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My Sales Rep Isn’t Performing – What should I do???

April 18th, 2019

Whenever a sales rep isn’t performing, it is time for swift and decisive action.  Let’s say our rep (we’ll call him John) is falling short of his goals. Depending upon the extent to which John’s performance is lacking, our actions may include a review and evaluation of your organization’s overall on-boarding, sales and sales management processes, additional coaching, and possibly a Focused Success Plan.  How John responds will determine his future success with your company, or a decision to terminate employment.

Since no employee (or company) is perfect, this entire review and upgrade process offers your company a great opportunity to learn, grow, and improve its team sales team effectiveness while simultaneously providing John with the opportunity to step up or move on.


Everyone has slumps, but even if there’s a good reason for John’s struggles, the fact remains that sales is a performance business.  If any one of your reps is not consistently meeting expectations and posting sufficient numbers, you’re not doing your job.   So it’s on you, the sales manager, to help John to rapidly improve, while supporting the rest of your team and holding them accountable to their commitments and results.


Sales is a Performance Game

A World Class Sales Team consists of superior players, coaches, and leadership.  Additionally, every individual on the Team must be committed to Continuous Improvement.


Because Selling Effectiveness is truly a numbers game, an effective sales manager should never need to fire a sales rep.   This does NOT mean that every sales candidate you hire will succeed, it simply means that their individual PERFORMANCE will determine if they continue being part of your team. From the onset, every player on your team should clearly understand exactly what is expected from them in terms of results, activity, process, reporting, personal development, and team contribution. They should also clearly understand the rewards of their success, or the consequences of missing their expectations.


If your company has a long history, with lots of supporting data, the expectation-setting process can be quite simple. If you are leading a younger company with less history, you may need to make some educated guesses about numbers, metrics, activity, and more, and perhaps pay close attention until you can get dialed into a sales rep’s ideal Recipe for Sales Success.  But no matter how early-stage your company may be, do NOT let your lack of history prevent you from establishing clear expectations.


Setting expectations need not be complex. When all is said and done, sales success boils down to a very few components.  At a minimum, these include ACTIVITY VOLUME and EFFECTIVENESS. In baseball terms, sales success equals total hits (or total bases).  The more times John gets up to bat (Activity Volume) to swing (aka: pick up the phone and connect with a qualified prospect), the more hits he will get and the more times he will score.  This is the case even if John is swinging with his eyes closed.  It’s just math–a batter that swings 1000 times WILL get more hits than one that swings 25 times.


The second component of sales success is having EFFECTIVE CONVERSATIONS.  If John is getting plenty of swings, but his batting average (conversion percentage) is low, he’ll need to change something (perhaps multiple things) about how he manages his sales interactions.  As part of John’s on-boarding and expectation-setting, it should have been made clear to him the HE is 100% responsible for the following:

1.           His Sales Goal: annual, quarterly, and perhaps monthly expectations and commitments.


2.           Effective Deployment of his Success Recipe: the total volume of activities, calls, conversations, meetings, etc., that if executed faithfully, will exceed his Sales Goal.


3.           Asking for help:  John should never wait for you to ask him if he needs help. He should know this.  If John is not generating his committed sales results, and if he cannot figure out why, it is HIS responsibility to ask you (and perhaps other teammates) for help BEFORE he digs himself deeply into a hole.


4.           As a matter of process, John (and all members of your team) should know they are expected to meet weekly for a short, but highly structured meeting with you as their sales manager. The purpose of this meeting is to report to you (and to themselves) if they are effectively executing their Success Recipe and to tell you their specific plans for next week, what they are doing to improve their effectiveness, and where they may need help.  This meeting offers is a huge opportunity for them to grow and prosper, and an opportunity for you to provide coaching, guidance, and motivation.


5.           If all this is happening (or even if it isn’t), but John is STILL falling behind his sales targets, it is likely time to consider placing him on a Focused Success Plan (FSP).


6.           Before proceeding with an FSP, you should make an honest assessment of whether John’s performance issues are related to Aptitude (including Habits and Behavior) or Attitude (Outlook, Responsibility, Coachability, Motivation).  In many cases, a rep that is performing weakly due to Aptitude can often be dramatically improved, while one with an Attitude problem is much more difficult and can often poison your troops during the process.  If you feel your rep may have Attitude issues, I would recommend having a very direct conversation before proceeding to determine if it even make sense to start with an FSP.


The Focused Success Plan (FSP)

As mentioned above, a sales rep should never be surprised that they’re not doing well or that they may be on the verge of losing their job. Transparency is a cornerstone of all World Class Sales Organizations.


Transparency allows everyone on a team to measure themselves against their goals and commitments at any time, in real time, without having to wait until the final week of the quarter or year.  In other words, it should never come as a surprise to John that he has been falling short.  In fact, John should be the FIRST to know that he is falling short of his commitments.   He should know exactly what the score is and exactly how much time is left on the clock.


Furthermore, members of a world-class team should carry very high expectations, so your players should be given lots of support and every chance to improve.   A lot of time, energy, and effort go into the recruiting and on-boarding processes, so when a rep is struggling, barring unusual circumstances, it typically makes sense to dig deep one final time before removing him from the team.  It’s possible (although unlikely) that John has simply been unlucky, or that part of the reason for his weak performance lies within the training, management, or on-boarding process.  To account for any of these possibilities, it is prudent to give John a second chance, the FSP.


During the FSP, the responsibility and pressure for John to hit his number is ratcheted up considerably.  You will be personally be investing more effort in training and coaching, so in the spirit of transparency and fairness, John should know that he will undergo more intense scrutiny.  The FSP should never be considered a last-ditch effort, like a time bomb counting down to John’s ultimate demise. It should be considered a focused opportunity to make a concerted effort to improve and re-establish his prestigious position on your world-class team.


The FSP Structure

Over the next week, schedule a meeting with John to inform him that due to his lackluster sales performance, he is being placed on a Focused Success Plan, effective (insert date).  This will be a 90-day plan, by the end of which John will be expected to be hitting at least X% of his monthly quota (90% is a good benchmark).   It’s important to explain that you do not expect him to make up for lost time or previously missed quotas, but rather to get on a path where he is operating at or near full-productivity for the next quarter.  Help John to break down the 90-day plan into smaller, more manageable milestones (help him to generate a very granular Success Recipe that outlines his daily and weekly activity commitments):

·         After Month 1, John should be improving and hitting between 10 to 25% of his monthly goal-to-date.  Be careful not to make John feel that missing his first month Sales Goal is catastrophic – it’s not – but it is critical that he at least shows signs of improvement (in both activity and effectiveness).  However, you should also let him know that at this point he must start ramping up to full productivity.

·         After Month 2, the gap should be closed even further.  By this point, John should have hit at least 50% of his monthly target.  Perhaps more importantly, his dedication to improve should be readily apparent – he should be performing a much higher volume of activities much more effectively, and gaining more commitments in his conversations with sales prospects. He should be much more proactive in seeking help and all aspects of his behavior.  He should also be much more dedicated to sales coaching and training.

·         After Month 3, John should effectively resemble a new Marine recently emerging from Boot Camp, a new more confident player, a lean, mean fighting machine ready to take on the world. He should be performing very close to a fully-ramped rep, hitting his monthly number and tracking near or according to plan (~ 90%). If his Sales Goal result ends up a just a stitch short of his number at 90 days, you can cut him a little slack.  A FSP does feel like Boot Camp to a sales rep.  If John has worked his butt off to develop new habits that produce consistent, effective behavior and continuous improvement, these are leading indicators of good things to come.


If John misses any of his Success Recipe metrics or milestones at any point early in the plan (or if you observe any type of excuse-making or behavior that indicates he simply isn’t going to get there), have a serious conversation with him about whether or not this is the right job for him.   It may be better for everyone that John uses the last month or two to get a head start on his next job search, rather than expending extensive effort on his improvement if he’s clearly not a great long-term fit.


But again, that’s not the goal. This is a SUCCESS Plan.  Your desire is to help save John!  And it can happen, within this three-month time period, with a highly structured, focused, and personalized coaching effort.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.