How to Turn ‘B’ Players into Top Sales Performers


Share on LinkedIn

Sales people are difficult to retain. Good salespeople are hard to find. The demand for experienced top-tier salespeople is extremely high. This is a constant challenge for sales leaders and their HR business partners.

One very powerful solution is to make the most of your ‘B’ players. Today’s post will help you answer “What do we need to do to cultivate top sales talent?” The free downloadable tool ‘B’ Player to Top Performer Guide will get you started.

‘B’ Players are a Paradox

‘B’ players require little maintenance. They are steady contributors. Most important, they are loyal and are less likely to become a turnover statistic. Some could be ‘A’ players but have opted not to, often for lifestyle reasons. Others lack the drive required to become superstars, but they reliably get the job done.B Player Sales Quote

Thomas DeLong, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School has made an extensive study of ‘B’ players. In an informative HBS article DeLong says, “Unlike ‘A’ players, ‘B’ players are often more secure in their objectives and know where they want to go. They need less feedback; they don’t want hand-holding.”

The Other Side of the Coin

‘B’ players can also be a drain on the sales organization. They pose some hard-to-detect risks. Janine Popick notes in a recent Inc. Magazine article, “Your A-players will leave because they don’t want to work on a mediocre team and they get sick of the general feeling of not being able to get things done.”

A related concern with “B” players is voiced by Al Rainaldi of Profiles International. He commented, “If you leave them alone, average performers will start performing at a lower level, and you’ll start getting less out of them. And this simply happens because they’re smart. They’re seeing people that are doing less and earning about the same amount of money, so their activity levels drop.”

Cultivate the Middle

As a sales leader, you can’t afford to straddle the fence. By simple population statistics, ‘B’ players account for most of your sales talent. There are just too many of them to overlook. Without an explicit effort, they will deteriorate. They are vital contributors to Making the Number. As an HR leader, you have clear responsibility for retention and development. Ignoring them just isn’t a smart choice.


It’s simple. You need a program for ‘B’ players. Assess your ‘B’ players to gauge their individual potential to develop further. Here are the 4 steps:

  1. Check each one to see if their head’s in the game – success starts with a positive attitude

  2. Check activity levels to see if the numbers are there but they lack productivity

  3. Check their skills to see how they compare with top performers

  4. Check job fit to see if their competencies match the selling role requirements

In the end, you’ll identify 2 kinds of ‘B’ players – one group that’s sliding downward to C. They have low expectations. Their bad habits are becoming ingrained. The good news is found in the second group of ‘B’ players. They can be nurtured to a higher level. They may never become ‘A’ players. But with a personalized plan they will produce more and enjoy their jobs more.

How to Groom a ‘B’ Player

Those with upward potential need a plan to develop. It starts with understanding their gaps. Where are they today in relation to an ‘A’ player? That’s where the ‘B’ Player to Top Performer Guide comes in. This guide offers a side-by-side comparison of 24 traits of successful sales performers. It’s distilled from SBI’s comprehensive talent assessment methodology.  A streamlined version just for ‘B’ player development.

The ‘B’ Player to Top Performer Guide Benefits

Use the guide to build a priority list for development. Pick the top 3 areas where the ‘B’ player has the most opportunity for growth. Then build a developmental action plan around these key areas. Plan to devote an hour each month to coach and encourage each ‘B’ player. As they progress, refer back to the Guide and work on the next priority.

HR leaders play a vital role here in supporting their Sales business partners. This is a talent management initiative.It doesn’t focus on the usual problem areas like turnover or low engagement levels. It is aimed squarely at the middle of the performance curve.  HR should play a lead role in implementing a potent ‘B’ player development program. It will deliver incremental revenue and put Sales on trajectory to Make the Number.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

John Kenney
John Kenney serves as Senior Consultant at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI). John brings more than 20 years of direct sales and sales management experience to his consulting role. His recent client list includes: Hewlett Packard, Phillips 66, Motorola Solutions, and Sanofi BioSurgery.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here