Boost Agent Performance by Moving the Middle

Boost Agent Performance by Moving the Middle

Don’t forget about low performers and high performers, but spend time moving your middle performers up.

The biggest opportunity for performance improvement in any organization is in moving the middle,” according to business coach Michael K. Simpson. He lays out the formula in his book Unlocking Potential. Most companies have a low-performing group (10% to 20%); a middle-performing group (60% to 70%); and a high-performing group (10% to 20%). Improving performance in the middle 60 to 70 percent yields the quickest path to greatness.

Some simple math makes the point. A 10 percent improvement among the top 20 percent of performers yields a 2% gain overall. On the other hand, a 10 percent improvement in the middle, which constitutes 70 percent of your sales associates, would equal a 7 percent improvement overall—more than three times as much. When we look at profit per associate, the returns may even be higher as the middle often has a less generous commission split.

Traditional coaching programs tend to focus on top performers, with many of these associates paying for personal coaches. The middle tends not to hire coaches because they don’t have the production to afford coaching. A typical management trap is focusing on the bottom 10% to 20%, trying to bring them up to the middle. This has proven to be a waste of time. Instead, put your management resources into paying attention to your top performers and helping the middle improve.

How do you do that?

Focus on these three success keys: Mindset, Skillset, Actions. Most in the middle have the ability, but they don’t have the motivation and focus. That’s where you come in.

Mindset. My observation, based on over 40 years of training and managing sales associates, is that most middle of the packers are drifters. They have no definite chief aim and are living their lives by default. They have the talent but lack the motivation to put it to work. Help them discover their goals or why. To get their attention, you may need to point out the consequences of their drifting. Based on their current pattern, here’s their trajectory—they won’t be able to pay for their kid’s college, they will end up living in poverty (as 45% of Americans over age 60 do), etc. This wake-up call can then be used to set positive goals and a plan. This approach is called motivational interviewing.

Motivational interviewing is a psychotherapeutic approach that attempts to move an individual away from a state of indecision or uncertainty and towards finding the motivation to making positive decisions and accomplishing established goals.

Skillset. My observation is that the middle of the pack has most of the skills. The one area that many are missing is an effective CRM (Customer Relationships Manager). Because they have been drifters, they’ve never taken the time to put their database together in a useful format. You can help them with this. Hire a student or a temp if you need to. This is a huge opportunity for you and them. We have seen average producers triple their income quickly once they have their CRM in place and are using it. This is the one thing you can do that will help them the most.

Actions. We have a saying in our Ninja training: “Flow Fixes Everything!” Flow is the frequency of interaction—face-to-face, voice-to-voice, mail, email, etc. What holds most in the middle from doing these activities? It’s a lack of motivation (drifting) and a lack of a database. Solve these two areas, and you’ll see them writing their notes, making their calls, sending their mailings, and meeting face-to-face with their friends and clients. And you will see an increase in production. Flow will fix everything.

Once they’re motivated and active, help them stay focused on their goals, so they don’t drift. It’s easy for them to get distracted. Remind them of their intentions to help them stay on track. Manage their activities, and their production will take care of itself. You will have moved the middle!