Last week, I was asked by a sales leader how they should handle a member of their team, who had been consistently underperforming in relation to their sales targets. As the problem is a common one for sales leaders, I thought it would be useful to outline the checklist of questions I worked through with my client to help them with addressing poor sales performance and, ultimately, determine their action plan. For sales people struggling with targets, this checklist is also of value:
1. Is the under-performance unusual?
We accept that every sales person has the odd dry spell, so the first thing a Sales Leader should consider is the pattern of underperformance, i.e.; has the sales person previously performed consistently well, but seems more recently to be experiencing a dip, or is this under-performance reflective of their performance during their time in the team? If it appears to be a more recent and unusual change, this would suggest that something new/different is going on with the individual that’s having an impact on their sales success. This may be work-related, or personal, but either way, requires an emotionally intelligent approach.
Sales Leaders with high Emotional Intelligence are not only more equipped to support individuals experiencing challenges/pressures, but they are also far more likely to find out about them at an earlier stage and that’s because emotionally intelligent leaders tend to have better relationships with their team and are more adept at identifying and understanding behavioural cues. (For more on developing EI, see ‘Emotional Intelligence – Park the ego, be curious and care‘.) It may be the individual just needs some additional support, or that there is an internal issue that you are able to help them address. Of course, it could also be a much bigger issue, in which case, the earlier you can step in and help support the individual, the better.
If, however, the under-performance is not unusual, then there are other factors to consider:
2. Are sales targets and forecasting accurate?
I hesitated to add this one in because I hope it goes without saying that these have first been eliminated as possible causes for under-performance. However, caught up in the demands of running a sales team, it can be very easy to overlook such things, so definitely worth including on this list.
3. Do they have the tools to do the job?
Sales people need more than just the ‘gift of the gab’ to be successful. To help them manage accounts, forecasting and pipelines effectively, sales people need, first and foremost, a good CRM system. Alongside this should sit the other equipment and software tools that your sales people need to do the job effectively. Talking to your sales people (not just those who are under-performing) about what they feel they need (and are lacking) to do the job, can be really insightful. It may be that they have the tools but lack the confidence, or perhaps have not had the training required, to use them.
4. Are you making it too difficult?
Many organisations are guilty of making it too difficult for their sales people to sell. Most sales people will admit to struggling with time management, blaming excessive admin requirements for a reduction in the time they spend actually selling. Whilst losing oneself in admin can provide an easy escape from those more challenging selling activities, it is almost always the case that there are admin activities which could either be got rid of altogether, or re-assigned to non-sales based people, freeing up your sale people to actually sell. One example of an area to explore is reporting, i.e.; are all of the reports your sales people are required to compile necessary and, if so, how labour-intensive is the process, could it be made simpler?
5. Do you have a winning sales culture?
In order to encourage and promote sales success, you need a culture in which accountability is high and success is both expected and celebrated. As the leader you need to create an environment where everybody wants to win. That’s not to say you come down hard on someone just because they don’t hit target one month, but rather you don’t allow a culture to develop in which it’s absolutely fine not to hit target month after month with no real exploration of the reason why and how it might be turned around.
6. Are you providing regular coaching and feedback?
Regular coaching helps to reinforce a culture of accountability and enables you to address under-performance much earlier on. It not only helps to uncover issues and possible solutions, but also reminds the individual that they have support available and are a valued member of the team. (For more on coaching, see ‘Most Effective Sales Team Coaching Tips‘.)
7. Do they have the skills to do the job?
Often, it is simply a matter of the individual not having received the necessary training. As the sales leader, you need to ask yourself if the individual has really received the level of training they need to succeed in the role. Using a coaching approach to talk to the individual about this under-performance and their perceived reasons for this, should help to uncover any capability gaps.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes just the case that the individual does not have the potential to achieve the level of skill required to do the job. In such instances, the first option should be to see whether their skills might be better utilised elsewhere in the organisation. Where that’s not an option, managing those individuals out is probably going to be your only option.
8. Is the Sales Process being executed effectively?
Whether you’re able to attach any of the above issues to the under-performance of your sales person/people or not, I would strongly advise you take a good look at your sales process and how effective your team members are at each stage, especially those who are struggling to hit target. Understanding at which point deals are commonly lost should be your starting point. However, that will not tell you the whole story, so you need to delve deeper than that. I’ll give you an example; the majority of enquiries we receive for Negotiation Skills training, from Sales Leaders whose sales people appear to be losing deals at the point of negotiation, turn out not to be about a lack of negotiation skills at all, but rather a gap much earlier in the sales process in being able to create and communicate value for the customer. Failing to create value early on leaves the sales person with nothing to negotiate with later on.
Accompanying your sales people on customer meetings, observing them ‘in action’ and providing timely feedback is arguably the most impactful approach to addressing capability gaps in the sales process. Before doing this, ensure you and your team are clear on what the required competencies are, this will enable you to give effective feedback.
If you’d like to find out how we can help you to identify capability gaps and accelerate sales performance, give us a call on 01778 382733, or visit our Contact page and send us your details.