There are two kinds of underperformers: those you need to get rid of right away and those who have a fighting chance and just need your help to become top performers.
Remember, selling is a learned skill: sellers at every performance level need coaching, but properly addressing the needs of your underperforming sales staff is particularly important. It’s not just because reducing this group is key to achieving your overall goal of building an entire team of top performers.
Just as important, you need a system that helps you make better conclusions about why your underperformers find themselves where they are. This is where a lot of managers and leaders fall short: too often and too quickly they reach wrong conclusions.
When it comes to underperformers, stop measuring past performance. Focus instead on their current sales activities, gauge their commitment to improve, look carefully at what they’re scheduling and build a plan with them for future success.
I should know: I was identified as an underperformer in my first job in sales.
The performance training plan I was put on by my boss taught me three valuable lessons about what sales leaders need to do to better handle underperformers, to separate the wheat from the chaff and get the improvements needed to reach business goals.
1. Progress first, targets later.
It’s a mistake to begin a performance improvement plan by jumping right into establishing rigid sales targets. If those targets are too high, you may be setting someone up for failure before they even have a chance to understand the skills and business habits they first need to improve upon. Momentum, on the other hand, gives people confidence quickly. You create this by establishing sensible, achievable short-term goals. Ideally I recommend you develop metrics such as.
- The number of meetings with ideal targets held per week?
- How fast the pipeline should be growing in all stages
- Lead generation activities such as networking attendance, time spent asking for referrals etc.
- Target conversation ratios and pipeline velocity
- New opportunity creation
Make sure they’re written down and signed by you and your underperforming salesperson.
2. Regular follow-up sessions are vital.
Remember: you are looking for progress today as an indicator of improved performance and profitability in the future. That means that you need to check-in with your employee regularly and on a set schedule so you can look carefully at the work they’re doing to meet the goals you’ve established and agreed on. My weekly meetings with my boss were instrumental in helping me understand where I needed to improve specifically. Just as important, it gave me the sense I had the support I needed to keep that momentum going.
3. Accountability is everything.
When you hold someone to account for their commitments, you’re doing more than holding their feet to the fire. You’re also testing their willingness to do what’s necessary to succeed as a sales performer in your organization. This is important. The commitment they demonstrate to you gives insight into someone’s future potential, rather than just judging them on past performance. Always start your review meetings with a summary of what was accomplished from last week. Ask them specifically about the action steps they committed to from your last meeting. Where they successful or not? Why? The answers to these two questions will help guide the rest of your review meeting.
By correctly diagnosing why an underperforming salesperson is struggling, giving them instead a clear plan in which they can show you progress and improve their skills, you gain the ability to forecast that person’s future potential to your firm. Not only does this approach help you retain valuable members of your team so they can grow and thrive along with your business, it also helps keep your coaching and training dollars focused on getting the great results you need.