Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.

Tagsales rep


Topgrading for Sales: A Review

Posted on 18th July 2008.

The folks at the Topgrading team ( kindly sent me a review copy of their latest book: Topgrading for Sales – so here’s the review.

A quick caveat: Topgrading focuses primarily on recruitment – and I’m far from an expert in that area. In fact, in my 15+ years working in consulting organisations I managed to studiously avoid the corporate recruitment process whenever possible, And when I was hired by others, it was always as a “done deal” result of headhunting rather than happening through a structured recruitment process. So this review is from the perspective of someone who is coming at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

The first interesting thing about Topgrading for Sales is its simple philosophy. The core concept of Topgrading is that you can and should hire only “A Players” – the top 25% of the population. Topgrading is very stark here; there’s no hiring of nearly-A’s or B+’s and hoping they will make the grade. Yes – try to coach your existing team if they’re not A Players yet, But when it comes to hiring – aim for the top.
There’s an unwritten assumption behind this, of course. It assumes it’s possible to do this. Theoretically, if everyone was Topgrading, there wouldn’t be enough A Players to go around. But my experience is that very few firms are really thorough in how they go about hiring – and certainly not as thorough as the Topgrading process. So in practice you don’t have to worry about a shortage of A Players – especially if you follow the first key piece of advice they give.

Maintaining an A Player “bench”
The first piece of advice in Topgrading which I’d not come across before is to maintain an A Player “bench”. Rather than do what most companies do – ignore the job candidate marketplace until you really need someone – their recommendation is to maintain regular contacts with a “bench” of high performers you would like to hire, and referrers who are able to put you in contact with high performers. This approach makes a lot of sense to me – rather than starting from scratch each time you want to hire you have an active pipeline of high quality candidates already at your fingertips. And if you’ve been keeping in contact with them regularly it will help you sell your organisation to them.

Rigorous Selection Process
The next differentiator of the Topgrading approach is the rigour with which the hiring process is carried out. For example, rather than relying on the candidate's CV/resume (which is likely nowadays to have been significantly massaged by one of the many career coaches and CV advisors available), the Topgrading approach is to ask candidates to fill in a detailed Career History form – including compensation details, exact dates for each job, the name of previous bosses (hinting that they will be contacted) etc.

The process also includes a detailed “Topgrading Interview” in addition to the normal competency-based interviews (which most people now know about and how to prepare for). This interview is a rigorous career history review – talking about specific accountabilities, achievements and learnings.

The next key step is to get the candidate to set up a call for the interviewer with each of their previous bosses for the last few years. Now, of course, you can’t force the candidate to get you these calls. But the authors' experience is that the A Players will be happy to set them up – knowing they will get good feedback.

At each stage of the process, of course, there is a filtering and narrowing down of candidates with the final decision being made after the calls with previous managers,

As you’ll have guessed from the review so far, I rate the book pretty highly. There were a number of new ideas for me – and they reflected my own personal experience of what seems to work and what doesn’t. And I really buy-in to the philosophy of taking recruitment seriously enough and rigorously enough to ensure you are only hiring A Players.

The book is pretty slim – 113 pages – which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a quick and easy read – but in areas I felt I would need more in order to actually implement the ideas. Over half the pages in the book are forms and checklists which is really helpful. But there’s little information on building the skills needed for successful hiring. For example, there isn’t really anything about interviewing skills, and the coaching chapter really only focuses on the timetable for coaching rather than on how to actually do it well. I think that anyone who buys-in to the Topgrading philosophy should take recruitment seriously enough to invest in books and other resources to make sure they are an A Player at all the skills needed to recruit A Players. In this respect Topgrading for Sales is an excellent overarching philosophy and framework for the way you should recrti sales people – and a starting point for further building your skills at doing so.