Turn Around A Poor Performer

Here Are Four Steps To Take

When sales slumps happen – as they inevitably do for all reps ranging from rookies to seasoned veterans – what can you as the manager do to turn the situation around? Here are four steps to take.

Track Their Activity

Warren Greshes, author of The Best Damn Management Book Ever: 9 Keys to Creating Self-Motivated High Achievers, says managers need to conduct a three-month assessment of the poor performer, and gather information such as the number of calls they make per day, and the percentage of those calls that lead to a conversation with a decision-maker, the number of appointments they book and keep, the number of sales they close and the average dollar value of each sale.

Greshes says the three-month time period is necessary to obtain an accurate representation of the sales rep's performance. "Three months will give me a true average, and I can really start to see what the problem is," he says.

During that assessment period, Greshes advises owners to determine what the sales reps really want out of the job. "I don't mean the company's goal; what is their goal?" he says. "How much money do they want to make this year? What are they looking to achieve?"

Once reps establish clear-cut goals for themselves, they'll have a much better understanding of what they need to accomplish on a daily basis, which is an important motivation factor.

"If I want to make $100,000 this year and my average sale puts $1,000 in my pocket, I know I need to make 100 sales," Greshes says. "Sales reps can use their activity to literally tell them that, if they dial the phone X amount of times per day, week, month and year, they will get to where they want to be. Now, you've got a self-motivated salesperson and someone who's probably going to generate that activity."

Address the Shortfall

In the meantime, there are steps that owners can take to help get to the bottom of the problem during that analysis period. For struggling rookie sales reps, Norm Trainor, president and CEO of The Covenant Group and author of The 8 Best Practices of High-Performing Salespeople, says owners need to have a nonjudgmental, open-minded conversation with the newbie. "What's incumbent upon the manager is to first seek to understand. Let's first figure out what's getting in the way of them performing at a high level," he says.

This will allow the owner to determine the nature of the rep's struggles: Is it an issue along the lines of problem-solving, relationship-building skills or product knowledge – or, is it an issue of motivation?

"The first three relate to ability; motivation relates to willingness," Trainor says. "If it's ability, is it their problem-solving capacity, is it that they don't have the right knowledge, or is it that they lack relationship skills? If it's a lack of motivation, you have to find out what's getting in the way and address that."

Once a manager demonstrates a genuine willingness to listen, Trainor says the rep is more likely to be open and honest. "Most salespeople, if you give them a chance, will readily disclose what they're doing," he says.

And, part of this assessment process should involve immediate steps to improve performance. One is to pair a slumping rep with a superstar. Dan Seidman, author of Sales Autopsy: 50 Postmortems Reveal What Killed the Sale, says he's surprised by the amount of companies that don't pair struggling salespeople with top performers who can share best practices and shadow them to determine where they're falling short.

"Whether it's paid coaching or free mentoring with someone in the industry or company, get them paired with an expert, and do a debrief after every single call," Seidman says. "You'll have this open line of discussion about what really happened during that dialogue they just had with the buyer," he says.

Remember What Used To Work

By definition, a slump means that somebody had success previously, and then slid away from that success. Managers need to re-focus their slumping salespeople consistently, so they remember what strategies and tactics made them successful in the first place.

Every month, Tim Connor, author of over 70 sales-related books, including Corporate Disconnect and Your First Year in Sales, asks himself the same question that he's asked himself during all of his 40 years as a salesperson: What have I stopped doing that used to work?

Connor recently picked up the phone and called 25 CEOs and presidents of companies he's worked with in the last five to 10 years. "I told them, 'This is not a sales call. I just want to let you know I appreciate your support, your confidence and your business over the years,'" he says. "Every single one of them said to me, 'You know, I've never had a call like this in my entire career.' And I thought, 'I used to do that all the time. Why did I stop doing that?' "

Connor says seasoned sales reps may unlock some of the keys to their current struggles by asking themselves the same question that Connor asks himself each month. "By and large, they need to reinvent themselves because it's a different world today, and too many people today are relying on social media, e-mails and networking events," he says. "I think for a lot of people, that's their main struggle."

It's also incumbent upon good sales leaders to help veteran salespeople find motivation if their energy levels have slipped. Seidman says owners should encourage these veterans to hit the reset button and remember what they enjoy – or used to enjoy – about the ad specialty industry and servicing their clients.

"I work people through an exercise where we say, 'Tell me some positive things about your industry, your company and the products you sell, the person you work for, and the office setting,' " he says. "So, I go from a big view down to a finite view of their business, and they'll have a chart and write down each of the good things they can think of for each of those topics."

As rudimentary as the exercise may sound, Seidman says it really does help sales veterans to refocus. "This way, they don't dwell on the negative," he says. "Having a positive attitude can really turn people around."

Review the Numbers

Once the initial three-month evaluation period ends, Greshes says the most important statistic to measure is the number of sales calls the rep averages per day. "Let's say they're averaging three calls a day. That's nothing, but you don't want to say, 'I want you to start averaging 20 calls a day,' because that's not going to happen," he says. "You can't expect people to do something they're not used to doing. So, you say to the rep, 'From now on, I want you to make four calls a day. Can you make one more call a day?' No one's going to say no to that, and four calls a day increases their activity by 33%."

Once the rep consistently hits that number, Greshes says it's time to move him/her to five calls per day, and so on. "The key is to get people to expand their comfort zone," he says. "That's how you do it. Do that with veterans, too, because sometimes they just forget the basics, and you've got to find new challenges for them."