Whether you are the best or worst sales manager in the world at some point in your career you’re going to have an underperforming sales rep. While this is an unfortunate situation to deal with, there are specific steps you can take to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Today on The Funnel we discuss when to address the situation, how to prepare yourself, what to do, how to create a work improvement plan, and how to stick to your guns. As always if you have any questions feel free to schedule a 30 minute consultation and i’ll help you in any way that I can.


What we’re going to cover:

  • Don’t wait.
  • Always be prepared.
  • Not personal.
  • Work improvement plan.
  • Stick to your guns.

Don’t wait.

The build up.

“You have somebody that hasn’t performed well, they’re on your team, you’ve had some conversations about whatever rut they’re in, and they’re underperforming, and they’ve been underperforming for a long time. Now you’re moving into the next step.”

Coaching Culture.

“My response to underperforming sales reps is to get a hold of that in the beginning. As you begin to coach people and get into the coaching culture it’ll be a lot easier to head off potential sales rep problems before they happen. But it’s inevitable, you’re going to have somebody that under performs regardless of how well you coach them and all the other things you do.


Create a standard.

“First and foremost, there should be a standard for managing this, it shouldn’t be different based on different people, or whether you like them or not. But a standard program for managing these types of things should be in writing and you should have something available for people to see. So, if it happens it’s not a shock or surprise.”

Management avoidance.

“Managers avoid the stuff they don’t want to deal with. ‘Hopefully they’ll get better on their own, they can turn this around, I have faith in them.’ And really what you’re doing is you’re creating the inevitable and you’re setting a standard that’s not good. You’re signaling to the rescue team you can be an underpreforming sales rep and get away with it for an extended period of time.”


Sooner the better.

“The sooner you head this off the better you are. Get right out in front of it. Don’t let the thing fester. You obviously want to have some conversations as it begins to happen and if they don’t turn it around deal with it head on. Don’t procrastinate, don’t avoid the inevitable. Maybe they can get themselves out of it, maybe they can’t, but you’re setting a bad precedent when you do that, and you don’t want to go down that road.”


Head on.

“The sooner you head this off the better you are. Get right out in front of it. Don’t let the thing fester. Don’t procrastinate, don’t avoid the inevitable. Maybe they can get themselves out of it, maybe they can’t, but you’re setting a bad precedent when you ignore it, and you don’t want to go down that road.”


Always be prepared.

Ducks in a row.

“Make sure you understand exactly where they were before, what’s happened in between right now and then, and what needs to be done to resolve that.”


Supporting data.

“You need all the supporting data wrapped around where ever it is that they’re underperforming. Of course, it’s the outcome of the number but there are things that are happening that are causing this.”

What if they give you excuses?

“They’re going to give you excuses. But the truth is you really need to have a bigger pipeline than that. That one deal doesn’t ruin your life.”


What do you want to say? What consequences?

“I would say if you’re new to this practice, practice the conversation, have the conversation in your head, what are you going to say? And be prepared for laying out what the consequences are to them if they don’t improve.”

“It’s important that you do that, especially early in your career as you’re beginning this venture as a manager, because sales reps are smart, sales reps are skilled, and they’re going to come back at you. So, you need to prepare not only for what you’re going to say but quite frankly what they’re going to say and how they’re going to respond to you.”

Not personal.

Stay away from personal criticism.

“Sales reps don’t react well to personal criticism, I mean most people don’t but sales reps are particularly sensitive to that. I would completely avoid that, it has nothing to do with them as a person.”


Sales behavior.

“It’s like when we talk about the assessment that we use, it’s not about their personality, it’s about how they preform within the context of sales. It doesn’t speak to them as a person, doesn’t speak to their moral character or any of that.”

“The assessment is in the context of sales. So, you’re keeping this conversation in the context of sales. Stay away from the personal and don’t allow them to get personal. This is about sales behaviors and sales outcome and the impact of those sales behaviors on performance. It’s that simple.”

Work improvement plan.

“How do we get better at what we’re doing? How do we get out of this funk?


In writing.

“The first thing I’m going to do is make sure I have it in writing. Lay it out, this is the expectation, and I’m going to be very specific on what it is that I’m looking for so there’s no wiggle room. I’m making it very clear not only in my conversation but in writing.”


Specific, Measurable.

“Here’s what you need to do every day of the week Monday through Friday, this is our expectation, here’s the numbers we expect to achieve, here’s the outcomes we’re looking for in terms of business and be reasonable. If they’re behind on their quota and you’re telling them they need to get it back in a week and it’s impossible to do that you’re setting them up for failure.”

What happens if they don’t improve?

“The consequences for not fulfilling that, not measuring up, not getting the numbers back where they need to be and not improving is loss of a job. Okay we’re at that point, you’re going to lose your job if you don’t do this. You have to decide how bad you want it, you have to decide do I want to improve, do I want to get better at what I do?”


Inspection process.

“So, think about what you want, you know about the consequences, think about the very specific actions that you need them to take to improve and put that in writing. Put the consequences and the goals, the outcomes you’re looking for, make sure it’s measurable and build in an inspection process and stick to it.”

Stick to your guns.

Not a negotiation.

“What I mean by that is this is not a negotiation. This is not the time to have that conversation, that time has passed okay?”


Stay focused on the future.

“You’re focusing on the future, you don’t want to dwell on the past, the past is what’s gotten you there but you’re moving forward. So, that person that succeeded well they move forward. We move forward with that person and never look back.”


What would you do?

“It’s okay to look at them and say ‘hey listen, let me lay this out for you, if you were in my position what would you do? How would you handle this? How would you manage this? Would you just let it go until you decided to turn it around? It’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to the company that you do this. It’s not fair to your fellow salespeople we’re teams, we are all in this together. How would you handle an underperforming sales rep?'”


They own it.

“You put it out in front of them and they own it. You’re going to help and support them and coach them any way you can to improve this work improvement plan but they own it. If they do the work you’re going to support them and you’re going to move forward. But if they don’t and they don’t come through it it’s on them. You’ve given them every opportunity to succeed.’


Keep Filling The Funnel

We would love to hear from you. Let us know what you think about this episode. Please feel free to reach out to us if there is a specific sales topic you would like me to cover.  You can find me on Twitter at @Sheajohnr or email me at  And if you get a chance, please feel free to review us on iTunes.


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