Dealing with under-performing sales people
The business climate is tough. Selling is tough. Some of the same fears raised during the global pandemic about selling are resurfacing now. When business focus moves from growth to survival, even in a high-performance sales team, one or more team members may be under performing. How do you address that? As the Sales Leader you must address it. Your actions now, and I mean right now, set the standard for the future of your sales team, the individual sales person, and you.
The situation can be challenging, but with the right approach, you can help them improve and you will be in a better position to make a key decision. Consider the following approach:
Identify the root cause: You have to do some research here. It could be due to a lack of skills, inadequate onboarding, a poor fit for the role (did we hire the right person), personal issues, or other factors such as they are simply getting all the worst leads or have the worst territory. Take the time to assess the situation and gather relevant information. Ask yourself “if this rep had the best reps’ territory, would the outcome be different?”.
Explore motivation and engagement: Assess the sales rep's motivation and engagement levels. Determine if there are any underlying factors affecting their motivation, such as lack of recognition, they feel their career has stalled, or dissatisfaction with their role. Address these concerns proactively and find ways to re-ignite their enthusiasm for their work. I remember one rep tell me “I just don’t want to be here anymore”, which led to a great conversation on what they wanted to do and how we could handle the transition together. That rep went on to be very successful in a completely different industry.
Be open and honest and communicate that way: Use the regular one on one meeting to have a respectful discussion on their performance. Provide specific examples of where they are falling short. Encourage them to share their perspective and listen actively to their concerns. Be supportive and constructive and encourage the sales person to be the same. Part of this conversation should be about the consequences of continued poor performance. Termination should be a last resort and should only be pursued after exhausting all other options.
Document performance discussions: Maintain a record of all discussions, feedback, and improvement plans in writing. This documentation can serve as a reference for future discussions and ensure clarity and consistency in your communication. In most countries, it would be prudent to bring the HR team into the discussions (sharing documentation and seeking guidance; not sitting in your one on ones) at this point.
Once you both agree you want to fix the situation:
Set clear expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations for performance and the specific goals you expect them to achieve. Establish mutually agreed performance targets that are realistic and attainable. Make sure the rep understands what success looks like and the metrics by which their performance will be evaluated. I do not go to the point of a PIP (Performance Improvement Program) at this stage. This is more about mutual agreement on what success looks like and how we are going to get there.
Provide mentoring, coaching and training: Identify the areas where the sales rep needs improvement and provide targeted coaching and training. Tailor any training to address their specific weaknesses and support their professional growth. Mentoring is perfect to use as a tool at this stage. Mentoring is more mutual than coaching; it requires more mutual trust and mutual commitment. Get out in the field with them to observe and mentor.
Monitor and provide feedback: Regularly monitor the sales rep's performance and provide ongoing feedback. Be positive, recognise achievements and provide constructive feedback to address areas of improvement. Be specific, objective, and focus on actionable steps they can take to enhance their performance. If there has been no improvement, and it is capability or effort driven, it is at this stage that I move to a formal PIP.
Offer additional support: If necessary, consider assigning a high-performing sales team member as a mentor to the under-performing rep. This mentor can provide guidance, share best practices, and offer support. Encourage collaboration and foster a positive team environment that promotes knowledge sharing and growth (a key characteristic of high-performance sales teams). Consider external training courses, such as presentation skills, to improve skills and enhance performance.
Remember, every sales rep is unique, and their under-performance may have distinct causes. Flexibility, patience, and a custom approach are key to effectively addressing the situation.
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