Barely 2 weeks into the new year and I am always curious as to what has changed since the clock struck midnight and we turned the page on another year.
From my own experience and having spent time with many clients and prospects one area that always comes up is what to do about under-performing sales reps. We have all had sales reps that have been underperforming and sometimes they have remained on the team for years. It is like Groundhog day, maybe more like insanity as you have given them every chance to succeed over and over and yet the same result. So, why have we not moved on? I typically hear something to the effect of we are going to give them 6 more months. Why 6 months? Haven't we been here before? What is going to be different this time? Those are just a few questions I'll pose to folks. Not trying to be cold or callus I just want to understand the rationale. My experience has been this approach of letting the under-performer hang around does not pay off especially in sales. The majority of time when we increase the pressure to perform and give last chances most folks go into protection mode and start actively searching for a new career. Not only do we have an under-performer who is allowed to remain on the team it is a costly mistake in several ways. It hurts the morale of the team, your top-line suffers from lack of production, customer service suffers, and your credibility as a leader diminishes.
If you are in this boat today and have chosen to give one more chance and you mean it this time, then this is what I suggest you do:
1. The Meeting Script
Your meeting with the employee could sound like this: "We've been here before and expectations are not being met. Help me understand why we should keep going." At this point you're likely to get a lot of excuse making or justification for the underperformance. The key for you as the leader is to make your statement and stop talking and just listen. You'll get lots of promises that they'll do better and things are going to change. You are dealing with a sales person and surely they are going to try and sell you on keeping them...right? Ask "What is going to be different this time?"
2. The Game Plan
Now, you have decided to give the life-line so what is next? First, you as the leader need to clearly spell out what your expectations are and what success must look like. No wishy-washy words just clear and concise expectations. Once you do this have your sales rep put in writing what their Personal Action Plan (PAP) is going to be. This must include daily, weekly, and monthly commitments. It is critical that this be their plan (which you agree with) since the ownership falls squarely on them. Your role is to support, coach, and hold them accountable. Then ask 3 critical questions: What happens if you do not achieve your plan? How should we celebrate when you achieve your plan? What coaching and support do you need from me? This approach will help make your job as a leader much easier when holding them accountable. When/if they fail you are holding them accountable or disciplining them how they told you they should be dealt with. It's also important to remember that if you are giving them this next chance you want them to succeed and your job is to support them.
Once you agree to a Personal Action Plan you must to do your part as the leader. Each week (maybe daily) you get a written report from the employee giving an account of how well they did towards achieving their commitments. Together in person or via phone (video call preferably) if you are not in the same office, review the results together. Then set the course for the next week. You will then do this same thing in monthly format. Why is this so important? This gives you a chance to move the needle much quicker than waiting six months. You will know very quickly if this person is capable of making the necessary changes and if they are committed to their success. Plus if you wait six months to measure and they are failing you miss out on the revenue that a top-producer would have generated and you have to hire a new rep which will likely take another 6 months to get up to speed. For all intent and purpose you are losing a year of revenue generating opportunity.
After the first meeting with the employee in question if you have not already begun to recruit then start now. As a sales leader you should always be recruiting and keeping your talent pipeline full. Just like you expect your reps to keep their sales funnel full of prospects. By doing this you are not going to be playing catch up and you are going to find top talent that you will want to add to your team even if you had not planned on hiring. This allows you to continually top grade your sales team. Over time your team will be stacked with elite sales people (The Science Behind Sales Person Selection)and you are not stuck in the death spiral of dealing with under-performers. Are you curious to see what Elite Sales People look like and how your team compares? We have tools to help here. Remember, recruiting is not a one man/woman show. Include everyone in the effort (existing sales team, HR, Talent Acquisition, CEO, etc.). As the sales leader you have to quarterback the efforts and ensure it is happening. Need a little help? Our 9 Step Recruting Guide is free and it is a great blueprint to get you pointed in the right direction.
Quite often after we have had to deal with under-performers we tend to go back to business as usual. Instead ask yourself these critical questions: What am I going to commit to doing differently to ensure under-performers are not allowed to exist in the organization? What are 3 areas I can improve my effectiveness as a leader? Who do I need to help hold me accountable?
In closing, this idea of what to do with under-performers is not the real issue. What is needed is a paradigm shift in how you go about attracting elite sales people, a commitment to embracing a culture of coaching, and holding yourself and others to high standards. Want more knowledge on what elite coaches do read more here and here
So the question is...Will 2019 be a New You or same old same old?