This post is focused on trimming the bottom of the bell curve, perhaps in a much different way than you think.

In this line of work, I run into many turtles on fence posts. If you have never heard the expression, it refers to a management fable that goes like this:


Sales ProductivityWhen you walk down the road and see a turtle propped-up on a fence post you can conclude: a)  he probably didn’t get there by himself, b) he certainly doesn’t belong there c) he is not able to function in his current state and finally (and most importantly) d) the person that put him there is probably the one that is incompetent. 



SBI has a significant library of information on sourcing, screening, onboarding, incentivizing, managing, and developing the best sales and marketing talent available. This post is focused on trimming the bottom of the bell curve; perhaps in a much different way than you think.


First, get your turtles off their fence posts when you see them (typically by terminations) but understand that this alone won’t help you make your number quarter after quarter or year after year. What are the causes of your turtles? Here are four common reasons:


  • Your hiring executive doesn’t know how to attract and retain talent.
  • Your Sales or Marketing leader can’t attract A players.
  • The pressure to fill a territory or a position outweighs good judgement.
  • There is a lack of objective criteria to evaluate your talent.


Know how: As businesses scale it becomes increasingly difficult to find those that “fit” without spending the time and effort to set new standards. With the right fit, you can just about screw-up everything else and still figure out a way to succeed; fail and you will have many sleepless nights. Below are three things to ask the turtle’s manager:



If the answer to all three of these tests are “clueless” then there is a good chance the executive is the real turtle and it is time to evaluate the next level up.


When they can’t attract A-player talent: Most are familiar with the Steve Jobs quote: “A players hire A players; B players hire C players.” Again, find a turtle and you have evidence of a B-C player executive.


Runners hang out with runners, smokers befriend other smokers, and great sales and marketing talent attract great sales and marketing talent. Don’t expect to see significant improvement in revenue increases until your candidates see themselves thriving under their leaders. 


“Can’t do” issues are clear-cut; there are no workarounds. Replace that executive.


When the pressure is too great: I worked for a semi-successful company who had the not-so-bright idea to use a system of incentives and penalties if there were open territories in a region. The net effect was to fill territories all over the company with mediocrity, (MBOs were too lucrative for many executives to pass up). In other cases, a manager may feel that “just having someone in that role” will reduce the temporary chaos. Desperation new hires nearly always fail and create even greater chaos in the organization.


When the Turtle thinks it’s doing great: We have all worked with someone who creates their own paradigm for success. Sales and Marketing is about generating revenue; everyone can agree to that. Beyond that things can get twisted. Here is a look at some Turtles I have met along the way:


  • A 3rd year rep that believed his high-activity results were more important than his 50% quota attainment.
  • A 10-year marketing manager who produced libraries of case studies that were rarely used in the field because they lacked tangible results and were overly generic.
  • A 5th-year VP of Sales Ops that produced incredibly detailed SFDC dashboards but caused the field sales team to sacrifice significant selling time to populate.
  • An Event Marketing manager that produced a spectacular SKO filled with entertainment and parties and the only tangible result was “a new spirit of cooperation” but no new learning.


Summary:  a “Turtle” is evidence there is an issue with the next level up. Terminate (or reassign) Turtles, but know you have only treated the symptoms of the disease. The same symptoms, and soon different symptoms, will plague your ability to make your number until you invest time into critically assessing, training, and managing your sales leaders. For assistance in training your A players, maximizing your sales team’s potential, and dealing with turtles, download the Voice of the ‘A’Player tool.



Additional Resources


If you would like to participate in a custom workshop focused on compensation plan design, bring your team to engage with a hand-picked team of experts in Dallas at The Studio , SBI’s executive briefing center. 


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Thank you to Greater Portland Baptist Church’s blog article by : Turtle on a Fence Post – 35 Years of Reflection at GPBC