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How To Help Struggling Sales Performers

Do you know a salesperson who is underperforming or struggling? Do you chalk it up to a bad hire? That could very well be the case, but we often find that the root of underperformance is usually due to an underlying cause tied to what we call “The Big Three.” Weakness in any of the three areas can cause the salesperson to underperform. Here are tips you can use to help underperformers.

Diagnose the Problem 

Underperforming salespeople have always been around; however, the problem has been amplified because of the current economic status.

You need to determine the underlying cause of salesperson’s underperformance. Why is it down? Are they getting enough at “bats?” Are they converting the opportunities they find? Are the opportunities big enough to hit their goals? All of these questions fall under The Big Three and any one of them can lead to underperformance. Download our free guide, “How To Run Your Sales Organization with Only 3 Numbers,” to learn more.

Activity is down

If activity is down, are you as the sales leader clear on what you were expecting out of your salesperson? Are they putting in the effort? Are you holding them accountable? Are you creating enough motivation for them? Or is it that they are making an effort, but their message or approach is wrong, which means they are not generating enough new opportunities or “at bats.”

Not closing

If they aren’t effective at converting the opportunities into deals, you need to figure out why. 

Do your salespeople know who the correct decision-makers are? Are they getting ahold of them? Are they doing decent discovery? Are they differentiating well? Are they pricing too early? These could lead to deals that stall in the pipeline even if they are uncovering lots of opportunities.

Wrong size

Even if they find many opportunities and the salesperson closes them, it is hard to hit your numbers if all of those deals are small. If this is the case, are your salespeople discounting? Are they going after the right-size clients? Are they chasing anything and everything? Are they grabbing the accessible low-hanging fruit rather than selling the more significant deals?

Apply Coaching 

When you recognize that one of your salespeople consistently fails to keep up with the rest of the team, your first reaction should not be to remind them that they are underperforming. Chances are they already know, and you saying something will potentially demotivate them. Nobody sells well when they are stressed out and lacking confidence. Instead, based on The Big Three, your job is to help them turn things around through coaching.

You should not underestimate the impact of coaching your sales team, as it frequently creates a fundamental shift in approach to their work. According to the Institute Of Coaching,“80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment in coaching and more.” Coaching rather than telling allows for your salesperson to grow and improve.

How Do You Do It?

For example, you have one salesperson who is getting lots of opportunities but not closing deals. Then you have another salesperson who is calling and emailing day and night, working their butt off, but they aren’t effective at getting in the door. You’ll need to coach them differently. Here a few tips on how to be an effective coach:

Listen 

Listening is an essential part of coaching your salespeople. It opens you to different ideas you may not have considered. It also allows your salespeople to feel heard. When they believe their opinion is respected and valued, they are far more likely to be engaged and push harder.

Goals

Sit down with your salesperson and set realistic goals for the number of calls/connects, new opportunities, demos, or whatever your leading indicators might be. However, don’t just leave it at that. Help them define where to find new opportunities and work with them on their messaging and approach. You may need to help them with time management, to block out time to hit their activity goals. Do the same thing with setting goals around close rate and deal or account size. Your job as a leader is to make sure they are crystal clear on their goals and HOW to achieve them.

Reward

When one of your salespeople wins, let them know you notice. By the way, a win is not just landing a deal. It can be achieving their activity goal for the week or month (or even an upward trend in meeting their goal). A simple thank you note or shout-out during the next team meeting can go a long way toward building trust, admiration, and unity. We like to say, “Catch them doing the right thing,” whether that is an activity, following a process, getting their forecast in, and so forth. Reinforce the things you want them to do.

Ask

Ask what you can do to help? Good coaches are actively encouraging and searching for solutions to improve their salespeople. Let your team know they can come to you with questions or concerns. You’re there to help them, and they should feel comfortable asking for advice and or assistance. Also realize that they often don’t know why they are struggling and may need you to guide them to the answer. Do this through questioning – not just telling them. They must come to conclusions for themselves.

Follow up

After you’ve figured out the problem and applied coaching, you must follow up with that salesperson. Creating new habits, changing their mindset, or finding strategies is just the beginning. Lasting and sustainable change takes time. You will want to make sure your salesperson hasn’t slipped into old methods again. Make sure to check-in during 1-on-1s, with a call or email. Accompany them on a ride-along to know you are there to support them and keep them on track. Set goals and monitor progress.

When it comes to underperforming salespeople, the first need is to diagnose the leading cause and ask lots of questions. Second, use this time as a coaching opportunity. Lastly, you need to follow up with the salesperson. If you do all this, you should see an improvement with your underperformer.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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