When it comes to running a sales organization, every manager knows that there are different kinds of players you can have on your team, and they usually come in 3 categories: you have the A-Players, the B-Players and the C-Players. For the most part, people seem to agree on what defines a C-player and a B-player.
Let’s start with the C-players. The C-players are the people that are usually a little lower in the ranks because, as we’d expect, they do the bare minimum to get by. They’re the ones who seem to get their work done just barely one time. They also tend to need more attention and coaching during 1 on 1’s and quarterly reviews than others to get their performance to up to a satisfactory level. As a manager, these are the players you want to avoid because they’ll be the ones that can turn into time sinks and even negatively impact your team’s culture and productivity. As an individual contributor, this is the category you obviously want to avoid falling into as it will destroy your chances at upward mobility and even more so if things happen to take a turn for the worst, you’ll likely be among the first on the chopping block.
The B-players, in contrast, are consistent and reliable performers. When something needs to get done you can rely on them to get the job done correctly and in a timely fashion. They have a solid understanding of what is expected of them and do what it takes to deliver on that expectation. B-players are those who need little to no coaching but are still able to keep their productivity at the level it needs to be at. However, when something comes up that requires them to go above and beyond their job description or put in more hours than is necessary, there may be a little of push-back. Regardless, these are still people you want to keep on your team as they are very important for keeping a well run and organized business.
Now, when it comes to A-players, it’s well accepted that these are the individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty. These are the “5 star recruits” that you want to attract and hold onto as long as you possibly can because they are the ones that can truly help move your business forward. The qualities of an A-player however are more widely debated because different characteristics are more important depending on the manager and industry that individual is working. That said, here’s a short list of qualities that would apply universally to an A player regardless of someone’s industry.
1. They reach for stretch goals and hold themselves to a higher standard.
Stretch goals are those objectives that are just beyond our reach and so many of us choose not to set them. Instead, we may opt for something more achievable so we can feel good about ourselves when we do meet our goals. A-players, however, do not share this same restraint. Instead, they put aside all fears and purposefully push themselves beyond their limits understanding that it’s only when they are forced out of their comfort zone that they are able to grow the most.
Another reason A players are so valuable is because of the higher standard that they hold for themselves. Unlike a B-player who may be influenced by the lack of motivation they see in a C-player colleague and ultimately have their productivity drop, the A player will just keep on chugging at their normal pace. They are completely undeterred by others and are motivated entirely by their own desire to succeed. Best of all, they have the complete opposite effect on the team’s culture and productivity that a C-player has. Where a C-player may negatively impact a B-player’s productiveness, an A-player can bring up the motivational energy in both the B-players and C-players.
2. They understand the importance of teamwork and communication.
It’s probably not uncommon for an A-player to prefer getting work done on their own as they usually see themselves as the most capable people for the job, but at the same time they’ll recognize when something is beyond their bandwidth and will effectively employ the help of their colleagues to get the job done. For example, in an organization that has a role for a Solutions Consultant (SC) or Solutions Engineer (SE), an A-player Sales Rep will recognize that they don’t need to invest all their time and effort to preparing for an upcoming demo. Instead, they’ll make more effective use of their time by focusing their efforts on managing the relationship with their prospect and effectively communicating the wants, needs and pains to their SC/SE so that they can be topics of focus during the presentation.
They’re also the ones that often take that extra effort to make sure everyone is on the same page. When dealing with prospects, they ask questions like “Am I understanding that correctly?” or “So you’re telling me x, y and z. Did I hear that right?”. They understand that sometimes you need to slow things down to speed things up and so they put in the extra effort to make sure that they are as clear as possible in their communication as to avoid any confusion and issues down the line. Jon Miller, Co-founder to both Marketo and Engagio, once said, “The most successful reps are often the most paranoid. They are always on the lookout for what could go wrong and take proactive measures to prevent them.”
A-players are also the ones who understand that recognition for good work does not have to be a zero-sum game. When the team works towards a successful endeavor, they readily give credit where credit is due understanding that this builds trust and more effective collaboration amongst the team in the future. They truly embody what the definition of a “team player” is.
3. They are in tune with the company’s vision and take initiative.
A-players don’t need to be told what to do. At any given point they understand what the company’s goals and objectives are and take action towards these goals on their own accord. They don’t worry about the minimum metrics required of them by the company and instead keep their focus on results and the bigger picture. They understand that reaching their hundred dials or two hundred emails will ultimately amount to almost nothing if they’re not being sent to the right people with the right message and towards the right objectives.
Additionally, these are the people who aren’t afraid to act on their own and don’t feel the need to always ask for permission. The reason these individuals have the confidence to do so is because they have the capability to put themselves in management’s shoes and understand what the best courses of action are moving forward. This is particularly what makes them attractive to their managers in the future as candidates for promotions, and usually the reason why they’re even considered in the first place.
4. They’re able to put the good of the company before their own.
This doesn’t mean that A-players are people you can easily take advantage of. In fact, that’s a sure-fire way to ensure you lose these A-players. Since A-players are so capable, they’re usually very smart people with a strong level of intuition. Therefore, once they get a sense that they’re being treated or paid unfairly they’ll be quick to find another opportunity that better suits their standards. A-players may choose to focus on their careers over their personal lives but they won’t stand to have it imposed on them.
Rather, what this means is that A players are those who are able to take a look at a situation and play through in their heads what the repercussions of their decisions will be. For example, they may understand they could make a false promise to a potential customer to quickly make the sale and a quick buck. However, they’re able to foresee that in doing so they are setting the company and customer success team up for failure and therefore opt for the high road of doing right by the customer, even if it means offering a discount or foregoing the deal altogether if there truly isn’t a good fit.
They’re also the ones that aren’t afraid to lend a helping hand to those in need. If a teammate is struggling to fill their pipeline and actively voices a request for help, these are the guys that are willing to take a moment to provide some advice for how to get their colleagues back on the right track. I’ve seen many A-players take the time to help their colleagues practice their pitches and demos, even offering to join them on their next calls as a means of support, often times without expecting anything in return.
Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.
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