Marginal Gain


In essence marginal gain (its official title is the theory of aggregated marginal gain) is about looking at every aspect of a process or a system and calculating how much can be gained by optimising every individual aspect, which then adds up to an overall gain. The theory of aggregated marginal gain was thrust into the mainstream media as part of the reporting of the sporting success of the GB track cycling squad.

Having understood the principle I believed that sales has much in common with sport and could benefit from using this process. I spent time with the then head of GB Cycling and subsequently the founder of the Sky professional cycling team, Dave Brailsford, and identified many similarities in elite sport and sales.

In elite sport gains are invariably “at the margin” because the overall initial performance level leaves no ” low hanging fruit” as this has all been taken care of in the act of becoming elite. If you use the same principles in your sales process, and with your sales people, then not only will you be able to see where your gains (marginal or otherwise) will come from, but it can often highlight areas that were not previously considered as being important to the improvement of the sales results, but in fact may have a significant effect.

Using the same method as with the individual sales people I would look at the sales process. Identifying every area where a gain can be made, or an inefficiency removed, so that not only is the performance of the sales people optimised, but also that of the process.

In order to assess a sales person or the sales process I take an athlete centric approach (sales people are athletes too)  to analyse their individual needs before recommending any changes.

Sales training is often purchased ” off the shelf” without first understanding what each sales person needs to improve their performance. It is similar to attending a doctors appointment only to be given “some medicine” before the doctor has actually consulted with you to determine what the problem is.  I have seen significant amounts of time and money spent on individual aspects of sales training only to see that many of the people attending did not need training in that area, but in fact in several different areas. This issue becomes even more acute when training large groups of people at the same time. This is primarily the reason why I train a maximum of 5 people at a time.

Marginal gain can be an extremely powerful tool to an individual, process or organisation. If you want to be as successful as the Olympic Cycling squad….embrace the margins.

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