How to Manage a Poorly Performing Salesperson

In a small business you can only be as strong as your weakest link, and a poor performing salesperson can seriously jeopardise your future...

How to Manage a Poorly Performing Salesperson

For many small business managers, performance management is one of their least favourite jobs – it conjures up memories of awkward conversations, anger, defensiveness and finger pointing – situations that they would much rather avoid.

But the fact is, a small business can carry no passengers – especially when it comes to sales, where poor performance can acutely impact the bottom line.

However, addressing poorly performing salespeople needn’t be a headache. Done right, it should be a positive experience for both parties that ultimately results in happier staff and a more profitable business – a win/ win for both parties. The key is to follow this formulaic process, which can be replicated across all departments of the business:

  • Defining performance
  • Tactics for managing behaviours
  • Your role in developing employees

Defining performance

For performance management to be successful, both the salesperson and manager need to be clear on what constitutes ‘poor performance.’ It cannot be simply based upon ‘the salesperson isn’t converting enough sales’ – there must be a structure and system of what is expected of both parties that is objective and not subjective.

Mutual mystification will make any form of performance management impossible – only when salespeople know what is expected of them can they be held accountable. To put this into place you need to align salespeople with both leading and lagging indicators. In sales a lagging indicator is what have they sold this quarter; leading indicators are the activities that they need to do to get future business in.

To put this into context – of course a successful salesperson should be converting sales, but they also need to spend time building a pipeline. This is a common trap that both managers and salespeople fall into – they put the onus on immediate opportunities, rather than investing effort and resources into future business.

If a salesperson is only being judged on what they are converting, then it stands to reason they will not be putting considerable effort into the longer-term contracts. By ensuring that the salesperson is being measured on both it means that the business can plan and forecast future business successfully – and ultimately the salesperson is less likely to feel demotivated and performance issues can be automatically negated.

Tactics for managing behaviours

For salespeople having targets for lagging and leading indicators certainly provides some clarity for both parties when it comes to identifying poor performance, but it is essential that these targets are realistic and achievable; and can be evidenced and measured.

The business also needs to consider how they can move from negative reinforcement to positive – so as well as having systems to address poor performance, they should also have processes for rewarding salespeople that are exceeding their KPIs. It is well evidenced that employees are infinitely more motivated by the carrot not the stick – meetings that focus on how the business will reward, rather than penalise, performance will shift the mind-set of the salespeople from fear to incentivisation.

It is also crucial to ensure that salespeople aren’t just measured by targets – they must also be managed via their “behaviours,” not just their results. Behaviours are the skills and way in which people work that will enable them to be successful in their role.

A good way to think about this is the fundamental difference between ‘saviours vs. systems’ – someone who is naturally gifted at sales will thrive if they are just measured by sales targets, but this isn’t necessarily good for the team or company. These people tend to do more harm than good – they are also less likely to follow rules and be a team player.

Because they keep closing their maverick behavior will be tolerated, which will ultimately disrupt the workplace and cause unhappiness among staff, as they are innately talented they cannot teach others their skills. They are also less likely to loyal – quickly being tempted away by a competitor, taking their contacts with them.

By measuring behaviours, such as attention to detail (so documenting how they are following systems), communication etc., you are reinforcing and measuring the skills they need to perform well. It will also highlight areas of weaknesses and lack of skills that can be addressed via coaching or training.

Your role in developing employees

Lastly, as the manager you must take ultimate responsibility for the performance of your salespeople. Ideally, your salespeople should be assessed and given a development plan on day one. Your salespeople are the lifeblood of the business – they deserve you spending the time to identify the conceptual issues that could hold them back, and to be given the clarity they need on KPIs for lagging/ leading indicators and behaviours.

With this in place, you will feel much more in control when it comes to performance management and, crucially, it will be a much more positive experience for all parties.

Shaun Thomson is CEO of Sandler Training UK

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