So several times now I’ve seen the #1 sales rep that was just crushing it for quarter after quarter … then a few years down the road … later become one of the lowest performers.  From #1 to the bottom of the leaderboard.  And the fall often happens pretty quickly, even if at the time, it’s hard to see clearly.

Not usually. Usually, the top reps, the #1 and #2 reps, they hit sort of an elite level of understanding of the process, prospects, and industry. They crush the objections, they know how to pitch all the stakeholders, and they know the critical strengths and weaknesses of the product they sell.  Usually, they stay elite as long as they stay.

So most of the time, if you back them and keep investing in them, pay them well, and to some extent, just leave them alone … your top 1-2 reps will stay your top performers.

But now time has gone on, and I’ve seen a few times, the #1 rep stumbles, and often quickly. And slides down the leaderboard fast.

Why? I’m not 100% sure but here’s what I’ve observed for root causes:

#1. It Just Got Harder

We’ve seen this a lot the past 18-24 hours where selling just got harder at most startups. Often, the best further pull ahead from the rest when it gets tougher. But sometimes, they just don’t want to, or aren’t able, to step up. They were good with how it was. And they just … stop closing.

#2. Don’t Want to Put in The Time Anymore

I’ve also seen a few #1 reps stumble when they coasted too much. Not internationally — they were still working it. But once they could hit their number regularly, they dialed it back a bit. Vacationed more. Took on more side hustles. Slowed down their response time to prospects. Didn’t do the extra demo. That complacency sometimes is fine in the best reps. But sometimes, it’s a step too far. And their proven playbook no longer works … when they are working 80% as hard at it as before.

#3. They Don’t Want to Adapt

This is the one everyone needs to be aware of. A new VP of Sales? An obvious risk with your top performers. Your biggest competitor raises $100m? Sometimes tough to get your head around. The market changes quickly? Sometimes, it’s just too much change. The best reps do want consistency. It’s how they thrive. Just be aware not everyone can adapt. At least, try to minimize the disruption on your top performers wherever you can.

#4. Their Patch Shrinks, Even If Just a Bit

Sometimes a rep is #1 because they are great, but also often because they are early. They end up with a large patch, a large database of names, a ton of folks to upsell and renew. Later, some of that gets redistributed to new folks. And they decide to move on. Even if they still have plenty.

Not everything here is actionable. Start-ups change. They evolve. They become scale-ups. They go from $1m to $10m to $100m to $1B in ARR. They IPO.

But I don’t know any founders they didn’t wish they could have kept their top perfoming rep performing longer. At least at the top level.

If nothing else, shelter them as much as you can. Try to keep them in their zone.

And realize, some may not be #1 anymore as the markets and your stage change.

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