Today’s Post is Provided by Guest Author: Tom Connellan

Sales managers today are facing a challenge: To boost the performance of sales teams who, fighting for every dollar, feel increasingly discouraged, dispirited, and not fully engaged in their jobs.

Today I want to share with you three simple factors that I uncovered almost by accident and that countless sales managers are now using to get exceptional results in a tough market.

I’ve been researching high performance for more than 20 years, and during one study, I uncovered a compelling statistical pattern. I found that:

  • Two-thirds (2/3) of all entrepreneurs are firstborns.
  • Twenty-one (21) of the first 23 astronauts were firstborns.
  • 64% of people from two-child families who are listed in Who’s Who are firstborns.

The pattern holds true for high performers in every field, so I began looking into what differentiated firstborns. It turns out that parents are unconsciously brilliant in raising their firstborn. There are three ways parents treat firstborns differently:

(1) they have more positive expectations for firstborns;

(2) they give firstborns more responsibility and hold them more accountable for watching over younger siblings;

(3) they give firstborns more attention, taking their picture more often, spending more time encouraging them to walk and talk, and more time praising or correcting them.

So the firstborn advantage is not genetic in nature. It is environmental. That got me thinking: I could teach leaders to use these factors to boost the performance of people on their teams. I tested this idea in companies I worked with and found that these three factors build high performance in almost any setting. 

Converting the research into street terms, here are the headlines for how to treat sales reps:

(1) Believe in them. When sales reps feel your confidence in them, their performance improves. It’s critical that you convey a high regard for your reps’ knowledge, skills, character, and commitment.
(2) Hold them accountable. Reps need well-defined sales metrics and to be held accountable to the right goals. Set the goals too high or too low and your reps won’t feel accountable.
(3) Give them supportive feedback. Reps need motivational feedback (positive reinforcement when they do things right), informational feedback (sales data), anddevelopmental feedback (supportive confrontation when they don’t do things right).

Even in the best of times, very few leaders use all three factors in a manner that consistently gets the performance levels they want. Some sales managers overdo accountability and underdo support, some the reverse. Some flip-flop. Others have confidence in their sales reps but don’t express it in a way that gets through to them.

In today’s world, you cannot be out of balance, you cannot flip-flop back and forth, and you cannot hold back. You need to do what the very best do: You need to go full throttle on all three factors. Then, like others who have applied the three keys, you will see a rise in unit sales, average order size, market share, customer satisfaction scores, and margins.

Tom Connellan is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including Turbulent Times Leadership for Sales Managers. He is in demand as a keynote speaker by firms such as FedEx, Acura, BMW, Neiman Marcus, Canadian Tire, Marriott, Home Depot, Sobeys, and TD Canada Trust. Selling Power magazine labeled Tom one of seven “tough talking and truth telling” speakers because he always delivers actionable ideas. Contact him at tom@tomconnellan.comand visit