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Motivating the Middle to Move the Needle

6 min read
Updated Oct. 18, 2023
Published May. 29, 2018

Traditionally, sales organizations focus their efforts on motivating and rewarding top performers. Why wouldn’t they? After all, this group brings in the bulk of the revenue. However, studies show that a 5% performance improvement in the middle 60% of a sales organization can lead to a 70% increase in revenue. That’s huge! What impact would that have on your bottom line? So why aren’t you motivating middle sales performers in order to move the needle?

A dream sales organization would consist solely of all-star performers… but that’s not realistic. In fact, organizations can generally be broken down using the 20/60/20 rule – 20% top performers, 60% middle performers, and 20% bottom performers. motivating the middle

The majority of any salesforce is comprised of middle performers – those who meet quota but rarely exceed it. They are consistent and reliable but aren’t going to be setting any sales records in the near future.

Tapping into the potential of these middle performers requires a strategy and some patience, but doing so could make a dramatic impact on the overall revenue. Here are a few helpful tips for motivating salespeople.  Especially the middle, which is the bulk of your sales organization.

Identify the Motivations

Sometimes it just takes a little motivation. An organization’s middle performers are often viewed as “being on the fence” or on the cusp of breaking into the top 20%. What is holding them back?

Determining what motivates the middle could mean a 70% increase in revenue for an organization. I’d say that’s worth exploring! If the commission structure isn’t doing the job, an organization should explore alternative rewards. We’ve covered motivating without money before. Non-monetary rewards could range from the company picking up the tab on a dinner date to extra PTO days. Motivations differ for everyone. Taking the time to understand what drives your employees is an important management responsibility.

Once you know what a sales rep’s goals and passions are, use that to craft reward options that reflect their interests. These types of personalized incentives that could be what moves the needle for the middle performers. Identifying the motivations is the first step. Next, you must address the behavior directly.

Address Lack of Motivation

We know that a lack of motivation could be a factor in middle performers not reaching star performance level. Depending on the situation, there are a few approaches for motivating middle performers. Here are a few potential disconnects, and suggestions to address them:

Unclear Goals: Without a clear path for how performance is measured, a sales rep might lack the drive to excel. Provide objectives that are challenging but attainable, and a roadmap for reaching those goals.

Lack of Confidence: A seller might have the skills to be a top performer, but lack the confidence to get there. It could be due to lack of recognition, or simply being overshadowed by performers who constantly exceed quota and receive the limelight. Whichever it is, an organization should have a system in place to recognize and reward progress made by middle performers. Sometimes all we need is the opportunity to take center stage and exclaim, “You like me, you really like me!”

Rewards/Benefits Imbalance: Sellers are individuals with different personalities and goals. Rewards and benefits of exceeding quota don’t always align with their personal drivers. That’s where identifying motivations come into play. If a seller is a big fan of live music, the prize could be two tickets to see their favorite band. (*cough* I love concerts *cough*)

Making small adjustments related to goal-setting, recognition, or rewards could be the solution that moves the needle in a big way. Lack of motivation is an easily addressable problem. It just takes an effort on the organization’s part to identify what measures are needed to drive performance.

Use a Tiered Reward System

It’s demoralizing when only a handful of employees consistently win sales contests. What’s the point of putting in the effort when the outcome is always the same? The purpose of a sales contest is to motivate, but such they can discourage middle performers.

A tiered system has multiple advantages for creating buy-in across the entire sales organization, from high achievers all the way down to the bottom 20% of performers. Prizes are broken down into three distinct categories:

1st Tier: This targets the top performers in the organization. To receive an award, A players must go above and beyond their personal best. Rewards should be luxurious, such as a high-end, all-inclusive vacation package. Other incentives could include a front row parking spot or a corner office.

2nd Tier: Core performers should see this prize as similar to the 1st tier prize. The vacation package is more of a long weekend, but it should be a valuable benefit to strive for and make them proud to win. A family dinner or exclusive trophy are other ways to recognize their hard work.

3rd Tier: Use this tier for small prizes, gift cards, or a small cash bonus. It should be easily attainable for core performers, and a reachable stretch for the bottom 20%. It serves as a token of appreciation for a job well done.

The tier system makes the rewards fair and motivational for everyone across the organization. Star performers should only be able to win prizes in the first tier, as they consistently exceed quota and perform well. This tiered system also serves to help reps at all performance levels judge their performance and set goals accordingly. All three tiers are available to both the middle performers and the bottom 20%. That way there are rewards in place that motivate everyone to excel, and prizes are available to reward improvement.

The tiered system should serve as a guide for future performance. Each tier should be a clear indicator of what is considered average performance versus stellar performance, and what achievements earn reps a spot in a top tier.

Provide Training & Development Opportunities

The difference between an A player and a B player could be a single skill, easily developed with training. Investing in the improvement of middle performers should be a priority for any sales organization. Beyond prizes and rewards, middle performers might be motivated by opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill set. Providing leadership training opportunities as a reward for exceeding performance expectations could develop the skill sets necessary to be a consistent top performer.

Development opportunities might include offsite leadership events and conferences, or implementing a learning program to bridge knowledge gaps. Training can make a significant impact on the sales organization, especially when applied to B players.

As the middle performers represent the largest percentage of an organization’s salesforce, investment in their improvement has a profound impact on its success. Whether you’re motivating salespeople through prizes and rewards or development opportunities, focusing on this influential 60% should be a priority for any successful sales organization.

[ctt template=”3″ link=”2EyQ1″ via=”yes” nofollow=”yes”]A 5% improvement in the performance of your mid-performing sales can lead to a 70% increase in revenue. Don’t miss these ideas for motivating better performance.[/ctt]

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