How to Deal with Underperforming Sales Reps

On any sales team, there are top, mid-level, and bottom performers. It’s easy to know what to do with the first two – keep paying them to produce results! Sales leaders often have more trouble dealing with underperformers.

When I consult as a Fractional VP of Sales, I typically see two problems with underperforming reps: 1) they are left on the team to dwindle or; 2) they have a high level of staff turnover. So, what is the right way to handle your underperformers? Hint: the answer is not to immediately fire them!

How to Assess Your Bottom Performers

As a sales leader or business owner, you need to approach unsatisfactory sales performance from a place of curiosity. In other words, you should be asking why your bottom performers are struggling to get results. Here are three questions you can ask to get to the bottom of poor sales performance:

  • Why is the person in question producing at that level?
  • Why is that person going about their sales job in the present manner?
  • What is motivating this salesperson to chronically underperform?

An astute manager will flip this hierarchy of questions around and start by asking about motivation. It’s something that I don’t see managers consider very often, but it is absolutely the most effective way to get to the crux of the problem. That’s because there are two main drivers for success as a salesperson: competence and motivation.

How Competence Influences Success as a Salesperson

If we consider competence to mean knowledge and the skill needed to apply that knowledge, then it’s possible to teach salespeople things to empower them to improve their performance.

If someone is performing poorly in sales, it could be that…

  • you’re not giving them what they need to succeed
  • they don’t know what tools to ask for
  • they know what they need but are afraid to speak up
  • they don’t know how to use the tools they already have

For example, the CRM provided to a sales team may be either insufficient or too complex for some salespeople. Or perhaps they are expected to use technology platforms they’re not adequately trained on, which negatively affects their interactions with potential customers.

Whatever the specific issue may be, you can ensure that competence is not the problem by providing all the tools and training necessary for a person to improve their performance.

How Motivation Influences Success as a Salesperson

If you understand a person’s motivators when it comes to their job, you can feed them those motivators to set the stage for success. To know what motivates someone, you as a leader need to get to know your people.

Whether you choose to do that in a direct or roundabout way, you need to understand exactly what drives a bottom performer. Is it achievement? Do they enjoy competition? Do they prefer to work as part of a team? Do they shy away from public recognition, or thrive on it? Perhaps they’re motivated by a mix of money and an innate desire to help people.

Every person has a different mix of motivators that drive them to perform. Note that not every salesperson has money as their number one motivator. With that being said, if money is not in their top three motivators, they’re likely in the wrong job.

The Influence of the Interpersonal

As a business leader, you need to know how your people are doing as human beings in general. What’s going on in someone’s life outside of work can have a profound impact on how they show up in their job. In fact, one of the top indicators of job performance is the direct relationship between an employee and their superiors.

If you have no idea how they are doing as people, you’ll likely be at a loss for how to help them succeed. How you choose to get to know your people is up to what is appropriate for you and your style. Take whichever path you’d like, as long as you get there – or else, risk high turnover.

How to Deal with Bottom Performers Based on Your Assessment

So, now you have your diagnostic checklist for assessing a poor performer:

  • Are they competent (have you given them the tools they need to succeed)?
  • Are their motivators the type that will position them for success as a seller?
  • What’s going on in their life outside of work?

With all this information, you can figure out whether you’ve got what Jim Collins would call ‘the right person on the bus’.

You may find that with the right training and motivators, a bottom performer is in fact in the right seat on the bus and can get results when given the right tools. But not all salespeople are cut out for the role.

Someone may be an amazing fit for a different role in your company. For instance, you may find you have a bottom performer on a sales team who doesn’t have a competitive streak and doesn’t like asking for business. In that case, they’re not right for a sales role, but may be amazing in a customer service or account management role. In other words, they’re in the wrong seat on the right bus. Now it’s a matter of moving that person to a different seat on the company bus where they can excel.

If you’ve been through the diagnostic list and determined that someone is not capable of performing well in any role in the company, then they’re not a fit for your business. They’re on the wrong bus altogether, and it’s time to exit them (in a respectful way that allows them to succeed in the future of course- but that’s a topic for another post)!

If you’d like to talk through how to approach bottom-tier salespeople on your team, reach out to me and I’d be happy to help.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply