Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi was an absolute goldmine for awesome quotes — one of the best ones being, "We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time."

That one is absolutely killer. But as much as I love how gloriously petty and competitive that particular Lombardi gem is, it's not my favorite thing he ever said.

No, that would have to be this quote:

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

It's powerful, chilling, motivational, and applicable in every field or facet of life, and sales is no exception. As a manager, you're bound to have reps that go above and beyond — salespeople that take the proper steps to pursue perfection and catch excellence. But what does that look like?

How can you tell if a rep is truly achieving sales excellence? What are the definitive qualities and patterns of behavior that separate excellent reps from the rest of the pack?

Here, we'll go over the traits that define sales excellence and determine the best ways to incentivize and reward the reps who exhibit them.

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1. Motivation

Achieving sales excellence is, in large part, a matter of putting in more effort than your colleagues. You want your reps to be ambitious and dedicated — willing to do that much more to book an extra meeting or keep a prospect with waning interest in your pipeline.

Truly excellent reps are willing to lock in and take initiative. They excel because they sincerely want to set themselves apart and are willing to prove it. Motivation is the underlying factor that enables every other point on this list. Without it, the other components of sales excellence don't pan out.

2. Working Smarter

While motivation is central to sales excellence, it doesn't mean much if it's applied ineffectively. A rep who haphazardly gives it their all might burn out or see returns that are disproportionately low — relative to the amount of effort they bring to their work.

Excellent reps know how to manage their time and are selective in how they apply their effort. They're sensible in how they structure their day-to-day. They're savvy in understanding when a deal isn't viable enough to warrant an extra push. And they can work tactfully to get the most out of the extra effort they're willing to put in.

3. Quickly Getting Up to Speed

True sales excellence materializes at every point in a sales rep's career — no matter how early. One of the marks of a truly excellent sales rep is the speed at which they onboard and ramp to a full workload.

How much did it take for them to learn the ropes? Did they take the initiative to learn the ins and outs of your product or service on their own? Could you be hands-off and still expect them to figure out your sales process?

Sales excellence is often a measure of what a rep can do for your sales org beyond their immediate contributions. By ramping quickly and effectively, an excellent rep spares your company time, effort, energy, and resources.

4. Adaptability

Excellent sales reps resent complacency. They understand that there's always room for improvement. Falling into inertia is easy in sales. Reps might find a groove or daily rhythm that suits them and avoid embracing different processes, methodologies, or strategies that could improve their efforts.

An excellent rep is willing to keep an open mind. They're always learning — looking to incorporate any tactics that could help them grow and progress as sales professionals. That could mean something like trying new messaging on sales calls or transitioning to a more customer-centric sales methodology.

Not everything they'll try will work for them, but excellent sales reps are willing to stay abreast of new strategies that could potentially take them to the next level.

5. An "Onto the Next One" Mentality

Excellent sales reps aren't afraid to fail. They can take rejection on the chin and keep moving forward — using every hitch and hiccup they run into as a learning experience. If an exceptional rep drops the ball on a deal or botches a call, they don't sulk or get demoralized.

Instead, they analyze their performance, try to identify where they went wrong, and do everything in their power not to make the same mistake twice. And if they notice they're running into the same issue consistently, they don't keep it to themselves. Instead, they seek out some insight that can set them on the right course.

Rewarding Sales Excellence

Rewarding sales excellence can be tricky. Excellent sales reps are bound to smash any target you give them but might stall if you impose ceilings — meaning capping commission can hold your rainmakers back.

So one of the more straightforward ways to foster sales excellence is to let them earn all the commission they can. Another effective means of enabling sales excellence is allowing for overachievement commission — slightly increased commission on any sales made beyond quota.

That said, your organization might not have the financial flexibility to have a more liberal, generous compensation plan. If your business fits that bill, there are still some sensible courses of action that motivate excellent sales reps without straining your company's budget.

Prizes can be valuable incentives to motivate your sales rainmakers. Periodically implementing programs like spiffs — short-term, competitive, incentive-based initiatives meant to motivate sales representatives — can keep your excellent reps engaged.

If you offer recognition, a financial incentive, a vacation, or any other sort of reward for achieving a certain level of performance, you can foster sales excellence by actively and demonstratively encouraging it.

Sales excellence isn't easy to come by. The reps that truly go above and beyond — in their drive, team contribution, and hard results — need to be identified, further challenged, and rewarded for their exceptional performance.

The traits explored in this article are all marks of a truly excellent sales rep, and as a sales manager, you need to do what you can to encourage that kind of behavior.

Try different ways to keep your excellent reps at the top of their game. Sales excellence is a tremendous asset to a sales team, so you have to make a conscious effort to get as much of it out of your reps as possible.

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Originally published Oct 20, 2020 7:30:00 AM, updated October 20 2020

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Sales Performance Review