Not All Salespeople Are Created Equal

January 5, 2016
| ByMadison

Are you giving people large rewards for their sales but still not quite getting the output you want? Unfortunately, managing a sales team to success can be an expensive game:

“Sales force compensation represents the single largest marketing investment for most B2B companies.” Harvard Business Review(HBR)

So how can you get the most from your people? HBR suggests paying attention to the performance curve:

“Salespeople at different points on the performance curve will respond to different incentives.” 

HBR splits sales teams into three types: stars, laggards, and core performers, and finds that each type of person is motivated by a different compensation package.


Laggards are described as the sales employees who don’t quite step up to the mark. They do enough to ‘get by’ but they don’t over exert themselves. They aim only for what they need to do and do not attempt to reach higher.

Research by HBR suggests that pace setting can be a way to motivate people with this approach to their sales work. Pace setting means setting intermediate goals that sales folk need to reach outside of their bigger targets. If laggards have frequent rewards and feedback on their performance they know the level at which they need to be performing and, therefore, will be more productive than if they are left to their own devices.

Core performers

Core performers are those that hit the middle ground. They are not excellent, but there are not poor either. Consequently, core performers often receive the least attention, and this can be a detriment to organizations:

“Many incentive plans come close to ignoring core performers… [but] core performers usually represent the largest part of the sales force, and companies cannot make their numbers if they’re not in the game.” HBR

HBR suggests implementing a tiered reward structure for core performers. The tiers start at a level that most sales employees usually achieve, the second tier is reached by some of the sales team, but far fewer people and the final target is reached only by the stars. HBR found that:
“Core performers striving to achieve triple-tier targets significantly outsold core performers given only two tiers.”


Stars are your top performers. They are the people who smash all of their targets and consistently over achieve. Stars don’t work as well with tiered goals, and it is assumed this is because the tiers given to star performers are not challenging enough.

The advice regarding stars is not to cap what they can earn; it’s vital to ensure there is always a new reward available to this group if they overachieve:
“Capping commissions when salespeople are hot may control costs, but it also encourages stars to quit selling.”

Final thoughts

You may not decide to separate your employees by the labels HBR suggest, but seeing your sales team as a collection of individuals who all operate differently with different motivations and needs is the key to success. Listen to your sales team about what they want and discover what will motivate each of them to work to their potential. Your social recognition solution can help you to meet the differing needs of everyone on your sales team and ensure you get the results you desire.

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