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How to drive performance and revenue through coaching: “Move the middle”

November 16, 2022
Christine Dzou

Christine Dzou

Selling Skills

Every sales team is the same.

(Well, sort of.)

Sales leaders and managers serve as coaches to help close deals.

They coach all sales reps (some top performers, some bottom performers, and a whole bunch of “in the middle” performers) with the ultimate goal of exceeding goals and blowing targets out of the water. 

Your organization’s sales performance curve likely looks something like this: 

moving the middle

If you zoom in on rep performance, you have:

  • 20% of your team underperforming 
  • 20% of your team overperforming 
  • 60% of your team in the middle

While these percentages will vary a bit from organization to organization, what remains the same is that the majority of sales reps live “in the middle.” They are putting in the effort but they’re not quite there

No matter how you slice it, in just about every sales team, most sales reps perform in the middle. (Your finance team even sets goals assuming this bell curve.)

But think about this: If you can influence that middle of your pack — even just slightly — you’ll drastically improve your overall team numbers (and make yourself a known entity at your org, in the best way). 

You’ll create more reliable performers out of the bulk of your team.

Let’s dive into the what, why, and how of moving the middle.

What does “move the middle” really mean? 

Your sales organization operates as a bell curve. We’ve covered that. 

So how do we move this middle (to the right, of course)? How do we ensure more sales reps are at the top end of the curve — outperforming, beating quota consistently, and bringing colossal deals every single quarter?

1. Do not spend time or energy focusing on the bottom (the left side of the bell curve, aka C-players). Doing so requires much effort, and the payoff is not always there. These folks are going to take a lot more of your time and the juice might not be worth the squeeze. You can throw them a lifeline in other ways, but spending all of your time coaching this group won’t impact the bottom line.

2. Do not focus on the top (the right side of the bell curve, aka A-players). These folks are the best of the best. They are already crushing it. Although it might be tempting to spend time coaching the best. The upside is minimal. The creme-de-la-creme is at the top for a reason — they are often self-motivators. If you’re looking for major revenue gains, this isn’t where you should spend your time.

Instead, change your mindset and put all effort towards moving your middle 60% — the average performers who live in the center of the bell. This is the spot to focus aggressive coaching efforts.

And the payoff is real.

Shift your curve from a bell to a right-heavy one, like this:

move the middle

But why? Why does this shift to the right matter?

Why is moving the middle important?

The “why” here is pretty straightforward.

(I hope.)

It’s all about revenue impact. (You know – cash money.)

But here’s some data to back it up.

Studies have shown when the focus shifts to “coaching the middle,” companies see an increase in sales of up to 19% (HBR). 

Let’s take that in for a second. What would happen if your team boosted revenue by 19% next quarter? 

Especially during times of limited resources (think global pandemic, economic downturn, etc.), moving the middle is your best/most efficient/most cost-effective way to see measurable results.

Think about it: During these “less-than-ideal” sales environments, many teams experience hiring freezes (or worse). It’s all about working with existing resources to meet/beat revenue goals.

“Okay. Okay. I’ve got it.” (says you, the reader of this article). BUT HOW?

moving the middle

How to Effectively Move the middle 

We touched on this above, but in case you missed it.

Coaching is the proven method to effectively move the middle.

But not just ANY coaching. I am talking about high-impact, effective, data-driven coaching.

Not that simple. 

What most people do (spoiler alert: this approach is NOT recommended): Take your top reps and have them help coach the rest of the team. Logical? Of course. “Learn from the best” applies well here. 

However… this strategy comes with drawbacks. You’ve now taken your top sellers away from what they do best: SELL! Even though your “middle” is sure to move towards the “top,” you will be losing your A players’ productivity… so it can be a wash (the overall boost you’re looking for will not be there).

Instead, create hall-of-fame calls from your top sellers. That’s the best way for them to “peer coach” without taking their eye off the ball for a second. It’s how you clone your top reps and scale winning behavior across the board. 

So rethink your overall approach to coaching. As a manager, being a more effective coach is all about knowing where to focus (the middle) and what to focus on

This is where the data comes in. 

Knowing WHO to focus on is only the first step. Knowing WHAT to coach them on comes next. 

We break it all down in our 5 Revenue-Boosting Ways to Move the Middle Cheat Sheet. Consider it your step-by-step guide to maximizing impact from your current reps.

moving the middle

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