How to Manage Underperforming Sales Reps
Managing underperforming sales reps can be a daunting challenge, but it is not insurmountable. As a sales leader, you can turn things around and unlock your team's true potential. You just need the right strategy. From clarifying expectations to providing constructive feedback and taking proactive action, let’s take a look at some effective techniques to help you transform underperformance into success.
#1 Clarify Expectations
Transparent communication of expectations sets a foundation for success. To effectively manage underperforming sales reps, it is crucial to clarify expectations clearly. This means ensuring that each salesperson understands the desired behaviors and results you expect from them.
Here are some guidelines for effectively communicating expectations to your sales team:
- Clearly define the specific behaviors you want your salespeople to exhibit. Outline the key actions, strategies to improve sales, and approaches that align with your sales objectives.
- Communicate the desired results you expect your sales team to achieve. Set specific goals and targets, such as sales quotas or revenue numbers, to provide a clear performance benchmark.
- Discuss the importance of these expectations and how they contribute to overall sales success. Help your sales team understand the direct connection between their actions and the desired outcomes.
- Encourage two-way communication by allowing sales reps to ask questions and seek clarification. This ensures everyone is on the same page and understands their roles and responsibilities.
By clarifying expectations, you establish a shared understanding of what is required, enabling your sales team to focus on the right behaviors and outcomes.
#2 Provide Feedback
Another critical aspect of managing underperforming sales reps is providing regular feedback. Many managers make the mistake of only addressing performance gaps when conducting annual performance reviews. However, timely and ongoing feedback is essential for proactively fostering improvement and addressing issues.
Here is how you can effectively provide feedback to your sales team:
- Track and analyze performance on an ongoing basis. Keep a record of each salesperson's achievements, progress, and areas for improvement.
- Recognize and acknowledge performance gains promptly. Highlight specific successes and achievements to motivate and empower your sales reps. For example, instead of generic praise, provide detailed feedback that emphasizes the positive outcomes of their efforts.
- Address performance gaps as soon as they become apparent. Don't wait for annual reviews or let underperformance persist. Schedule regular check-ins or one-on-one meetings to discuss areas of improvement and develop strategies to overcome challenges.
- Offer both formal and informal feedback. Formal feedback can be provided during scheduled performance reviews, while informal feedback can be given in real-time during coaching sessions or after important sales interactions.
By providing timely and constructive feedback, you can guide your underperforming sales reps toward improvement and ensure they stay aligned with expectations.
#3 Focus on Performance Gains
Focusing on performance gains is a powerful technique for motivating and empowering underperforming sales reps. It involves recognizing and highlighting their specific achievements and their positive impact on their success and the sales organization.
Here is how you can effectively focus on performance gains:
- Be specific in your feedback and praise. Instead of generic comments, pinpoint the exact behaviors and actions that contributed to their success. For example, acknowledge the number of new accounts they brought in or highlight their ability to overcome objections.
- Emphasize the benefits associated with their performance gains. Help sales reps understand the direct correlation between their efforts and the positive outcomes they have achieved. This reinforces the value of their actions and encourages them to continue performing at a high level.
- Connect their performance gains to future success. Discuss how their achievements set the stage for continued growth and improved results. This helps sales reps see the bigger picture and motivates them to aim even higher.
Focusing on performance gains and providing meaningful recognition inspires underperforming sales reps to excel and strive for continuous improvement.
#4 Address Performance Gaps
Addressing performance gaps proactively is a vital step in managing underperforming sales reps. Rather than assuming that performance will improve independently, take a proactive approach to identify and address the underlying causes of underperformance.
Here is how you can effectively address performance gaps:
- Engage in an open and supportive discussion with the sales rep. Share your observations and discuss the performance gap in a non-confrontational manner. Allow the sales rep to respond and provide their perspective.
- Ensure agreement on the performance gap. Clarify the expectations verbally and in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. Schedule a follow-up meeting to review the sales rep's progress and monitor their improvement.
- Determine whether the performance gap is due to a lack of motivation or a deficiency in skills and knowledge. This understanding will guide your management actions. If it is a motivation issue, explore ways to inspire and re-engage the sales rep. Consider providing additional training or coaching to help them develop the necessary competencies if it is a skills gap.
Addressing performance gaps promptly and collaboratively creates a supportive environment that fosters improvement and growth among your underperforming sales reps.
#5 Taking Action
When managing underperforming sales reps, you must recognize that you have many options beyond living with the status quo or resorting to extreme measures like termination.
Consider the following actions to address underperformance effectively:
- Provide your underperforming sales reps with the resources, tools, and autonomy they need to succeed. Help them build confidence and take ownership of their performance.
- Identify areas where additional training or skill development could benefit the sales rep. Offer targeted sales training programs or workshops to enhance their capabilities.
- Assign a skilled sales coach to work closely with underperforming reps. A coach can provide personalized guidance, support, and feedback to help reps improve their performance.
- Engage in open and honest conversations with underperforming reps to understand their challenges and explore potential solutions. Offer guidance and support to help them overcome obstacles.
- If underperformance persists despite your efforts to support and develop the sales rep, disciplinary actions may be necessary. Follow your organization's policies and procedures when implementing disciplinary measures.
- As a last resort, termination may be required if the underperforming sales rep consistently fails to meet expectations and shows no signs of improvement. Ensure that termination is carried out according to legal and ethical guidelines.
By exploring these various options and taking appropriate action, you can effectively address underperformance and support the development of your sales reps. Remember, proactive intervention is key to driving sustainable improvement.
Managing underperforming sales reps requires a strategic approach and a commitment to ongoing improvement. By clarifying expectations, providing timely feedback, focusing on performance gains, addressing performance gaps, and taking appropriate action, you can transform underperformance into outstanding sales success.
Remember, as a sales leader, you have the power to unlock your team's true potential. By implementing these strategies, you can transform underperforming sales reps into valuable assets and achieve remarkable results. So, take the first step towards success and manage your sales team confidently and effectively.
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Have you ever managed someone who wasn't performing? What strategies did you find most successful in helping them get better? Share your tips and experiences here.
About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is a Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications, including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.