There’s no shortage of sports analogies in the sales world, but bear with me while I introduce one more. Sales is like soccer, but it’s not like basketball.

In the book The Numbers Game, economists Chris Anderson and David Sally examine the concept of weak links versus strong links in soccer as compared to basketball. Their analysis shows soccer is a “weak link” sport, meaning teams win more games when the whole team is better than average but there isn’t necessarily a star player. Data shows the opposite for basketball, which is a “strong link” sport wherein teams win more games if they have a star on the team regardless of the remaining players.

This weak link/strong link concept is explained well in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” podcast and can be applied to a number of dimensions. While Gladwell relates the weak and strong link concepts to education, communities and funding, there’s also a very obvious (and slightly less controversial) relation to sales.

Sales is a weak link “sport;” resources are best spent on getting the majority of your team above average rather than focusing on increasing performance of a few star reps.

First, as with any well-balanced portfolio, you want to diversify your investments. Investing time and money into increasing performance of a single top performer or a few already great reps is risky. As top performers, these reps are ripe for promotion out of your team and could be exploring other opportunities. Their success could also be due to an underlying, unsustainable variable such as an abnormally strong territory.

Second, investing in getting reps from below average to “good” makes economic sense. Let’s test this theory. Say we have a team of 7 reps with the following performance:

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There’s one star rep and a number of reps who are underperforming. As a team, we’re only at 85% of quota. If we focus only on increasing our star rep, Erin’s, performance and were able to increase it by an impressive 55 percentage points ($275K), but failed to focus on the low performing reps, overall team attainment would only increase by 9 percentage points.

Instead, if we focus on the rest of the team and are able to get Jordan and Matt to perform at Ashley’s level (105%) and get Amanda, Joe and Andrew just to 75% attainment, team attainment increases by 30 percentage points and the team exceeds quota!

Now the tricky part – taking low performers and turning them into above average performers. A great way to do this is to identify what the “stars” are doing well. In this case, what are Erin and Ashley doing that’s getting them to exceed quota?

First, look at the data. Compare the activities these reps are doing that the others aren’t. Are they working more deals? Do they have a higher conversion rate? Do they get to the demo stage faster? If you’re using Base, great! You’ve got a head start. Base comes pre-loaded with a host of reports that allow you to compare reps on these key process metrics. The Rep Performance Dashboard is a great place to identify these trends.


Second, talk to the reps and listen to calls. Do they have a better discovery or follow-up process? Are they using tools others aren’t? Are they using different messaging? Or do they simply receive a high volume of inbound leads due to geography?

Once you’ve identified what is making the “stars” great, you can make adjustments to uplift the rest of the team. This might mean process and system changes, introduction of new tools and/or sales enablement training.

Sorry, LeBron

The idea of focusing on uplifting a rep who is already a star might be tempting, but remember there’s no place for LeBron in soccer. And while it may be less glamorous, your resources are best used on taking the majority of your team to “good.” For more information about how to make this happen using data-driven techniques like the ones discussed in this blog post, download the free eBook From Art to Science: 5 Steps to Predictable Sales Growth.