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Managing The Vital Few


A search on the Internet attributes the famous quote Your only sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than the competition to more than a dozen well-known business or marketing gurus.

Regardless of who originated the now-ubiquitous quote, the best sales managers have embraced the principal and have made training one of the cornerstones of their success.

But the Pareto Principal, also known as 80/20 Rule, can throw the most well-intentioned sales manager off course.

The 80/20 rule was first revealed by Vilfredo Pareto when he discovered the importance of what he called the vital few versus the trivial many. The Pareto Principle dictates that 80 percent of your salespeople will not buy into your training or new revenue initiatives, but the most productive 20 percent of your staff will buy in and are eager to learn.

All too often, new revenue and training initiatives are abandoned or not budgeted for simply because the trivial many dont buy in. Our experience has been that 80 percent of your sales increases will be generated by the vital few, the 20 percent who have embraced a lifelong pursuit of learning and are enthusiastic about new revenue initiatives.

While 80 percent might not buy in, its worth the investment and effort to give the 20 percent the knowledge and tools they need to grow your business.

Here are a few tips to help you prevent the 80 percent on your staff from derailing initiatives that motivate the top 20 percent.

1.) Check your ego at the door. Its not about demonstrating how much you know, how smart you are, or how great you think your new idea is. With careful pre-planning, you can craft a series of questions or exercises to tap into the collective knowledge and ideas of the team. When the team discovers a particular training concept or revenue idea they take ownership of it and make it work.

2.) Use the 80/20 rule. Create an agenda where your team does 80 percent of the talking and you do 20 percent. Everyone on your staff has ideas and egos, and in the proper venue they will be eager to share with their teammates.

3.) Choose the right venue. When you want to conduct training or launch new ideas with impact, do so out of your normal office or boardroom environment. Send formal invitations to your selected venues in advance, complete with an agenda to give participants the opportunity to think about how they might contribute during the meeting. 

4.) Entertain and have fun. Use all of the tools at your disposal to engage your participants. There are YouTube videos that address virtually every topic you could want to discuss. Include videos, PowerPoint, audio, guest speakers, and vary your audio and visual presentations quickly and often.

5.) Conduct post-meeting evaluations. You can make each training topic more productive than the last, and each new launch more successful, by concluding every meeting with a short evaluation form for attendees to complete. Learn what they liked, what they didnt like, what could be done better, and what was the most important or relevant part of the meeting for each participant.

6.) Never put down the trivial many. A portion of the 80 percent who do not buy into one particular project, might enthusiastically embrace the next initiative you launch. Take heart in the fact that if 20 percent climb on board and follow up, your training or revenue development project will pay off. And always recognize the 20 percent vital few for their contributions.

All too often, the quest for 100 percent buy-in results in abandoning projects or training that could have created 80 percent of your success. Managers who motivate the vital few recognize the power of 20 percent buy-in.

Wayne Ens is president of ENS Media Inc,  producer of the SoundADvice radio e-marketing system and the Winning in the New Media Economy revenue development system. He can be reached at