The Scoop @ MSCO

Ugly Math

Lovely Uma, Photo From Uncut.comUgly Betty Photo from The great trick in business is to

ugly math into lovely math.

Here’s what I mean: one of our clients has 3,000 salespeople producing an average of $1 million in sales annually. Management’s dream is to double the production to $2 million per rep. It’s a nice thought, but impossible to achieve. Impossible? Why? Because that means there would be 3,000 superb salespeople in the company and there isn’t a business in the world that comes close. Even the best companies are so far off that mark it would be laughable if it wasn’t so ugly.

Think of it as ugly math. The number of super stars in any organization can be measured with your fingers. Great talent, stars, true innovators and forces of growth are truly rare. You can’t manufacture them. You can’t transform the average salesperson, the average manager, the average anything, into a supernova by shipping them off to a seminar or to be doused in Cool Aid by a motivational speaker. But you can make them better performers. Not by orders of magnitude, not exponentially, but incrementally. And surprisingly perhaps, that’s where the lovely math lies.

Back to our client. Instead of trying to turn the also-rans into top producers, we advised helping them to do the possible (what a novel idea), i.e., mentoring and teaching them to grow their production by 20% each. Not enough? Well first of all that’s all your going to get (and it will take a Herculean effort at that) and second, it will add $360 million to the company’s top line without adding a single rep. Lovely math.

Has Ballmer Been Exposed as a Robot?! Photo from Jonathan Beckett

When Microsoft was a pip squeak of a start up, Ballmer told Gates they needed to hire 12 more great people. Bill said find one and then we’ll look for the next. He knew all about ugly math. And on the product side-if the world’s population of PCs went from a relative handful to zillions-he would own the world. Lovely math.

As you manage your business, think about:

  • Making your team members 20% better…yourself too
  • Selling your customers 20% more

Play the math. Think of what it does for Vegas.

Mark Stevens


  1. Ron Wilson ∣ June 1st / 2007 at 11:55 am


    Not to pick nits, but wouldn’t 3,000 x $1,000,000 x 20% = a $360 million increase to the top line?

    Great point, though. Small, regular increases that are the result of singles and doubles usually outperform the occasional home run.

  2. Chris Kieff ∣ June 1st / 2007 at 6:12 pm

    You’re absolutely right. We edited the numbers and tried to make it easier to read, and in the process lost the bubble.
    It’s good to see you focused on the idea, not the flawed math.
    Chris, Producer of Unconventional Thinking

  3. Eric Durant ∣ June 4th / 2007 at 10:44 am

    Great post and I could not agree more. I own a sales outsourcing company and maximizing revenue/results from each of my reps is at the core of my company strategy. We focus our energy on making each rep better in all aspect of their sales life. Not by seminars but by strength and weakness meetings. Those of us with strengths in one area work with those who don’t and visa versa.

    Best Regards,

    Eric Durant

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