Rank and Yank – Fine-Tuning Your Sales Team

There isn’t a sales manager alive who wouldn’t kill, figuratively speaking, for a team of super stars. We all wish we had our sales dream team, that group of over-achievers who not only make and exceed their quotas but make your day as well.

The truth is that no matter how hard you try, your sales team will have the usual selection of superstars and semi-duds (or perhaps outright duds!). In fact, when you take a close look at the capabilities of the people in your sales team, they probably follow the standard distribution of skills that is called the “bell” curve.

If you plotted the performance levels of everyone on your team, you’d probably find about 10-15 percent of your people are at the top end of the scale while another 10-15 percent are at the bottom, with the remaining 60-80 percent distributed across the middle.

Replace the Bottom

So, what would happen if you replaced the bottom 10-15 percent performers with better people? Theoretically, you would improve the performance level of the whole team. In fact, I’ve heard of a west coast company that had a policy of letting the bottom 10 percent of their sales team go every month. Now that’s an interesting incentive plan. Do a good job and you get to keep it!

That’s the idea behind the “rank-and-yank” philosophy of fine-tuning your sales team. You rank everyone on the team in accordance to his or her performance and then yank the people at the bottom and give them a new career opportunity. Some companies do the rank and yank on a monthly basis while others may use a quarterly or semi-annual approach to culling the sales herd.

When to Stop

Because you will always have some people at the bottom of the ranking, you can continue to use the rank-and-yank technique forever, constantly improving the quality of the team. However, in addition to reaching a point of diminishing returns, you also create other problems that start to impact the people at the top of the pile as well.

Your people would have to be pretty thick to not see what was going on and even the top performers will know that, somewhere down the line, they may have a bad month and find themselves inadvertently at the bottom of the ranking and ready to be yanked.

Their survival instincts will cause them to constantly be updating their resumes and maintain a continuing watch for a position with another, less Draconian, company.

So, tempting as the rank-and-yank technique may be, it’s probably best stopped before it even gets started, or as a minimum, used sparingly and with care.

When to Use R&Y Techniques

Probably the best and perhaps the only time to use the rank-and-yank technique is when a sales manager is new to either the job or the company. Now we have a situation where the “new broom sweeps clean” phenomenon can be evoked, and a natural house cleaning can be undertaken without critically damaging the morale and spirit of the entire sales team.

An Alternate Approach

I’m still a big believer in ranking my salespeople. I believe it’s important for sales managers to have a handle on who’s performing, who isn’t, who’s getting better, and who’s slipping. Without this basic information, you’re flying blind.

If, as a result of your ranking you find someone who is consistently at the bottom month after month, you may have a dud and a candidate for replacement. But before you consider replacement, consider rehabilitation or retraining.

Dealing With Poor Performers

As a general rule, there are three reasons for poor performance:
(1) the person doesn’t know what to do.
(2) He doesn’t know how to do it.
(3) He doesn’t want to do it.

If the sub-performer is new to sales, then factor one may be the reason for your problem. It’s possible you’ve made a poor hire and perhaps you have someone for whom sales and selling isn’t a good match.

On the other hand, if the person has been in sales for a while and still hasn’t reached his stride, it may well be a skills issue where he simply doesn’t know how to sell properly and some training and/or coaching may improve the situation dramatically.

If the sub-performer has been a good performer in the past, then it’s a safe bet that conditions one and two don’t apply, which leaves us with reason three. For some reason, the person no longer wants to perform. This is a good time for a one-on-one, heart-to-heart talk with your problem child where you try to get to the bottom of the problem.

Tune-up Time

If you want to do tune-ups rather than complete overhauls, then it’s best to have a plan in place to monitor your people so that you can catch any changes that may indicate potential problems.

The first thing to monitor is their actual sales, second is their sales activities, and third, their sales efforts. Once you’ve established a baseline of information, you can monitor the situation for changes.

For example, if one of your rep’s sales numbers begins to fall, look and see if he is making the number of sales calls (sales activities) that are needed to make his numbers. If the number of calls is down, that’s probably the problem and you need to find out why. If the number of sales calls is okay, you need to monitor the sales efforts by making joint sales calls with the person to ensure that he is doing what needs to be done during the calls to get sales (sales effort).

At any step in the process, you can get involved to coach and mentor (tune-up) the salesperson past the problem. By investing some time and energy to catch your challenges before they become problems, you can keep the team tuned up and ready to go.

Bottom Line

Good luck with fine-tuning your team.