An Underperforming Sales Rep – How to Deal with One

how to manage a bad sales rep with sales leadership and business mindset

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An underperforming sales rep is probably one of the most difficult things a sales manager has to deal with.

It’s a rather uncomfortable task to have to confront someone about their performance, and sometimes a tougher road to remedy the situation. But it’s a reality sales managers will have to face at some stage of their career, so it’s best to confront the situation head on as soon as you are aware of it, and begin the process to resolve the issue.

1. Check out your own performance first

Is everyone involved in a regular sales programme?

Are you having one-on-one meetings with each member of your team?

Does everyone know what their targets/KPI’s are, are the team in agreement of what they are and is everyone aware of the sales process to get there?

Have you identified every individuals pain points, and what you can do to assist them with those?

Are you providing regular feedback of each person’s performance so they actually know whether they are achieving or not?

If you have said no to one or more of the above, then you need to look at your own sales management processes before embarking on any course of action with an underperforming sales rep. You are responsible for providing everyone on your team with everything on the list above, otherwise there will be a much greater chance of having an underperforming sales rep (or team).

2. An open and frank discussion

If you have everything your sales reps need to succeed, but there is still someone who just isn’t achieving what they need to, then it’s time to set up a meeting. This isn’t to reprimand them, so don’t go in with a goal of scaring them into submission as no good can come from taking this kind of action.

The meeting is to clearly set out how they are performing and to give them a chance to understand that they aren’t achieving targets. Ask them for feedback – are they struggling with one particular aspect of the sales process, do they think the KPI’s are too difficult to get results from, is there anything you – as the sales manager – could do to help them further, or is there something happening in their personal life that is causing work issues?

These are all a variety of problems that also have a myriad of solutions, and as the manager you need plan a course of action  to take.

3. Working out ‘where to’ from here

Setting up a step-by-step process for an underperforming sales rep will be required as a follow-up to the discussion you had with them. If you can, recommend some possible ideas while in the initial meeting to get their thoughts on a plan of action, but if not, make sure you set up another catch-up in a weeks time with some clear guidelines on what needs to come next – whether they need one-on-one time around a specific topic, or a change in their KPI’s to reflect the strengths they have in other areas of sales. Perhaps they don’t bring in a lot of new clients, but they excel in retention of existing customers – this is still a valuable sales skill and focusing on this aspect of their abilities might be very beneficial for both parties.

Every case will obviously be very different depending on the individual and the business, but that initial meeting must be followed up to ensure both you, and the sales rep, are aware of what needs to come next.

This will also need to have a ‘due by’ date – a time frame in which to reassess performance. 90 days is probably a good benchmark, depending on your organisation and the rate that end-to-end sales processes take place. It might also be a good idea to get the agreement signed to safeguard the action you have taken to rectify an underperforming member of your sales team – remember that you need to be accountable to your manager.

4. Treat them how you would like to be treated

There’s probably nothing that would demotivate a person more than thinking they are about to be fired. It only brings about negative feelings, and would do no service to an underperforming sales reps confidence if the first thing you say is ‘if you don’t do this, you’re out’.

Give them every chance you can to succeed, with clearly defined perimeters, and only then do you have to move to the next step of advising them the next step will be an official warning if they can’t meet the agreed performance criteria set out.

5. Inspire, lead, motivate and encourage

Being a sales manager is also about leading your team – and a successful leader is one who can inspire and motivate their sales reps to achieve. It is hard to look at ourselves as the possible cause of a problem, but if you think there is a way of bringing more positive encouragement to your team, you never know what kind of flow-on effect that may have, particularly on those who are underperforming.

Download a SAMPLE Sales Candidate Assessment and see for yourself the incredible insight that you can gain when assessing your next candidates.


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