February 26, 2022

How to Turn Around an Underperforming Salesperson

How to Turn Around an Underperforming Salesperson

Sales is not for the faint of heart; it requires a lot of drive and creativity to sell a story. So, it's not hard to imagine that employers would spot some of their salespeople underperforming or getting burned out by the intensity of their jobs. That has serious implications on the employee, the team, and the company's bottom line.

Instead of treating this condition as an eventuality, here are some ways to turn an underperforming salesperson around.

Discover your Employees’ Motivations and Expectations

The first step to discovering how to help an individual is knowing what makes them tick. Get into a one-on-one session with your salesperson and learn what you can about them. What motivated them to enter sales–or your industry–in the first place? What is it about the job that satisfies them enough that they decided to make a career out of it? Is there something about your business that resonates with them? Find these things out and leverage them to get on common ground.

Also, look into their experience and expectations of the work role. Are they expecting the role to be cutthroat or one that provides a lot of guidance? Are they tenured enough to contribute to the team, or still in the learning and growing stage? It's important to level with your team during these conversations, because the intent is to understand how to bring out their best.

If your salesperson isn't particularly feeling motivated at the moment, there might also be merit in looking deeper. Are they experiencing issues within the team or the office? Are they going through personal problems that they need time to sort out? Part of bringing out the best in your salespeople is also giving them the space to get themselves back in shape. Even when the solution is to give them time off, if you see that's the way to get your employee back to a motivated state, do it. They'll thank you for it and come back stronger.

On the other hand, you must also ensure that your team understands your expectations. Do they know what your picture of success looks like and how you plan to get there? More importantly, is there buy-in on their end on the plans you've laid out for them? Misalignment on job expectations is an easy fix, but it can lead to fundamental disagreements within teams when unchecked. As such, be sure to make expectation-setting a priority, especially for those new to the sales role.

Take the time to differentiate the work of sales against marketing to help your sales team members gain clarity on their scope of work. Sales work focuses on the point of purchase–simply put, trading goods for money. This definition should put things into perspective. While gaining the buyer's trust and loyalty is important, it is secondary to the primary objective of closing the sale. Make this goal clear so their mindset and actions will be geared towards this direction.

Train on Product and Market Knowledge

Once the expectations are aligned, the next thing to build is technical competence. It's said that there's no such thing as a dumb question, and the best way to learn is to keep asking and searching for the answers. But not many put this to practice. Often, salespeople underperform because of a lack of knowledge of their products and the strategies to sell them. This awareness is usually known to salespeople, but they may hesitate to disclose out of fear that they might lose their peers' or bosses' confidence in their work.

The number one factor that needs to be ingrained into each salesperson is product knowledge because, without knowing their product or service inside out, they will not be able to convince others to buy it. To keep the team's knowledge fresh, leaders need to set the standard by establishing an introductory training session and regular updates through online courses. Briefings and brainstorming sessions on actual and potential uses for your products and services will also drive creativity within the team to think of other selling angles. Not only do these sessions keep your sales team involved and in the know, but it also gives them an avenue to raise product concerns or questions without feeling uneasy or judged.

It's also possible that even if the salesperson is an expert on the product, he lacks knowledge in adapting the product to fit his selling style. As such, product and knowledge training go hand in hand. Salespeople must know who their target market is and what makes them tick–their habits, lifestyle, even the best language and mode of communication to use. Most importantly, your salespeople must know which of your key markets’ needs can be addressed by your product or service. As salespeople, they must see themselves as problem solvers, providing solutions rather than just pushing them something new.

Receiving training on the product or service's ideal target market and how to speak to them allows salespeople to perform more efficiently, weeding out the unproductive customers and focusing their energies on the ones that matter. Building knowledge on complementary products and services and their target markets are also great ways to connect to other potential leads. They could think of it as a shortcut; if there are patterns of association between other products and interests with yours, it might lead them to new markets much quicker.

Educate on the Art of Selling

Like all speaking engagements, selling is an art. It's not enough to do an information overload to your salespeople if they are not adequately equipped in the art of selling.

Many tend to believe that the line between sales and marketing is blurred. While it is true that updating your social media page, putting up YouTube ads, or engaging influencers with a referral code can eventually result in a sale, these are not sales activities. The main aim of these engagements is to drive wide awareness and product relevance, which is marketing.

But sales is not about the volume of people that notice your product or service; it's all about the value they bring to the business as a result. Reaching 100 potential buyers for a single product might be impressive, but how many of them are leads capable of deciding to purchase it?

The metric to look out for in sales is not so much awareness–which is broad-based and ambiguous–but engagement. Train your teams to build rapport but ultimately have a closing mindset in their transactions. Doing so will help them save time and energy spent per client. Especially for those catering to enterprise clients, teach your team how to engage the company's decision makers. This lessens uncertainty and the time spent on back and forth for approvals.

Salespeople must sustain engagement throughout the purchase funnel. It's easy to believe the sale ends once the purchase is locked in, but that's only the beginning. The value of sales' follow-through is vastly underestimated, yet it remains a key driver of customer loyalty.

Train your salespeople to guide a sale to completion and ensure customer satisfaction in every step. Their service adds value and spells the difference between your product and a competitor's goods.

Build Monitoring and Reward Systems

Equipped with the right knowledge, your salespeople can only perform their best if the right systems are in place to enable this. If you notice that a number of your sales staff are underperforming, it's time to evaluate if the company's systems and reward schemes help or hinder your performance.

First, make sure that your systems are all rooted in the company's goals. Are all the customers in your salespersons' list truly revenue-generating customers? Does your lead generation procedure drive financial results?

What you don't want happening is seeing your team filling up templates and making reports merely for the sake of doing them. Leave no stone unturned and evaluate all current systems under this lens to ensure everything is aligned. There's no shame in tweaking what you're used to into something better.

Next is to translate your goals into small chunks, which can be assessed regularly through lead measures. Lead measures are essential as they are an indicator of future success and can still be changed or influenced, bringing about a higher level of involvement among salespeople to hit their goals.

Some lead measures include monthly revenue targets to assess sales, a reach metric to count active customers, and monthly purchase frequency to assess customer loyalty. For your sales team to visualize their progress, invest in all-in-one sales tracking tools to consolidate data, organize things to do, and provide real-time analytics for instant feedback on which levers to move to improve results.

Using monitoring tools lets you view how the business is doing and how much work your salespeople are taking on. If it seems that certain clients don't jive well with some of your teammates or that one teammate is taking on the bulk of the work, which is causing the lackluster performance, these are easily laid out through regular reports. You will then have a basis for reassigning or rebalancing work roles if necessary.

Lastly, attach these monitoring systems to rewards or incentives systems to motivate your salespeople to perform their best. While the ideal state is for all employees to be intrinsically motivated, sometimes they need a push to go the extra mile. And if you, as the leader, have the power to make their sales job all the more rewarding in return, why not?

However, while monetary incentives are evergreen, what may be rewarding to one may be deemed lackluster to another. It depends on age, life stage, and other factors, which differ per team. Hence, be sure to get an honest pulse of what your team wants to be rewarded for before creating an incentives system.

Some companies get creative by rewarding their employees with extra paid leaves, vacations, free meals, and other company perks to save on cash incentives.

Provide Mentorship

Many managers see performance reviews as a necessary evil that they have to do. They gloss over the pros entirely while waiting too long to communicate improvement points. Because of this, a negative connotation has become attached to performance reviews, with many employees not ever receiving the feedback they need until it's too late.

Feedback is a gift that must be leveraged frequently. Moreover, be generous with feedback on all parts of the process, as this is the only way for your team to improve. When used correctly, performance reviews are the key to constant improvement.

To remove feelings and bias from the equation, be sure to substantiate your positive or constructive feedback with critical incidents that would lead to your conclusions and limit these experiences to those you have personally witnessed.

But this doesn't mean limiting your honesty to these sessions. It's more important to communicate feedback–especially negative ones–right after the moment has passed to ensure the issue is fresh and the context is easily understood. Companies with a culture of open communication and feedback foster better relationships among teams, driving quicker response times.

One more thing to look into when a team is underperforming is to look into yourself as a mentor. Is there something in your leadership style or guidance out of sync with what the team needs? Are you approachable for questions and concerns to encourage a proactive stance among your managers? These are some things to address to ensure smooth dynamics within and among teams.


There's never a surefire way to diagnose what causes a salesperson to underperform. They could be going through personal or professional problems, lack training and mentorship, or are misguided by wrong or inadequate monitoring systems. The key is finding the gap and providing the necessary support to address the issues directly. When that happens, they'll pick themselves back up in no time.

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