The 80/20 Rule in Sales is Stupid

If you’ve been a sales professional for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard about the 80/20 rule.  For those not aware; the rule simply states that 20% of the sales team generates 80% of the revenue.  How insane of an accepted policy is this?  This means that you EXPECT 80% of your sales team to suck. Why is this still accepted in business today? It could be the difficulty of motivating that dreaded 80%.  There is no need to motivate the top 20% because they self motivate.  They win all the contests, win every spiff, and hold all the sales records.  They have all the respect, accolades, and rewards the company can offer.  But oh the 80% people are not so easy.  They never win, never compete.  They are just there to fill a seat.  So why not fire them all and just keep the 20%?  If that’s not the answer, then why not motivate them into success?  Is that easier said than done? At one point in my sales career, I worked for a large call center that gave away a car every quarter to the top salesperson.  Second and third place were rewarded with a boat and large screen TVs.  The problem was that those top 3 sales people simply rotated between first, second, and third every quarter.  The 80% were never in the running and never had any desire to even try.  The quarterly contest did not motivate the 80%, on the contrary, they were unmotivated.  I made a suggestion to the Vice President on how to motivate the rest of the team.  It wasn’t a popular suggestion but after implementing it, the company saw sales records that it had never seen before.  Simply put, the suggestion was to fire the last place sales person for the quarter.  NO ONE wanted to be last and get fired, so everyone busted their butts to beat last place.  Just so you know, no one actually got fired because of the amazing sales produced and the delight of management. Motivation is sometimes about perception.  When the 80% perceives that they do not have a chance to succeed, they quit, sit back and collect a paycheck.  Challenge them with their employment and they move into high gear – proving that they did have the ability to compete with the 20%ers.  There are many ways to motivate, and not all include the potential loss of one’s job.  A great sales leader will find a way to motivate the 80% and not let the majority of his team suck.


Keenan is A Sales Guy Inc’s CEO/President and Chief Antagonist. He’s been selling something to someone for his entire life. He’s been teaching and coaching almost as long. With over 20 years of sales experience, which he’ll tell you he doesn’t give a shit about, Keenan has been influencing, learning from and shaping the world of sales for a long time. Finder of the elephant in the room, Keenan calls it as he sees it and lets nothing or no one go unnoticed.