Is It Time to Dump Your Duds?

Are you guilty of hanging on to your poor performers for too long?

As sales managers, I think we’re often a bit soft-hearted (although some may say soft-headed) when it comes to a salesperson’s poor performance. Maybe it’s because we’ve been on the front lines ourselves and we know how hard it is that we forgive poor performance too quickly.

We’re masters of rationalization. We tell ourselves that old Fred is just having a bad week (month, quarter, year) and that he’ll snap out of it soon. Or the new hire that isn’t up to speed yet is going to be okay, even though our stomachs say otherwise.

And sometimes we look at the commission-only salesperson that’s performing poorly and say, “Well at least he isn’t costing me anything.” Don’t kid yourself. The person is using up one of your most valuable resources – your time.

Too many sales managers don’t hire smart, support poorly, tolerate mediocrity and then complain because business is bad!

Several years ago, I heard of a California firm with over 200 salespeople who had a unique incentive program. Every month the bottom 10% of the sales force was fired! Now I don’t subscribe to that particular philosophy, but it did keep people on their toes and performing. I think of firing someone as a last resort, not the first.

So, what should you do?

Hire Smart

Be careful who and what you hire. If you want a salesperson, hire a salesperson, not someone who has no track record of successes of some kind.

Not everyone is destined to be a stellar salesperson. In fact, some people shouldn’t be in sales at all and many of those people who are in sales should probably be selling something else. Consider using an assessment instrument to help make a proper fit between the people and the position.

Support Your People

Too many companies give tons of product knowledge training and little or no sales training on how to actually sell the products. In addition to sales training, make sure your people have the tools to get and stay organized.

Also make sure you have a system in place to track sales opportunities, forecast accurately, and help your people stay on top of their sales. You should be having a monthly, if not a weekly, sales meeting with your people to keep them motivated and catch situations before they become problems. Don’t just be a sales manager, be a coach and mentor.

Set Targets

Sit down with your salespeople and set mutually acceptable quotas and levels of activity. Then make sure they’re hitting their targets. If they aren’t, it’s your job to find out why and help. It’s important that the targets be mutually established. If your salespeople aren’t involved in setting the targets, they won’t feel responsible for reaching them.

If a salesperson isn’t meeting his or her sales targets, I start to look at the person’s sales activities. Is he making the required number of calls necessary to make quota?

If he’s making the required number of calls, what’s happening or not happening on those calls? Why isn’t he closing the business? This may be the result of a skills deficit and some training may be in order.

If he’s not making the required number of calls, why not? I may have an organizational problem or perhaps a lazy salesperson. (Or a lazy salesperson with an organizational problem!)

Retrain Before Replacing

Give your people every chance to perform and positively impact your bottom line. Help them to help you. It’s got to be a team effort and you’re the team coach.

Sometimes the help and experience you need doesn’t lie within your organization. Or perhaps you’re simply overloaded. Outside assistance to provide additional training or an objective assessment of the situation may be in order.

The Bottom Line

If you’ve hired smart, provided the support and tools to succeed, set targets and monitored activity, coached, and chided and still the performance is lacking, then what do you do?

Well, you’ve reached the last resort and it’s time to give the person a new career opportunity, preferably in some other organization.

By the way, the parting of company should never come as a surprise to the departee. He should be aware that his continued employment depends upon his performance and he should be given enough time to bring his performance up to an agreed upon level.

If the performance simply isn’t there and isn’t going to be there, it’s time to cut bait and cut your loss. It’s time to dump your duds. Do it properly and do it fairly but do it. In this economy, you can’t afford mediocrity.