Can A Sales Rep Who's Underperforming Actually Improve and Develop Into a Superstar?

Sales Management

The short answer is "it depends." In this video, we share four proven management actions you can take to improve performance. Watch now to learn step by step how to solve performance issues or avoid wasting time with someone who's just not a good fit.


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***Enhanced Video Script ***

Managing an underperforming sales rep can be one of the most challenging things a frontline manager is faced with in their day-to-day responsibilities.

If you think about it, you've hired this person with high expectations. You thought they had all the tools when you looked at it on paper, and you were excited to see them perform and develop into a superstar.

Yet they're underperforming their quota. And they're not demonstrating the behaviors you're looking for.

What's going on? What can you do?

In previous blog posts, we've discussed how important it is to define expectations and manage behaviors to improve performance. There are some specific steps that we called out to reference, so let's review.


#1 Define Success

The first is to communicate and monitor those success factors. What's most important to the business and to the team to achieve your results? These are things like growing new account business or expanding the sale of a specific product. So, what are those highest-level areas that you need the team to perform?


#2 Identify Performance Indicators and Behaviors

The next step is to identify those performance indicators that are going to drive the performance you're looking for. So, those leading and lagging indicators that are going to tell you if they're on track. So, these might be things like the number of phone calls, the number of face-to-face meetings they're having, and the quality of the performance that they're producing.


#3 Monitor Performance and Determine Cause of Gaps

Here, you're looking to see the gains, were they exceeding expectations and the gaps? In other words, were they lagging or behind your expectations? If there is a gap in performance, you want to determine the root cause. That's the third step. That could be lack of motivation, lack of skill, insufficient resources, etc. We really want to understand why there's a gap in performance before the final step, which is to take the appropriate action.


#4 Take the Appropriate Action

You have many actions available to you as a manager, such as coaching, counseling, motivating, training, etc.

The challenge is to select the most appropriate action based on the situation. So, if there is a gap, unfortunately, we often jump to that last step, and we want to fix it without considering the root cause.

Let me quickly walk through a checklist that can be very helpful to evaluate the performance and determine the appropriate actions to take.

Have expectations been set?

The first question you want to ask as a manager is, does the salesperson know the expectation? Have you communicated that expectation clearly? And the only way you really know is by asking the individual, and can they explain it back to you? Can they repeat what you're expecting them to do?

Are they meeting expectations?

The second question you want to ask is, are they meeting that expectation? If the salesperson is meeting the expectation, you should provide positive reinforcement and delegate as much responsibility as possible to that individual.

Do they know how?

The third question, if we've set expectations, we're monitoring performance, and they're not meeting our expectations, we should ask, do they know how to achieve that expectation?

In other words, have they had the training and the coaching to be able to perform at the level you're expecting? And if the answer is no, you know what to do, we probably need more training, more coaching, more reinforcement, until they can demonstrate the behaviors you are looking for.

Are they making the appropriate effort?

If we feel like we've had trained and coached them, and they're still not performing at the level we're looking for, we should ask the question, does the salesperson make the proper effort?

This is the case where maybe we've seen them do it before at a proficient level. But, for some reason, they're not making the effort. And maybe they have a motivation or an attitude issue that's getting in the way of their performance.

The appropriate action here is to counsel that salesperson and really understand what's getting in the way, or what’s addressing, or impacting their attitude or motivation, and what can we do to address it.

Are Rewards and Consequences in alignment?

Moving along, we want to look at, does the salesperson receives the appropriate rewards and consequences in alignment with the expectations. And I'm not saying that throw out the comp plan or revamp the bonus plan every time. But we may want to look at, are we rewarding them through recognition, maybe some fun contests, or even just telling them they're doing a good job, are we paying what we want to see?

And are we providing consequences if they're not performing? And a consequence might just be seeing their call plans if they're not doing enough preparation or making sure we're meeting with them one on one, and having them walk through their plan for next week.

Are their external factors blocking performance?

If we don't feel like we're getting the activity levels we're looking for, the next question is really to look at, are there obstacles that are blocking their performance?

So, this may be the case where they know how to do it, and they've been trained, and they're making an effort, but something's really getting in the way. And as a manager, what can we do to remove those roadblocks? So, that may be resource issues. Maybe they're not getting the product or support they need. Maybe there's really is somebody getting in the way of their performance that we can help address. We should question that as well.

Is this person a fit?

And then I think if we've gone through all of those questions, and we're still not getting the performance we're looking for, we should really ask, is this person a fit for the position?

If we've gone through that, we've used the checklist, and we've done everything within our power as a manager to enable this person to be successful, it might be time to consider reassignment or termination of that individual, because we should feel confident we've done everything we can to empower that person to be successful.

By asking these questions and thinking about our own role as a manager in enabling that individual to be successful, we can feel pretty confident that we've tried everything we can, set them up for success, and then the rest is really up to them.

Learn how to transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers

About Ray Makela

Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.