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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

The 20% Dilemma: Managing Underperformance in Sales

Managing Underperformance in Sales

New data from the Media Sales Report shows that 46% of managers believe less than 20% of their sales teams are underperforming. 

It’s a terrible position to be in. It sucks your energy, time, and takes your focus from where you can be making a positive impact. It’s hard on leaders and underperformers. Underperformers usually fall into two categories:

1. The one that you hired, and they just can’t get it together. They consistently underdeliver on expectations. You hired them because you were confident they could do the job, they were maybe even going to be your next superstar, or so you hoped, but they haven’t met a budget and are underperforming.

2. The one that has performed well and is now consistently underperforming against their goals. What happened to them? They were great, but now….

How to Help Those Who Cannot Meet Expectations

New call-to-actionFor the first scenario, the one that can’t meet the expectations, here are some things to consider:

  • Were they onboarded correctly?
  • Did they fully understand the company's expectations?
  • Did they receive the training needed to perform the job?
  • Did they receive the coaching needed?

I work with a client that uses what they call the 5-5-5 rule. The goal is to put the time in the new seller up front so they get up and running sooner and the AE knows the expectations from the beginning.

  • The concept is that they go on the first 15 scheduled meetings with the new AE. They train the AE, and then during the AE’s first 5 appointments, the manager sets the agenda and performs the client discovery meeting so the AE can experience it without the stress of their first meetings.
  • The next 5 appointments, the AE takes the lead, but the manager is there to interject, and it is both the AE and manager in tandem facilitating the meeting.

  • During the next 5 meetings, the manager will only be there to observe. It’s 100% the AE’s meeting, and the manager is only there if asked a question. They may answer a question or two but always toss the meeting back to the AE.

In all three of the above 5-5-5 scenarios, the manager gives the AE feedback immediately after the meeting. What went well and where there is room for improvement. What is the next step, etc. Then, they plan a strategy for the AE to improve. This is one way to facilitate infield coaching with a new AE, and it works!

Managing a Salesperson Who Consistently Misses Their Goals

How to Help Underperformers

Regarding the underperformer that has done well in the past, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you connected with them to find out why they think they are underperforming?

  • Are they veteran seller that might need to reinvent themselves? (Clients needs are not the same as what made them successful 20 years ago)

  • Do they understand the importance of embracing new technology?

  • Do they understand the why behind talking with prospects about their desired business results and the way in which to measure success?

Today’s business owners need to know that you understand how to deliver the results that will affect their bottom line. ROI conversations are important, and thinking like a business owner is a must.

Maximize Your Team Performance

The bottom line is that your team must all be performing at high levels. You can only do so much, but you want to make sure you have done all you can to help them make it.

Remember, you hired them, so they deserve the coaching.

Let them know all along the way the metrics you are looking at for them to be successful. If you do the 5-5-5 plan and then they still can’t achieve their goals or if the veteran seller isn’t interested in upping their business acumen to meet the demands of today’s businesses, it’s time to get HR involved and put them on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

The PIP should never be a surprise to the seller. This is their last chance at achieving their goals. As a sales leader, you can’t exhaust yourself trying to get them to the level you expect. Don’t hold onto the underperforming rep, hoping they will change. If you have done your part, and they still aren’t performing, you need to mitigate the situation as quickly as possible. Your time and energy should be spent in places that will make a positive impact.


Topics: sales management sales leadership