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As the year-end approaches, one of the things leaders need to review is their roster going into next year. This is not uncommon, especially in high-stakes endeavours where tough decisions have to be made for the good of the whole; be that a sales team or a sports team.

However, unlike managers and coaches in sports, you can't trade team members to another company.

Some sales organizations do like to play the "waivers" game and fall into the trap of hiring other companies' castoffs. The promise of a tenured rep, coming from a competitor, one who would bring their "book" of clients with them, is enticing, but rarely pays off.

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While some may not like the sound of it, it does make sense to look at who is on the bus, who deserves to stay on the bus, and who needs to go. How you make your choices is the question.

Intuitively, most people will go to the most obvious indicator, revenue generated. Did they make quota and did they drive margin, simple and straightforward. There is no denying that revenue/margin is a key determinant, but there is no escaping the fact that revenue is a lagging indicator.

As a leader, one looking to go into next year and beyond, leading indicators are more important. Given that it is the ongoing habit of sales people that leads to revenue, you want to make sure that they have the traits that lead to consistent execution and results, rather than success by "one-offs."

You can start with their propensity for executing your organization's sales process. Assuming it is the right process for your sales, those who adhere to it will deliver consistent and predictable results. While Hollywood may like the lone wolf or personality-driven sellers, in reality a disciplined approach will lead to more reps delivering quota year in and year out.

A good sales process needs to be aligned to your customers' buying process, and as such will evolve to reflect changes in the market and buyer habits. If someone continually ignores the process, they are less likely to succeed, and if they were a hockey player, they'd be traded for a player who can and is willing to execute your playbook.

An extension of the above is the person's willingness to learn and evolve. If a rep is refusing to take input, grow and expand their repertoire, and their only rationale is that they "have always done it this way," you need to think about how that will impact your agility when markets shift. There are many challenges in sales that can be addressed and improved, but only if you have a willing player; if not, trade.

It is likely that you'll have an easier time training a new rep in your system and see returns long before you may get through to someone resting on their laurels and existing account base, which in reality is your base of accounts. As highlighted above, a vast majority of clients will not follow the rep, they know where the day-to-day service is coming from and it's the "whole company," not the rep.

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To be clear, I am not advocating the old Jack Welch, "cut the bottom 10 per cent" approach. There are valid reasons why someone may have missed quota despite doing all the right things. Often it is easier and more rewarding in every way to salvage a team member, and it is incumbent on you as a leader to make the effort.

It is also important that personalities not play a role in the process. I have seen to many managers keep someone they should have traded only because they have worked together for 10 years. This is why you should consider having others involved in the decision and use some form of formal assessment. This will allow you to measure specific attributes, and change over time.

As with most important decisions as a sales leader, it may not be easy, but it is necessary.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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