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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When a Salesperson is Underperforming

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When a Salesperson is Underperforming

One of your most important jobs as a leader is to mentor and coach, but it can be one of the most difficult parts of your job if you have an underperforming seller on your team. It’s easy to think things like “they’re not working hard enough,” “they aren’t motivated,” or maybe even “it’s time to throw in the towel.”

Before you take drastic measures and place the blame on your underperformer, here are five questions to ask yourself.

1. Does the salesperson have the right talents for the job?

We recommend using a validated talent assessment as early in the hiring process as possible. Ensuring someone has the right talents for the job doesn’t just benefit your organization, it’s respectful to the person you’re considering for the job. Hiring someone who doesn’t have the right talents for the role is nothing less than setting them up for failure.

Developing a Coaching Plan for Underperforming Sales Reps

We all have talents, and we all have non-talents. Using our talents is energizing and fulfilling, but using our non-talents or weaknesses is frustrating and saps energy. When we’re in a position where we use our talents, we can grow and improve our performance by up to 10X. But, if we’re in a position where we try to “grow” our weaknesses, we can only improve by 10%.

With the knowledge of a salesperson’s talents in hand, develop a plan of action that involves tapping into their talents. Maximize their strengths in a way that scaffolds any weaknesses you may see.

2. Have you established a great relationship with the salesperson?

Talents develop when a relationship is present. When someone is managing you, which of these options speaks most clearly to your needs:

  • I need consistent encouragement, passion, and inspiration.​
  • I need trust and autonomy to allow me to get my work accomplished.
  • I need competitions and rewards to evoke excitement and encourage my achievements. ​
  • I need someone who touches base often to ensure I’m on track with my goals.

There’s no “right” answer to the question. Everyone will respond differently because everyone is unique.

It’s easy to guess what someone wants from you as a manager, but it isn’t an effective way to manage. Use a relationship-development tool, like the Growth Guide, to uncover motivations, recognition preferences, and things to avoid doing when managing your salesperson.

3. Are you providing appropriate recognition?

Recognition is usually synonymous with celebration, which comes naturally when a large goal is accomplished. When a salesperson is underperforming, a lack of recognition can contribute to a low confidence level. Consider how you can frequently recognize some of their small wins.

Develop a roadmap to success and drop some accomplishment “pins” along the way. If you’ve used your relationship-building tool, you already know how to cater the recognition specifically to them.

Effective Feedback for Sales Performance

4. Are you providing meaningful feedback?

If recognition is synonymous with celebration, feedback is synonymous with noticing. As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It’s easy to get caught up and overlook what a salesperson is doing.

Feedback is more than just “great job” or “that could have gone better.” Meaningful feedback takes time to identify the specific behaviors you witnessed that led to success.

For example, “The questions you asked during today’s discovery meeting were effective and provided an opportunity for your prospect to really open up. How did you feel about them? How do you think we could incorporate them again?” Use feedback as the GPS to keep your salesperson on the right track to the finish line.

5. What are your expectations?

This question is number five for a reason. Appropriate expectations rely on many factors. Before asking yourself this question, make sure you’ve confidently answered “yes” to the four questions above.

If your answer is yes, reflect on the expectations you’re setting for your salesperson. The power of expectations is huge! If you expect a little, you’ll usually get a little. If you expect a lot, you guessed it; you’ll usually get a lot. Underperformance can cause you to have low expectations, and those low expectations will rub off on your salesperson.


Reset your expectations and use them to set goals. Isolate any negative thoughts or feelings and identify realistic expectations. From there, identify an expectation that’s a stretch and an expectation that would blow you away if it’s met. Share these expectations with your salesperson and brainstorm and plan of action together to make it happen.

Top-performing teams rely on a combination of talent, training, and tactics for each individual. Before throwing in the towel, make sure you’ve asked yourself what you can do to help your underperforming salesperson achieve success.

Talent Insight

*Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in 2014 and has since been updated.

Topics: sales performance sales talent