Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept an underperforming salesperson for too long. Someone you hired that joined the company with all the promise in the world, whose resume was first rate, track-record verifiable, references stellar. Their attitude was excellent, they showed up on time, appeared loyal, and were enjoyable to have around. But then they didn’t perform, and the months turned to quarters. And you kept hoping and wringing your hands simultaneously. There was gnashing of the teeth; passive-aggressive behavior kicked-in as you got angry, but none of that improved performance. Yet you kept them nonetheless, waiting for the proverbial corner to be turned, believing it would happen soon. And the sales person assured you it would, but it didn’t. Yet, there they were, still on the payroll.
If you’re in the majority who has experienced this debacle (or witnessed it in your organization) see if you can answer this question: “Why did I wait so long to let them go?”
The three answers I hear most frequently from sales managers are:
- They always seemed to have a deal on the table so I just had to give them a little more time to close
- The idea of starting the hiring process over again was exhausting
- I couldn’t afford to have their territory uncovered
Pushed to think about it more deeply, most managers agree that the true reason they hung on so long was they didn’t really know how to measure the salesperson’s success. Were they really making progress? Did their promises hold water? Was the deal really imminent? And in the absence of good measurements, the decision became subjective instead of objective, dangerous ground for making hiring and firing decisions. So the rep stayed in the seat, and it cost the company. Not just in rep compensation (please don’t tell me you reduced comp as a solution), but in opportunity cost, wasted resources throughout the organization and less obvious, but equally damaging, team morale. (I’ll say more in a future post on the team impact when others see you keeping an underperformer. Hint: reduced morale and respect for the leader.)
With short, transactional sales cycles it’s easy to measure rep performance based on revenue. But in the B2B space, particularly in complex, enterprise environments, the sales cycle can take 18 months or more before booking revenue. Using revenue as the sole measure in that scenario is foolish. There must be a way to determine within 60 – 90 days of hire whether a rep can be successful in your company or not.
So, what’s the solution? It’s not magic; it’s process and metrics. It’s creating certainty instead of wishful thinking. Here’s where to start:
- Identify your sales process, creating quantifiable milestones for each stage
- Create measurable productivity goals, tied to your process, for the first 90 days of employment
- Create a coaching program for the new rep with measurable activities each week
Note that each item has a measurement in it. The first, identifying sales process, ensures you know the KPI’s of your sales cycle. The second ties the rep directly to those KPI’s. The third identifies specific weekly activity metrics, but just as important, ensures you are training and having what I like to refer to as “sales conversations,” meaning conversations around strategies and tactics that advance the sale.
These are not babysitting techniques, and they’re not just for newbie sales reps, though obviously the complexity of the metrics will adjust to the experience of the rep. These are realistic, quantifiable activities that you know, if followed, will result in closing a sale. By identifying the appropriate measurements, you can define an accountability framework for the new salesperson. Once established, you create certainty both for the rep and for yourself. It will become easy to identify whether the individual is doing what they said they would do, where they need support, what problems they are experiencing, what obstacles block their path, what training they require. Whether they’ll make it.
Follow this strategy and you’ll never again retain an underperforming salesperson.
Please weigh in. Have you ever kept a salesperson on board too long? What lessons did you learn? What measures did you install to ensure it doesn’t happen again?