Maximize Your “B Player” Sales Talent

“A” players generate 5x more revenue than “B” players and 10x more than “C” players.

Relying on the heroic efforts of a few eventually catches up with you. When 20% of the sales team produces 80% of the revenue, something is wrong.

The labor expense associated with the sales team incurred by the company has to be justified, or a head count reduction is warranted. Tolerating under-performers, hiring mistakes, and very long new hire productivity cycles all lead to missed revenue targets — and job loss for the head of sales.

A comprehensive talent management plan is essential. Before you get beyond Q2, consider some unexpected advice about B players.


Time for Topgrading

Topgrading is a proven method for continuous talent improvement. It directs leaders to rank each player with an A, B or C designation.  Once the assessment is done, take the following actions:

  1. Nudge C players out of the organization
  2. Challenge and cultivate A players
  3. Maximize the potential of B players

Step 1 above can be difficult, but it is straightforward. Use persistence and compassion to move C players to more suitable roles.

Step 2 requires more creativity and diligence. A players are the ones most likely to leave. Competitors actively pursue them. Fortunately, they are worth every minute invested. They deliver beyond expectations and make upside deals happen.

Step 3 is the focus of this article to learn how to develop your B Players.


The Oreo Factor

The secret is in the middle. B players are often overlooked.  Think of them as the fixed income investments in your portfolio. They lack the glamour and upside of high-risk investments. However, they pay off consistently without drama. Who are they and what makes them tick?

B players value stability in their professional and home lives. They quietly strive for career progression with little fanfare. Over time, they build a deep familiarity with company methods and history. During times of change, they provide a perspective that sustains organizational performance. Their low profiles make them some of the most secure and focused contributors.

Harvard Business Review published Let’s Hear it for B Players  with insights offered by Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan.  These insights are timeless, and relevant today. Their research sub-divided B players into 4 groups:

  1. Former A players
  2. Truth tellers
  3. Go-to managers
  4. Middling people

The Faces of B Players 

To leverage B player strengths, learn what motivates them. Here is a brief synopsis of each category:

1. Former A Players 

Some A players step off the fast track for a better work and home life balance. These B players are often tenured and politically astute – they can step up during times of crisis. They are capable of A-level achievements, but under their own conditions.

2. Truth Tellers 

Brutal honesty often keeps these B players from ascending to higher responsibility. They often probe topics that others are afraid to question aloud. Their preference for truth over personal advancement makes their opinions highly valued.

3. Go-to Players 

These B players lack the skills and charisma of top sales performers – and they know it. Their success is due to the extensive network of relationships they have developed. They have a deep understanding of how to get things done. Others readily confide in them and enrich their store of collective wisdom.

4. Middling people 

‘Middling’ people are dependable team players. They require little maintenance and tend to be risk-averse. Perhaps less competent than the other B players, they are still solidly motivated and loyal. Treated appropriately, they will produce acceptable results every year.

Five Ways to Foster 

B players are motivated and developed differently than A players. Here are 5 key areas to focus on:

  1. Acceptance. A players are likely to undervalue B performers. Leaders often try to mold others to conform to their own standards. It is best to find out what they want from their careers. Pair them with advisors who can help them achieve it.
  2. Stress. A players thrive on high stress and large quantities of work. B players can perform when workloads increase, but they cannot sustain extreme work levels. Design the role to give them the work-life balance they need.
  3. Time. B players will gratefully accept coaching time, but they won’t demand it. Managers must be careful to give them the time they deserve. A regular coaching cadence will ensure they are not overlooked.
  4. Rewards. B players are less likely to be assigned to high profile opportunities. Be sure they are rewarded in other ways. Look beyond the compensation plan design. Non-cash recognition can play an important role.
  5. Choices. There is a temptation to advance only the careers of star performers. High-potential B players need something similar but suited to their unique ambitions.  Offer the opportunity to work on cross-functional teams. Find creative ways to engage them with senior leaders.

Next Steps 

Assessing talent should be an annual initiative. The ratings are temporary. People grow, mature, get cranky or become complacent. Ensure that your talent is tracking in the right direction.

This tool organizes A, B and C players, enabling a more detailed planning for each individual. Initial assessments can be difficult if you have not done them before. Engaging experienced professionals for the first iteration can help establish a repeatable process.

Don’t wait to put a plan in place to get the most out of your talent. Don’t overlook the contributions of your B players. Assess the sales force to find out who they are. Develop programs that are tailored to maximize the strengths of your human sales capital.


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