While we aspire to have a team full of high performers, this is not always the case. From time to time you will be required to address performance that is below your expectations. While none of us look forward to these difficult conversations they are an essential part of our responsibility as a sales leader. Failure to engage in these discussions will create the wrong culture for your team and eventually result in underperformance overall.
The first thing is to have established expectations with your sales team that are known to all and are the basis of your evaluation. I have heard of sales professionals who were unable to articulate exactly what was expected, both in terms of activities and results. This should be established, communicated, reinforced, and clear to everyone. How would you feel about being judged if you did not understand how you would be measured? There should be no surprises. The clearer the better.
Next, be sure to capture this information on a weekly or other timely basis. You should be looking for accurate information to evaluate trends in performance. While sales professionals are primarily judged on results, as in revenue generated, be sure to include some addition KPIs (key performance indicators) around activities as well. While results are clearly the outcome we need to measure, the inputs (activities) to those results will identify if the sales professional is engaged in the right activities which eventually lead to the desired outcomes.
Once you have established a cadence and reporting structure it will be dependent upon you to review this information and discuss it during your one-on-one meetings. If the activities and results are aligned and generating great results, let the sales professional know. Acknowledge their good work and encourage them to continue their efforts. Everyone likes a pat on the back when it is genuinely deserved. It is also among the best ways to foster continued efforts that generate similar, or even better, results.
When the results are below expectations, point out the discrepancy and ask the sales professional what they think is going on. Let them diagnose the problem before you jump in with an analysis. This is part of developing a culture of accountability. You need to see if they even recognize the shortfall. If you have established performance expectations, they should know if their results are aligned or falling short. Start with their perception of what is causing the shortfall. Then you can deep deeper into the root causes to determine the best next steps. Sometimes it will be a matter of learning and sometimes it will be a matter of motivation, and sometimes it is a combination of factors. It is your job to determine what is needed to improve performance and help gain a renewed commitment by the sales professional.
While we might always enjoy the difficult “poor performance” conversation, you owe it to yourself, and the sales professional, to be honest and constructive. It is better to monitor performance on an ongoing basis than to allow poor performance to develop and persist. Remember, what you tolerate as a leader says more about you than what you say you expect.