3 min read

The Tentpole Effect: Shaping a High-Performing Sales Organization

The Tentpole Effect: Shaping a High-Performing Sales Organization

Imagine you're at the circus, captivated by the grandeur of the big top tent—the elephants, lions, the clowns, oh my!  It's a spectacle of magic, much like a well-functioning sales team. The metaphor here is spot on: the tentpole, the central support of the tent, resembles your star sales representative, or as I fondly call them, the “tentpole rep”.

The tentpole rep is more than just a top performer; they are the linchpin holding the team together, allowing everything underneath to flourish. This individual isn't just essential for meeting immediate goals; they create the space for new salespeople to grow, develop, and contribute to building a high-performing sales organization. It's a symbiotic relationship where their success is intertwined with the growth of the entire team.

 

Now, let's talk about the two archetypes of tentpole reps. 

There's the empowering one, who not only meets targets but consistently exceeds them. This person becomes a pillar in your salesforce and organization, propelling business and revenue to new heights. 

On the flip side, there's the limiting tentpole rep. They hit their targets, revel in the attention, but are hesitant to let others join in lifting the tent higher. Their motivation is self-serving, and it can be detrimental to the overall success of the organization.

In my two decades of leading sales teams, I've encountered both types of tentpole reps. The empowering ones are a joy—they engage in training, mentor others, and actively contribute to the team's success. On the other hand, the limiting ones, at times can be referred to as lone wolves or a “handful”, and create tension within the team. Leadership and peers walk on eggshells around them, trying not to disappoint all in service of the almighty sale, but they only care about maintaining their position at the center.

 

Here's the revelation: it's not their fault. 

People don't do things to you; they do things for themselves. As a sales leader, if you find yourself with a limiting tentpole rep, it's a reflection of your leadership. Have you connected with them? Have you tapped into their motivations, whether personal or professional? Your responsibility extends beyond setting goals; it's about understanding what makes each individual on your team tick.

As I've learned, when my tentpole rep isn't lifting the big top, it's my fault. I hadn't found a way to connect with that individual, to foster a desire to be part of a higher-performing sales team. It's about understanding their motivations and creating an environment that propels not only their success but the success of everyone on the team.

Contemplate this for a moment. The weight of the tent is finite. There comes a point where your tentpole rep can only push it up so far without the collaborative strength of others. And who better than that tentpole rep to guide your sales team in developing and lifting their own segments of this circus?

In this process, the tentpole rep not only alleviates the tension from being solely at the center but also experiences a lift themselves. As those surrounding the center join in lifting their portions of the tent higher, it creates a unity where every individual contributes to elevating the entire big top to beyond previous heights.

Take a moment to reflect on your team. If you have a limiting tentpole rep, ask yourself why.  What I am doing to foster this behavior from such a talented person. Are you micromanaging? Are you failing to acknowledge and reward their efforts?  Making what they do feel common. It's time to investigate and uncover what contributes to their reluctance to take the tent higher.

Because when you do, when you transform that limiting tentpole rep into an empowering force, the dynamics change. The circus starts to take off. The tentpole rep collaborates, communicates effectively, and trains others. The weight of the canvas lightens as everyone works together, lifting not just for themselves but for the success of the entire team.

 

Collaboration is key to a high flying circus.

An empowering tentpole rep, no longer content to be the sole focus, starts working with other sales reps to lift their sides of the tent. This collaboration isn't just about achieving individual success; it's about creating an environment where everyone thrives. The tension of being the lone rep, carrying the weight of the tent, begins to ease as the surrounding reps join in. Metaphorically, they stand with you at the center, taking off the strain and allowing for more.

As a sales leader, your role is akin to the circus “ringmaster,” orchestrating this symphony of collaboration. It's about effective communication, team selling, and senior reps leading training sessions to name a few tactics. The possibilities are endless when you engage not just in the success of the empowering tentpole rep but also in the success of others. It's about creating a domino effect where each member of your team pushes as high as they can, not just for personal gain but for the collective success of the big show.

This doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey of development, engagement, and empowerment and perhaps most importantly, follow through. As a sales leader, your responsibility is not just to guide the tentpole rep but to help develop every carrier of the canvas for the big top. No one is more critical than the tentpole rep at the center, showing the way and guiding others to achieve more than they thought possible.

So, I encourage you: seek out that tentpole rep in your team. The one standing at the center of every show and every matinee. Reflect on what you can do to inspire them to help others. It's about understanding their motivations, connecting with them on a deeper level, and creating an environment where they not only succeed individually but also become catalysts for the success of the entire team.

Much like the little elephant with the big ears discovering its ability to fly, your tentpole rep, when empowered and engaged, can elevate your entire sales organization to new heights.

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