What to Do About Underperforming Sales Reps

So you’ve done your hiring due diligence and brought in a fresh batch of what look like winning candidates: smart, coachable, passionate about selling, pedigreed with a track record of prior success. Your sales-training and sales-training reinforcement programs are rock-solid. Onboarding the new hires is efficient and effective. On a regular basis, you coach them all one-on-one. So far, so good.

From here on out, everything should go swimmingly. Except—rut-roh!—some of your brand-new, shiny sales reps are having trouble keeping up. How come they’re failing to reach their goals? And what’s your action plan for remedying that? Do you pink-slip those underperformers, or do you invest further time and resources in hopes that they’ll grow and eventually bring their A game?

In our Critical Coaching Skills program, one of the things we teach organizations like yours is prioritizing team-member performance. Meaning, segment your reps into the following categories, or tiers: top performers, middle performers, bottom performers. Logically, you’d put your resources toward the middle performers, because that’s where you’ll have the biggest impact and the most significant ROI. But don’t jettison the bottom performers, at least not until you’ve devoted 30% of your coaching time to try to turn their ships around.

Coaching the bottom tier can be a daunting task, so follow these tips—and optimize your ROI:

How’s Their Driving?
Before you begin the coaching process with your underperforming rep, put together a performance report in order to analyze his or her performance metrics. This will provide you with a deeper understanding of what they need to be coached on. Share the data you mine from the performance analysis with the rep, and provide specific metrics-driven milestones you’d like her to hit. Use one-on-one time to discuss what she’s struggling with. But prior to showing her the report and/or a timeline for sinking or swimming, ask her to describe in her own words why she’s floundering.

Make a Coaching Plan
Put your sales coaching plan into action. When it comes to tracking performance outcomes and benchmark success, there aren’t a lot of gray areas. Sales is an objective business—you either close the deal or you don’t. End of story. A good performance-improvement plan provides coaches with a clear, objective set of standards to use in evaluating current performance and improving future performance within a specified timeframe.

Touch Base—A Lot
Calendar regular check-in meetings with your underperformer. Schedule one at the beginning of each week and another towards the end. In these meetings, you’ll review the rep’s progress with him. Include leading and lagging indicators, and get at whether his performance gap stems from a lack of commitment (motivation), or if you’re dealing with a competency issue (a lack of skill and knowhow).

If you’re coaching regularly and strategically, you should start to see measurable improvements in reps who’ve been lacking that certain something. When they start to change for the better, be available to them still, mentoring them toward further success. Celebrate their big strides and coach them on their failures. And remind them that, when you learn from it, every failure is a success. Now let’s get out there and win! Go team!