magazine | October 30, 2015
Fill Every Role on Your Team With an “A Player”: The Basics of Topgrading for Sales
If that doesn’t catch your attention, it should. But mis-hires can be reduced — if not avoided all together — if you follow the basic concepts outlined in my book, Topgrading for Sales, written with Bradford D. Smart.
This methodical approach teaches you to build an assessment and scorecard that assigns your salespeople to one of three categories: outperforming A players, average B players, and subpar C and lesser players.
To Topgrade, you must perform at least a 45-minute conversation with a former manager. Leveraging this information gives you significant power to increase your percentage of A players. Only 20 percent of the typical sales force comprises A players — the best-in-class performers. Another 60 percent are B players. The remaining 20 percent are C players or lower. By Topgrading, you can end up with 70 percent to 90 percent A players and 10 percent to 30 percent B players.
Imagine a sales force where 90 percent of your team is made up of A players who outperform the rest by two to three times in terms of revenue production. Your top-line growth would skyrocket.
The most difficult, yet most critical, challenge of Topgrading is getting the scorecard right for evaluating current talent. With every company and unique role, defining what an A player looks like is difficult.
You must create a methodology that scores job candidates according to key competencies. That requires writing penetrating interview questions that test for each category. The manager must also accurately distinguish between good and bad answers.
If you can build a good talent profile and effectively test candidates, Topgrading will improve hiring results and sales performance remarkably. But to truly Topgrade, you must go further.
During the hiring process, a typical non-Topgrading reference check calls the people supplied by the candidate and does little more than verify dates of employment. It’s essentially a fact-gathering exercise.
To Topgrade, you must perform a reference interview, consisting of at least a 45-minute conversation with a former manager. This allows you to dive deeply into the candidate’s background and performance. The reference interviews must be with former bosses — not people who might be considered friendly, such as former colleagues — to keep the information as unbiased as possible.
Since Topgrading for Sales came out in 2008, it’s become almost standard-operating procedure among forward-thinking, aggressive sales organizations. Less-aggressive, less-forward-thinking sales organizations adopt it far less frequently.
If you have to compete with tough competitors, or you would like to be able to, this is a best practice you can’t afford to be without.
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