Aug 112011

Performance Improvement: How to Improve Your Struggling Sales Team

Performance Improvement:  Trying to get your sales team back on track? Forget the pep-talk. Experts suggest sales management and training techniques that can improve your company’s sales.

Performance Improvement: By Tim Donnelly |  @timdonnelly   | Aug 10, 2011, via Inc Magazine
Image – Getty
“At the end of the day, people don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad managers.” – Brent Adamson

 What do you do with struggling salespeople?  It’s a problem that’s vexxed multi-national corporations and start-ups; assistant managers and presidents of boards.

It’s simply hard to know when to pull the trigger on removing underperforming team members when it could be that the staff just needs a little guidance, encouragement, or training to get back on track. A little professional nudge in the right direction is a more economical choice over the time-consuming and expensive process of hiring a replacement sales representative. Many sales professionals would rather give their struggling sales people a chance to improve and bring their results up to company standards.

When you’re trying to figure out whether your sales team can get back on track, first try these expert strategies on how to lift sales team out of the profit gutter.

Step One: Install a Great Sales Manager

You can’t have someone overseeing your sales team who is nothing more than a glorified cheerleader, says Liz Wendling, owner of Insight Business Consultants and Sales Coach For Women. You need to employ a manager who is not only willing to engage the team, but to also identify weaknesses and work directly with sales staff to overcome their challenges.

“It’s not somebody who can just pat somebody on the back,” she says. “They do pep talks, and pep talks aren’t enough for some salespeople.”

Many companies make the mistake of promoting their top salespeople to manager positions, but often the most skilled salespeople don’t have the coaching dexterity needed to effectively guide a whole team.

In fact, research by the Corporate Executive Board says sales representatives strongly prefer coaching to come from their direct supervisor.

“By far unless the direct supervisor is perceived as owning that coaching, the coaching is likely to have relatively minimal impact,” says Brent Adamson, senior director. “At the end of the day, people don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad managers.”

Additional Resources: How to Hire a Sales Manager

Step Two: Implement One-on-One Coaching

Sales coach Jeremy J. Ulmer, who lists among his credentials twice being ranked the No. 1 sales performer at two global Fortune 500 companies, says the first step to improving sales is talking directly to the team to find out what struggles they are facing. What makes their jobs difficult? What could they do better? What could they be provided with to do better?

“Sometimes they’re very open and they tell you a lot of things,” he says.

Other times you will have to pry a little by asking how they’re managing time, what an average day looks like and to describe how they run sales call.

Then he picks one problem at a time to work on to get better results. That sometimes means removing technological distractions and giving additional management support.

Several experts recommend pairing low-performing sales representatives with successful ones. Ulmer says that strategy was a better learning experience at his first sales job with Xerox than the company’s 10 weeks of official training.

Sometimes Ulmer will put a sales team on a strict schedule so they are making sales calls during dedicated blocks during the day, instead of sporadically throughout all work hours.

Limiting the coaching to specific groups of employees is often more effective than spreading it around the company as a whole, says Matt Dixon, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board.

“Coaching is not meant to be democratic,” he says.

Too many managers fall back on what he calls “spreadsheet coaching,” where the focus is on whether the sales staff is hitting its numbers. Instead, you should be working closely with the individual sales representatives to understand the context of the problems.

“When it comes to coaching, they’re so focused on that number and hitting that quota, they lose sight,” he says. “The way that you do that is not focus on those outcomes but focus on behaviors.”

Michael J. Galante, who runs, creates what he calls a Performance Improvement Plan for each ailing salesperson he meets. It’s essentially a battle plan to help the employee assault obstacles to productivity. Often times, the problem is a lack of follow through, which leads to fizzling sales momentum. Having an action plan helps keep track of things like that that might otherwise be overlooked, he says.

“That’s why I try to document,” he says. “I can show the sales person or manager that there’s some growth or some success.”

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