How to Help an Under-Achieving Sales Person

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October 22, 2014 1:47 PM

An under-achieving sales person’s behaviour can impact your entire sales team. Sales results are reduced, morale suffers, and other members of the sales team are distracted by the difficulties experienced by the underperforming sales person.

It’s imperative that the reasons for under-performance are identified and corrective action taken as soon as these performance issues become apparent. Don’t be too eager to pull the trigger as this can backfire with the rest of your team if this person is well liked. It has been shown that an effective approach is to spend structured time with under-achieving staff to develop an understanding of the reasons for poor performance, adopt one-on-one coaching, implement remedial training, set specific targets, and closely monitor performance thereafter.

Get To the Root of the Problem

The first step is to get to the root of the problem. Although it is usually difficult for an under-achieving sales person to open up to the supervisor, an honest and frank discussion outlining performance issues and an offer of assistance should be the first move. The adoption of a professional but supportive approach will encourage the sales person to open up to discuss the difficulties being experienced. As the purpose of this discussion is to persuade the employee to open up, it’s best to avoid heavy-handed tactics or pressure to perform. Quite often the underperforming sales person is in the wrong role: hunter vs. farmer, inside vs. outside, SMB vs. enterprise. If there is promise in the sales person, reassign them at this point.

One-On-One Coaching

Assuming the fundamental issues behind the poor performance are identified, a plan of action to overcome these issues can be devised. Focused one-on-one coaching is a valuable technique that improves the chances of success. It is not unusual for staff to fail to fully grasp the fundamentals of effective selling, and practical coaching in the work environment by the sales manager helps them understand and apply the key principles of effective selling. Coaching also gives the manager insight into the sales person’s abilities and aptitudes to the sales environment.

Set and Agree Incremental Targets

It’s likely an under-achieving sales person will feel overwhelmed by an inability to meet objectives and to cope with expected workloads. It will help to set realistic short-term targets that are achievable. This process of breaking broad objectives into small manageable targets simplifies the workload and supplies a means to measure progress on a day-by-day basis.

The plan should be activity based and follow the principles of successful selling such as fielding inbound leads, outbound prospecting, qualifying prospects, making sales calls, and closing. These activities should be supported by regular one-on-one coaching from the line manager with the objective of ensuring that each task is competently performed, and where appropriate the manager can provide timely advice and guidance.

Performance Review

As the sales person progresses towards achieving meaningful results and establishing self-confidence in ability, the manager should keep a close watch on performance through regular performance reviews and discussions to ensure the impetus is maintained.

Review Training Methods

It may be that training methods used by the training team are not fully effective. Deficits in sales training will become apparent during employee coaching, and the training program should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is still effective, up-to-date, and appropriate.

Hiring the Right Staff

The cost of hiring and training staff is considerable; Entrepreneur magazine believes that the true cost is at least twice their annual salary. Every effort should be made to retain good staff and to encourage under-achievers to perform to limit the costs associated with recruiting and training replacement staff. Naturally, a point may come when it is apparent that certain under-achievers will not make the grade and should be let go. This risk can be reduced by adopting recruiting practices and policies that focus on employing the best sales recruits and one-on-one coaching of under-achieving employees.

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