3 Ways to Give Underperformers a Kick in the Butt

On every team there are “A” players and underperformers. My guess is, you know who those people are, but may be struggling with how to deal with the latter. It can feel like a complicated problem, especially when you are dealing with underperformers on the sales team. In my time as a corporate sales trainer, I have found that there are three simple ways to effectively manage sales force development and performance.

1. Establish high standards.

Building a great sales organization starts with standards and many times sales leaders set the bar too low. The good news is that establishing standards for the sales force is pretty straightforward.

Start by establishing a minimum number of deals per week and per month for each sales representative. This should be calculated by mapping a sales representative’s daily activity, broken down into calls and visits to potential and existing customers. (Be sure to also factor in travel time, administrative time, and other non-selling time.) These sales activities should be funneled into conversion ratios.

For example, if a sales representative consistently visits 15 new prospects a week, possesses the proper skills and knowledge, and performs well, this should result in three new customers per week, a conversion ratio of 20%. As a result, the minimum standard would be 12 new customers per month. Failure to achieve these benchmarks indicates that a salesperson is an underperformer. The salesperson who achieves better results has more potential and should be pushed with higher standards. If it is determined that there are a number of representatives that perform at a higher-level conversion ratio, then the standard should be raised across the board.

2. Hold people accountable.

Once standards are set, employees need to be held accountable. And don’t let a fear of conflict get in the way! Many sales leaders are uncomfortable with conflict and/or have a need to be liked by the sales force. Still others believe that everyone should receive limitless chances to succeed as long as they try hard and remain loyal, or that anyone can learn anything. These traps cause standards to become irrelevant and for accountability to fail.

3. Identify causes of underperformance and take action.

Once an underperformer is identified you need to ask, “why is this person not performing?” Typically, there are 5 main causes:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of skills
  • Lack of talent
  • Cultural misfit
  • Poor leader

If the issue is lack of knowledge and/or skills, you need to recognize that this is a leadership failure. If the problem is persistent and companywide, leadership training that includes employee selection is a good solution. If there is no suitable alternative position for this person, acknowledge the mistake and hire the appropriate person. If there is sufficient time, coach and train the person until they have the proper knowledge and skills to perform well. 

If the issue is lack of talent, the underperformer should be fired. Talent cannot be learned. While possessed talent can be improved, talents such as conceptual thinking, problem solving, self-starting ability, and work ethic cannot be taught. If someone lacks the level of talent you need, there is no sense in waiting. They just don’t have it. The bad performance will continue. Cut your losses now.

The same goes for cultural fit. If the person is consistently violating your core values, he or she does not share them. They need to go.

Effective sales force development can be really simple. It starts with standards, and may require sales training or leadership training, but this is time well spent and will yield results you can take to the bank.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that need help with sales training and sales force development. To learn more about how an executive coach, management consultant, leadership training, or business coach can help your team with employee engagement, please visit his website at activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216 or email him.