith
(View Author Bio)

How to find value in the bottom 20% of your sales force

Help and motivate people to perform better BI WORLDWIDE Latin America.


At BI WORLDWIDE, we use the principles of behavioral economics to create the best engagement strategies on the planet. We work with expert academics who advise us on the latest research on human behavior, engagement and decision-making. We use non-cash rewards and recognition to engage and motivate employees and sales teams. Check out our case study library to see how our customized and results-driven solutions have helped clients all over the world.

Poor performers. Losers. Bottom feeders.

Every company has a derogatory term to describe sales people who are in the bottom 20th percentile. Some sales managers openly deride and ridicule their team members who are not meeting expectations.

The human condition responds to motivational “sticks” like ridicule and mockery but only in very short-term bursts. If what you’re looking for is commitment and improvement, try carrots. If what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you’re focused on the wrong carrot. What does a sales manager do with reps who are underperforming?

 Goals Are Carrots

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Why would management let someone in the lowest 20% of the sales organization (who isn’t even close to approaching quota) pick their own goals? As crazy at it sounds, this is what was practiced by the eight companies whose sales data is included in the chart in the left (download file to see the chart). For these firms focused on increasing revenues from their outside sales reps, we split each sales organization into five equal segments, or quintiles. This allowed us to measure them separately and use relevant goals for each group. Our analysis included Fortune 1000 firms in telco, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and medical devices.

 Each ran a “select-your-own-goal” sales incentive for 90 days with payouts indexed to participants’ salaries. As expected, the top performers performed well. They had the highest incremental gain in real dollars. However, the rate of the lowest performers – Quintile 5 – was double (31.7%) that of the top performers (17.9%) and the gain in real dollars exceeded that of Quintiles 4, 3 and 2.

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Dave Smith

Dave Smith

GoalQuest Product Director

Dave has over 40 years of experience in sales, marketing, product management and incentive program design. Over the past 12 years, Dave has designed and implemented over 650 GoalQuest incentive programs with Fortune 500 companies. Dave has also written whitepapers and booklets on topics surrounding growing salesforce results through high-performance incentive program design.