Applying the Principle of 'Marginal Gains' to Improve Sales Performance


Applying The Principle Of ‘Marginal Gains’ To Improve Sales Performance

With the GB Cycling team celebrating yet more success in the European Championships, I thought I’d use this latest #SalesInsights blog post to visit the principle of Marginal Gains and specifically, how sales leaders can use it to help accelerate the performance of their sales people.

The basic concept of Marginal Gains, as identified by former Team GB Performance Director, David Brailsford, is:

“that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together. There’s fitness and conditioning, of course, but there are other things that might seem on the periphery, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away and training in different places… They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”

The 3 key principles of Marginal Gains for sales

For sales leaders, there are 3 key principles of Marginal Gains, which can be applied to help accelerate the performance of our sales people:

1. Recognise that there’s always room for improvement – In practical terms for sales leaders, this means:

a. Self-reflection – You need to turn the mirror on yourself and look at every aspect of your own performance. Be honest, ask yourself what could I do better? Where can I make improvements?

As the sales leader you also need to look at the performance of your sales people, whilst encouraging them to ask the same questions of themselves. And remember, it doesn’t matter how small those improvements are, collectively they have a big impact.

b. Culture of Continuous Improvement – Marginal Gains relies on striving for better, even when you’ve reached the top. In the case of the GB Cycling team, this is exactly why they continue to win gold medals; they have never settled for being the best in the world, they’re always looking for ways to be even better.

Comparatively, for sales people consistently hitting targets should not lead to complacency or ‘sand-bagging’. Many sales people deliberately hold back, for fear their targets will increase. A culture of Continuous Improvement is dependent on there being a desire to exceed targets. As the sales leader, you need to ensure your sales processes and reward system are structured to support such a culture.

2. Have an Action Plan – In my work with sales leaders, it never ceases to amaze me how many try to set about change without defining the steps required to achieve it. Aspiration alone is not enough. Instead, try the following:

a. Identify the goal.

b. Create a detailed action plan, incorporating all of the steps required to achieve that goal.

c. Drive accountability to those actions by assigning an owner and completion date.

d. Regularly revisit your goals. This last step is particularly reflective of Marginal Gains, in that goals can always be adapted and stretched. When GB Cycling first considered their goal of keeping their athletes healthy, I’m sure no-one dreamed they would look at the pillow they were using, for example. But when you start working towards that goal, you start to consider all of the things that could impact an athlete’s health and therefore performance. As such, these additional actions emerge – stretching the goal that bit further.

3. Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset is characterised as:

• Seeing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow
• Seeing feedback as constructive
• Being unafraid to try new things
• Being inspired by the successes of others
• Recognising that it is effort and hard work that will determine ultimate achievement

The parallels between a Growth Mindset and Marginal Gains are clear and for sales teams, it’s no different; realising potential and continuous improvement require a Growth Mindset.

For those with a Fixed Mindset, their potential will always be limited by their inability to take on board criticism and push themselves out of their comfort zone, and their incorrect belief that potential is pre-determined and reliant on their natural ability alone.

Applying the principal of Marginal Gains to sales requires more than just a detailed analysis of your sales process. As the sales leader you need to create a culture that promotes continued growth and development and ensure that your sales processes are aligned with the concept.

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If you’d like to chat about this topic in any more detail, please contact me on

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