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The Secret To Turning Your Underperformer Into An Overachiever

There's no greater feeling than when your teams click on all cylinders and consistently perform well, right? Occasionally, though, you'll run into someone who is underperforming. Here is how to turn your underperformer into a top performer.

Step 1 Where is the underperformance coming from? Step 2 Why are they having a problem? Step 3 Do they know how? Step 4 Do they have what they need to execute? Step 5 Set a plan

Your First Reaction

You're checking your sales team’s numbers and realize one of your salespeople isn't hitting their goals. Your first reaction may be to put that salesperson on a performance improvement plan, but those often fail to address the underlying causes of poor performance. And often, that salesperson will dust off their resumé and look for a job elsewhere, as they feel like their time is up at your company.

If your salesperson leaves or feels like they will not improve with the performance improvement plan, you could end up with open territories, neglected accounts, and lost opportunities. It's also costly to replace people, so that's not always the best answer. In that case, what do you do to deal with this underperformance?

Where is the Problem?

To start, you have to determine the area of underperformance. Where is the problem? Typically, it's found in one of four areas:

  • Not getting enough new opportunities
  • Closing small deals
  • Not replacing customers quickly enough
  • Not closing the new opportunities

So first, stop and determine where the problem is. You know they aren’t hitting their numbers, but where precisely is the problem? Is the underperformer just not getting enough opportunities, or is closing the issue?

Why is there a Problem?

Next, you’ll want to consider why they are having a problem in that area. It could be that you haven’t been clear on your direction. You may not have told them what to focus on, or you may not have been very specific. Gallup research suggests that "Only about half of all workers strongly indicate that they know what is expected of them at work."

You need to set clear expectations with your team. These expectations are beneficial for setting boundaries for performance standards or the goal you want your team to meet.

When you set clear expectations, your team does understand what they need to achieve. On the other hand, if you don't give your team clear direction, they will gravitate to whatever they want to do.

Do they know How?

Your salesperson might not know how to generate new business. You probably have several salespeople who are good at growing accounts. You also probably have some salespeople who are good at following up on leads, while others are best at generating their leads.

Your underperformer might not know how to get new opportunities. There are several different types of salespeople. Two of the most common are hunters and farmers, but there are hybrids and everything in between.

The main distinction between a salesperson who is a farmer and one who is a hunter is what each spends their time doing. Farmers cultivate client relationships and seek opportunities within existing accounts, while hunters constantly prospect and pursue opportunities with new, unknown leads.

So, depending on what type of salesperson you need on your sales team, you have to decide whether you can develop those skills within the team you already have or if you’ll need to hire new team members.

Do they have Enough Resources?

You’ll also need to consider if your salesperson has enough time, tools, and resources to execute when it comes to their opportunities. Are they working to a level that they're comfortable with?

When you have a great resource center in place, you can better equip your salespeople with the information they need, from collateral to training and beyond.

Are they in the Right Seat?

Sometimes salespeople can be in the wrong seat. For example, the two most common roles you may have a farmer in a hunter’s role.

A hunter needs to be able to grab a new customer’s attention. They need to be adept at standing out from the competition and selling their company’s value.

A farmer needs to be able to retain and maintain their current customers. They need to be able to show their company’s value and communicate to all relevant parties within the customer's organization.

Some organizations need a salesperson to do both roles, which can be difficult. Other times, however, that salesperson is simply in the wrong role, which can cause them to underperform.

What to do?

After you have determined the problem and the cause behind it, create a plan with your salesperson. Using data as your foundation, ask your underperformer what they see and what the numbers say.

Then, while looking at the data, explain that they are not getting enough opportunities or their deal sizes seem low. Next, ask, "What do you and I need to do to correct that?" Then, along with your salesperson, put that plan together.

It’s important that you meet them where they are at and work on solutions together. Then you can build an actionable plan. For example, you might explain that for the next two weeks, first and foremost, they will focus on calls. Then, for the next 30 days, they will work on reaching the right decision-makers. Continue to follow up with the salesperson, and don't let them divert.

In The End

Before you put your underperforming salesperson on a performance improvement plan or just let them go, consider looking further into the problem. Look at why, how, and if that underperformer has what they need. There is probably a story about why they are underperforming, and discovering what that is will help you determine the best course of action.

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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