You did everything right. You hired reps that all seemed to have the 5 must-have traits: conscientiousness, coachability, intelligence, passion, and a record of success elsewhere. You implemented a solid sales training program. You onboarded new hires efficiently and effectively. You coached each of them one-on-one.
And yet, some of your sales reps are still struggling to keep up and failing to hit their goals. What’s your next move? Do you let them go for failing to perform, or do you invest time and resources in helping them learn and improve?
Bill Binch, VP of Worldwide Sales Operations at Marketo, once let me in on his admirable leadership philosophy: no one on his team will ever be terminated without seeing it coming.
When one of your sales reps is struggling, don’t just let him go right away. Instead, follow these steps to give him the chance to succeed. If after a designated period of time he still fails to meet the goals you’ve set for him, then you can both part ways and it will not be an emotional surprise.
Step 1: Prepare a performance report
When you recognize that one of your reps consistently fails to keep up with his peers, take an hour or two to analyze his sales performance metrics and create a report to show him where he’s performing poorly. Include in this report:
How he is performing relative to his goals
How he is performing relative to his colleagues
His performance trends over time
Next, think about the areas that need improvement. You’ll need to come to the meeting with specific, metrics-driven goals you’d like them to hit.
Step 2: Meet with your rep
Next, sit down with your rep one-on-one in a closed room and describe what they’re struggling with. Before you show him the performance report you’ve written or start giving him a timeline before they’re fired, ask him what he thinks is going on.
“You’ve been falling short of your goal for 2 months now. What do you think is going on?” Then, listen to him. Give him a chance to explain why he thinks he’s performing poorly. If you start giving your opinion without trying to fully understand his predicament, you risk missing out on telling information. Does he feel like he got a dry territory or weak leads? Is there something going on in his personal life that’s affecting work or motivation? You are his sales coach first and foremost – figure out why he’s struggling, and evaluate what you can do to help him improve.
Next, tell him you’re concerned about his performance but that you’re eager to work with him to improve and reach success. Show him the data-backed performance report you’ve created and go through each of his performance stats one by one. Next, outline the goals you’d like him to work toward over the next few weeks. This isn’t a performance improvement plan – the initial attempt to help him improve should be less formal.
Step 3: Schedule biweekly meetings
Schedule meetings with him twice a week, Monday to plan for the upcoming week and Thursday to review the week’s activities. Take notes during these meetings for later reference and keep a timeline of activity performance and his feedback.
If he starts picking it up and improving, then that’s fantastic! Keep meeting with him and making yourself available as a mentor to encourage his success. Celebrate his achievements and coach him on his failures.
If your initial attempt to help mentor your struggling sales rep doesn’t work, meet with them to introduce a performance improvement plan.
Step 4: Implement your performance improvement plan
The great thing about sales is that it is measured so objectively, making it easier to track performance and benchmark success. Performance improvement plans are meant to provide a clear, objective set of standards for evaluating performance and improving performance over a set period of time – typically 90 days. It should include:
An introduction outlining in a few sentences what the performance improvement plan is and why it is being given.
The length (in days) of the performance improvement period.
A list of clear objectives for that time period. These should be as explicit as possible (“conduct a minimum of 5 meetings per week,” for example).
A schedule of weekly meetings. For example, biweekly on Monday and Thursday.
Consequences if these expectations are not met. Namely, further disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Space for the rep’s signature and date signed + your signature and date signed.
By setting out these goals and relaying the consequences if they are not met, you take away the surprise factor that can make termination that much more emotional.