Non-Performance. Now What? - Management
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Non-Performance. Now What?

CED Magazine, March 2007

Article Date: 03-01-2007
Copyright (C) 2007 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

What to do when one of your sales reps isn't performing up to standards.

Dealers are in constant need of aggressive, creative and resourceful sales reps to get their products specified, accepted and used by customers. Without informed and capable field sales reps, no distributorship can hope to compete in the marketplace today.

That said, what do you do when one of your sales reps isn’t performing up to standards?

The key to answering that question is determining the cause of the non-performance.

Start by reviewing the obvious. A sales rep must have adequate tools, resources and leadership to maximize their effectiveness. The review process is a critical component of sales effectiveness. This review should occur monthly for regularly performing sales reps and even more frequently for sales reps that are under-performing. This review enables the sales manager and sales rep to discuss, plan and measure success.

In addition to possessing and capitalizing on certain natural talents and traits, the review process should encompass the following issues:

  • Knowledge of products, customers and customer organizations
  • Skills in the application of this knowledge 
  • Development of a favorable attitude as it pertains to that knowledge and those applied skills 
  • Review of all target growth accounts, prospects and long-term target accounts 
  • Review of all opportunity reports or the lack of reports 
  • Review of specific territory objectives including sales to plan and gross profit to plan
The Under-Performing Review

The sales rep and sales manager should prepare ahead of time by reviewing territory objectives. Preparation should include reviewing personal performance on each target account, opportunities, sales to plan and gross profit to plan. A quick checklist of what went right and what went wrong for each objective will prove very helpful during the review.

More and more, the sales rep is becoming all things to the customer. Pressed for time, customers tend to require quicker and more complete answers to their inquiries, and they look to the sales rep to provide solutions, not just products.

Selling skills tend to center on the ability of a sales rep to translate product features into customer benefits as they apply directly to the prospect’s problems. This in effect is the value proposition.

Attitude Is The Foundation

It should be agreed that the attitude of the sales rep is a key factor in their success. It’s really the foundation for success.

The critical question then becomes how to ensure that the best possible attitude exists on the part of the non-performing sales rep. If the individual is not receptive and has a poor attitude to begin with, very little can be done to create an atmosphere conducive to learning.

This attitudinal problem must be corrected before another step is taken. If it can not be corrected, termination may be the best answer for both the sales rep and the company. However, don’t give up too soon. Sometimes the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” Turnover is very costly. Besides, if it’s something you as the sales manager are doing or not doing or something within the culture of the company that contributes to the sales rep’s attitude and lack of success, termination will only solve your problem temporarily.

There are a number of fundamental steps that can be taken to improve the attitude of the sales rep. Some of these are:

  • Encouragement of maximum participation in sales meeting and other training opportunities
  • Creation of enthusiasm by demonstrating support and enthusiasm
  • Creation of confidence in the program by providing support and resources
  • Giving success examples – documenting case studies
  • Asking thought-provoking questions (without prying into their personal lives) with the hope that they will open up and allow the exploration that points to the real cause of the poor attitude and non-performance
  • Personal skill development that addresses people skills
The proper attitude, at the very least, can help you determine if this sales rep is worth the investment of your personal coaching time, additional training and the deployment of other company resources. If the root cause of the attitude problem can not be determined and corrected, probation and termination certainly enter into the equation.

Sometimes we just don’t hire right and we need to correct our mistakes.

Is Training The Issue?

Generally, if you are good at the hiring process, non-performance can be traced to a lack of or improper training. The training program should be designed to achieve maximum participation on the part of the sales rep; as much time as possible should be devoted to realizing this goal. This is especially true if you need to set up a special training program to help a non-performing sales rep. It’s been proven time and again that active participation in sales training is one of the most effective methods of developing both an attitude for learning and an attitude for successful selling.

Coaching The Non-Performer

To begin coaching to help a poor performer define the situation clearly. Gather facts and identify performance results. Don’t sugar coat this or pull your punches. It’s important that the sales rep understand the critical nature of this process and the necessity to improve on performance. Meet with the sales rep and make it clear your goal is to help them improve performance. Avoid blaming, reprimanding or delivering ultimatums. Show support and a belief that you can help the sales rep improve their performance.

Ask the sales rep. Many times the sales rep knows better than you do how to solve the problem. Get their opinion on what they think they need to change. Don’t command an answer or give them instructions on what to do. Help them find the answers with your guidance.

Now it’s time to develop an action plan together. Focus on the activities that are necessary to create the expected results. Make sure the plan has clarity, is all-encompassing, is comprehensive and is achievable. In other words, look for short-term wins and set up success milestones to encourage the rep to be persistent.

Once you’ve established a success plan, it’s essential to establish regular follow-up meetings to monitor the sales rep’s activities and make course corrections when necessary. This review process is outside the scope of the normal sales territory review process and should occur much more frequently, perhaps even weekly. 

Take It Seriously

When a sales rep is under-performing, the manager needs to hold the rep accountable. In some cases, it may be necessary to reestablish expectations. However, if expectations are not unreasonable, the other sales reps seem to be able to meet expectations, and additional training and coaching aren’t working, termination is a decision the sales rep makes himself. That’s usually better for the sales rep, better for the manager and better for the company and it’s exactly why this process must be taken seriously.

The sales manager is not personally responsible for sales. However, he is directly responsible for the development of the sales force, which generates sales growth.

The sales manager is charged with the responsibility of setting proper expectations, developing systems to track and record sales activities and results, and eliminating excuses when results are not achieved.

A sales rep cannot perform without knowing what is expected of them. Expectations spell out what is required to succeed, and believe it or not the majority of sales reps do want to be held accountable. The single biggest key to success is desire and desire dictates attitude. Unless the sales rep has an internal burning desire to succeed, nothing else matters.

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Article Categories:  Management  »  Sales