About Salesreps: Can You Transform a C-Player into a B-Player?

We read a lot on sales blogs and in articles about A, B, and C players.  Those pieces have covered various methods, learning approaches, and tools for transforming C’s into B’s, and B’s into A-players. Based on most of what I have read, I’ve got a different view.

I was a “C” Player, literally!

Let me start by reminding you that I had a first career as a trumpet player. I grew up in New York City and, after securing a degree in music, did the best I could perfecting my craft from what I had achieved up to that point. I certainly can’t recall how many hours I practiced, but I left the 10,000 hours they say are required for real expertise far, far behind.

My ultimate goal was to become an A-list session musician—a New York studio trumpet player. I could sight read anything, could play some decent jazz, knew a thousand or so songs by heart, and was reasonably well-positioned in the social/”club date” circuit. But when it came time to sit beside A-list players in recording studios, which I did a few dozen times, I quickly realized my future in that vocation was going to be limited, at best.

So I did something very difficult: I made a rational, calculated decision to give up the trumpet and find another career. Why? I just didn’t have the natural talent. I didn’t possess the traits that the players I looked up to had. And no amount of practicing would ever get me there. I saw that.

I found another career where I could excel, and have done fairly well.

I have a strong view about this subject

With the right approach, time, and support, you might be able to get a B-player to an A-level.  But you won’t get a C-player past that C-level.

How can I say that? First, I’ll admit it’s a matter of defining the terms. We know that the best approach for recruiting and selecting, as well as ongoing sales force development, is through a foundation of job profiling/competency mapping, interviewing, assessments, and performance measurement.  We also know that salespeople can, under the right circumstances, improve their skills significantly. On the other hand, the personal traits with which they are born are, for all intents and purposes, immutable.  You can’t train or coach someone whose DNA prevents it to be intelligent, “left-brained”, resilient, driven, charismatic, courageous, passionate, curious, goal-orientated, or have any other of the many traits required for success in B2B selling today (depending on the specific job).

Sure, you can support C-players with resources, such as special attention and extra time from management, but empowering them to own and manage their territory and drive maximum profitable revenue from it will forever be a challenge, if possible at all.

So what I’ve done is determined that C-players will never become Bs. Again, my terms and limits. But a picture I hope you’ll consider.

What then is the difference between an A-player and a B-player?

In general terms, the A-player has more of the skills, behaviors, and traits required for consistent performance than the B-player, and their numbers support that fact.  On the other hand, the B-player may have all the traits of an A-player, but not the all the skills or behaviors.  (That’s where training, coaching, and reinforcement comes in.)  Or they may have many of the required traits, but are deficient in some ancillary ones, or perhaps their required traits aren’t to the level of the A-player.  Therefore, some B-players can become A’s and some are just not able to.

What does all this mean to you?

First, you’re going to have to figure out what skills, traits, and behaviors are required for success in each job category within your sales organization and map your existing personnel against that list, so you can formulate the appropriate development plans going forward. Second, you’ll want to redeploy your C-players into some other role inside (or outside) your company, over time.  Third, you’ll vow to never to hire another C-player, because if you do, you’ll never turn them into what you need to be successful.

Photo Credit: © Jim Barber – Fotolia.com

Dave Stein

Most recently, I co-authored Beyond the Sales Process. I graduated from college with a degree in music. After an early career as a professional trumpeter, I transitioned quickly to computer programming. I held many diverse technical, sales and executive positions over the course of two decades: programmer, systems engineer, sales representative, sales manager, director of worldwide sales development, VP of sales, VP of international operations, VP of client services and VP of strategic alliances. I worked in the technology sector for, among other companies, Fortune Systems Corporation, Datalogix International (acquired by Oracle Corporation), and Marcam Corporation (acquired by Wonderware, then Invensys, plc). aboutpicIn 1997 I founded the sales consultancy The Stein Advantage, Inc. We provided expertise, guidance and coaching to our clients in these, among other critical areas: hiring of top sales professionals; analyst relations; development of corporate and selling strategies to overcome tough competitors; increasing compliance by their sales organizations to sales methodologies that had been installed; and re-engineering selling efforts to achieve new levels of credibility and differentiation with higher-level customer executives. Among the many companies with whom I’ve worked are: ALLTEL Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Cardo, Convergys, HP, Honeywell, IBM, Infor, Intermec, Global Crossing, Kronos, Lorentzen-Wettre, MCI, MAPICS, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Microsoft, Minnesota Life (A Securian Company), NEC Japan, NPD Group, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Progress Software Corporation, Richardson Electronics, Inc., Siemens, Standard & Poor’s, SunGard, Towers Perrin, Unisys, United Technologies, Xerox Office Systems and XO Communications. Add to that list about a hundred or so start-ups and companies under $20 million in sales. Through my past work as a sales consultant, coach, and trainer, I have a unique view of sales methodologies, sales training approaches, and the cultural, behavioral, and business changes required for corporations to excel at the sales function. I understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the ever dynamic challenges of gaining and maintaining competitive advantage through sales organization effectiveness. In 2005 I, along with former Gartner president of research, N. Adam Rin, Ph.D., founded ES Research Group, Inc. I closed down that analyst firm in 2013. I been delighted to have been quoted and recognized in leading business magazines and websites over the years, including Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes. In April 2008 I was appointed Visiting Professor of Sales and Sales Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where I regularly deliver seminars for their International Selling Programme. I still continue to speak at sales kick-off meetings and other sales-related events, as well as run workshops around the area of business-to-business sales performance improvement. I regularly contribute articles to Sales and Marketing Management magazine, where I am a member of the advisory board. My Amazon best-selling sales book How Winners Sell was republished as an ebook in August 2015. I am very excited about a new book which will hit the streets on March 1, 2016. Subscribe to this blog to be kept up to date on its progress. I live on the island Martha’s Vineyard, with my wife and two dogs.

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