Move the Middle

A Lesson in Sales Leadership



Superior performers will perform under any circumstances. Poor sales professionals will always find a reason or an excuse why they didn’t perform. The majority of sales professionals fall somewhere in between. Successful sales leadership finds a way to move the middle forward and destroy the 80/20 rule.


The 80/20 Rule is a Default

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule, 80% of the production is done by 20% of the people. Sadly, this is often the case within sales teams. However, the 80/20 rule is a default setting. If proper leadership is lacking, the 80/20 production standards will likely take effect. With appropriate leadership and a sound strategy, production will increase through the middle ranks thus eroding the 80/20 standard and increasing productivity throughout the sales force.


Move the Middle

Think of a sales team like a wolf pack. The front-runners (top performers) will lead the pack without much guidance. These self-motivated sales professionals are the reason the 80/20 rule comes into play. Not much is needed to motivate these professionals. Appropriate compensation and solid service execution is typically all they need.

Chronically under-performing sales reps are anchors to an organization. They will find every reason in the book why production is not met. When these folks are identified, it is advisable to sever ties rather than continue to reinvest.

The majority of sales reps are somewhere in between the top reps and the under-performing reps. When sales leadership is able to move this population forward with increased production, it creates a dynamic for growth. Top performing sales reps don’t like other nipping at their heels. Therefore, when you move the middle of the pack towards the front, the front-runners will sprint forward and create a new production norm. As the middle continues to move forward and the front runners sprint out, a staggered production increase occurs which benefits the reps and the organization.


How to Move the Middle

An advisable strategy to move the middle is first to identify who resides in the middle. Reviewing production, market dynamics, and tenure will provide insight into which reps have been sitting in the middle of the pack.

From there, it is a combination of incentive, resources, and accountability that will drive the middle forward. When you incentivize reps, be it monetary, sales reports, trips, clubs, etc., you will help the middle gain traction. Providing resources for learning, innovation to sell upon, marketing support, solid service delivery and execution, etc. will provide the middle with an increased ability for market penetration and deal closing.

Accountability is also key to this equation. While accountability with production is important, it is not the only factor. Many businesses waste a lot of money on under-performing sales reps in the hopes that they will eventually meet the validation curve. This process can be dramatically shortened by introducing self-learning as an accountability factor. If a sales rep has low activity and low production, cut bait. If they have high activity but mediocre production, learning will increase close ratios. Too often, sales reps don’t take initiative to self-educate. Many will take the shortest route for a sale. It is the reps that are inquisitive and thirsty to learn that typically rise to the top.

A consultant can only advise upon what they know. PEO sales is a consultative sale. The more a company can promote self-learning, above and beyond corporate training, the better its sales team will perform. The top reps are already inquisitive and seeking out new knowledge. The middle will do so to a lesser degree and the bottom of the pack doesn’t bother. Help the middle gain knowledge by promoting self-learning. Have them present to the team what they have learned at sales meetings. Hold them accountable for self-learning and the individual sales rep, and the group as a whoe will benefit, as will production. To learn more about creating a learning organization, click here. To learn more about the importance of continual learning, click here.



Move the middle and the front runners will sprint, thus creating a new production standard for the organization. Many organizations spend a lot of time with the top reps because they are producing, or with the bottom reps because they are flailing. Try spending time in the middle and production will increase. Throughout my career, I can personally attest to the merits of moving the middle with the results to prove it.




Rob Comeau is the CEO of Business Resource Center, Inc., a business consulting and M&A advisory firm to the PEO industry. To learn more about BRC, contact them on the web at You may contact Rob at