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Do you ever wonder why your sales teams always seem to have so few ‘star’ performers?

All Your Salespeople Are Stars, Right?

If you manage a sales team then you no doubt have a small percentage of ‘stars’ – the top producers who deliver dramatically more than anyone else on the team, right?

At the other end of the spectrum you have  a small percentage (hopefully)  of people who are the polar opposite of your stars.  These ‘bottom performers’ distinguish themselves only by the fact that they produce so much less than anyone else on the team.

Then, finally, you’ve got a large group in the middle who are, well, average – neither producing as much as your stars or as little as the folks at the other extreme.  These people in the middle are good enough that you’d be upset to lose one of them, but not good enough that they ever really have the same impact on your business as your stars.

If this sounds anything like your team (and if you do the numbers honestly you’ll find it does!) then don’t worry: it’s not unusual.

In every one of the dozens of sales teams whose performance I have analyzed over the years there is this same distribution of performance – there are always ‘stars’, ‘average’ and ‘bottom’ performers.

The Research on Sales Performance

In one of the largest studies ever undertaken on this sort of distribution of performance two researchers , Hunter & Schmidt, found that job performance and productivity tended to be distributed pretty much according to what the statisticians called a ‘normal distribution’ – with about 16% of people in jobs being ‘bottom performers’, 64% of them being ‘average performers’ and a sad 16% being ‘stars’ or ‘top performers’ (Pareto wasn’t far wrong!).  I say it’s ‘sad’ because the same research says that there are enormous gaps between what these three classes of performers produce for the people who pay their bills.

Hunter & Schmidt talk about three classes of jobs – ‘unskilled’, ‘semi-skilled’ and ‘professional’.  As a professional salesperson who understands what the profession demands I cannot think of salespeople as ‘unskilled’.  Nor are they ‘professional’ in the sense that Hunter & Schmidt meant.  I think of salespeople as fitting into the category they call ‘semi-skilled’ – with no offence whatever intended to my fellow professional salespeople.

What This Costs You in Sales Performance

What’s really striking from their research is the gaps between what these levels of people produce:

  • ‘Average’ producers produce 32% more than bottom producer
  • ‘Top’ performers (your stars) produce 32 % more than the average producers.

So, if you have a team of just six sales people then one member of that team, your star, is producing 64% more than another – your bottom producer (please – for those of you who are mathematical: I know the gap is actually larger – I want to keep this as digestible as possible!).

Here’s the point: on the two separate days you hired those two people did you think: “well, today I’ll hire a star who’ll be a great producer” and on another: “today I’ll hire an underperformer”?  No, of course not.  When you shook their hands and welcomed them onboard you were convinced that both were going to be the best possible hires – both would be stars.  It was the same when you hired your other four team members – you made the best decision you could on the day to identify and hire someone whom you believed would become a top performer for your team.  But something went wrong – and you ended up with the classic 16% – 68% – 16% mix, or something close to it.

Did you ever ask yourself why?  Why do some of your people perform better than others?  Or more to the point – have you ever asked what can you do about it?

In the next few post in this short series I’ll talk about what went wrong.

In the post after that I’ll talk about what you can do about it.

In the meantime I have agreed with my team at Profiles International that they will help you to estimate what this uneven performance is costing your organization.

For the first 10 respondents who drop me a line using the contact form below I’ll undertake to do a detailed analysis of your sales team (a 5-6 page report on your team – here’s a sample report that shows you what those results would look like).

This analysis will tell you precisely how much this issue is currently costing you – and will show you precisely how much you could add to your sales results by addressing the issue.


  • Craig

    Excellent post as always and a great topic.