One of the most frustrating problems a sales leader encounters is managing an underperforming sales rep.
When you hire a seller, you see talent and potential. You know they’re a solid performer with a track record for success. However, they’re now in the 20-30% of sales staff that’s underperforming.
Interestingly, the pandemic has caused many successful AEs to struggle with sales performance. Seasoned reps with long term Key Accounts are suddenly finding themselves with no clients. Some of these reps now find new business development as their primary focus — and they don’t like it.
How can you help underperforming sales reps succeed?
A Coaching Plan for Underperforming Reps
Start with Talent
First things first — look at your underperforming reps talent assessment. If you don’t have a talent assessment on them, sit down and list out the talents you recognized in them when “times were good.”
- Hard worker
These talents, along with others you recognize, help give you an idea of how to help them reach their potential. Make a list of the talents you see your reps use and think about how those talents can help them reach their goals.
While focusing on talent is vital, it’s also helpful to think about weaknesses that hold them back. If they tend to be negative, disorganized, or struggle to overcome objections, they will need specific workarounds. List the weaknesses you see and ideas on how to help them use their strengths and not get caught up in their weaknesses.
Practice Effective Communication
Once you have a clear idea of the talents your rep should be using to be successful, have an open-ended conversation with them. Rather than bringing up their performance, or complaining about missed goals, ask them how they think they’re doing and where they think they could improve.
Once they open up and share their concerns with you, ask how they think they can improve sales performance. Mention the talents that you know they have and ask them how they think these talents will work in their favor.
- Brainstorm with them on how they can use their talents to find prospects
- Set up Needs Analysis meetings and create solutions
As their manager, you may see some obvious solutions but try to guide them in the right direction so they come to these conclusions themselves. They’re more likely to adopt new practices if it’s their idea.
Weakness of a Salesperson
What if they aren’t aware of the weaknesses, and occasional strengths that hold them back? Sometimes people lack self-awareness; and perhaps negativity is interfering with prospecting or setting new appointments.
Ask them to think about the last call they had that went WELL.
- What did they do?
- Why did it work?
- How can they do more of those positive things on the next call?
If they say, “I was having a really good day, and that call just went great,” help them realize that their attitude was what made the difference in that call.
How Sales Managers Can Help with Underperformance
When giving positive feedback to AEs, we recommend 3 steps:
- Tell sales reps a talent that you see in them.
- Give them a specific example of when you have seen them use that talent.
- How you are going to help them use, grow, and make money with that talent?
When you’re looking to help underperforming AEs to improve, use the same steps:
- Point out a talent that you see in them, that perhaps they aren’t getting the most out of.
- Give them an example of a time when they used this talent. Maybe it was prior to the pandemic, or maybe they didn’t get the desired business result, but they still used this talent.
- Brainstorm ways they can use this talent to improve their performance.
If the talent is there, but they’re not tapping into it — it’s of no use. Remind them of why they’re talented and fit for their position and help them find ways to use those talents.
Then ask your AE about the value they place on your support. How do they want you to help them? Once you understand their expectations, give them the support they need while allowing them the freedom to do their job.
Develop a Plan — Together
Once you and your rep know what’s holding them back and what changes they’ll commit to improving — put it on paper.
Create a clear plan together, with action points that they can check off on how your rep is going to improve their sales performance. If you hand them a list of action items, it’s human nature to come up with excuses on why it can’t be done. But if you create the plan together, with buy in from both parties and action items for both parties, then your rep is more likely to commit.