Managing Poor Sales Performers

One of the most difficult task for a manag­er is managing poor sales  perform­ers. Hoping a salesperson will “self-correct” usually doesn’t get the job done. Perfor­mance prob­lems occur for specific rea­sons and they usual­ly don’t go away unless they are effective­ly addressed.

managing poor sales performers

When a salesperson’s performance begins to slips, you need to act quickly and positively. Remember, small performance problems are easier to resolve than large ones.

 As a manager, you have three management tools for cor­recting performance problems. They are:

  • Counseling
  • Probation
  • Termination

 We will examine each one separately in this article.


Counseling is your first option for correcting p­erformance problems. Counseling is used to address performance problems with any sales­person. Your goal is to bring the sales­per­son’s perfor­ma­nce up to the mini­mum stan­dard. This can be the salesp­erson’s overall performance or in a specific area (e.g. cold calling, negotiat­ing, closing, etc.).

The key to successful counseling is recog­nizing problems early and targeting them for corrective action. Often, a positive coun­seling meeting and regu­lar feedback are enough to boost a salespers­on’s performance. If this doesn’t work, your counsel­ing may need to become frequent.

If a salesperson repeatedly fails to respond to counseling, probation may be your next option. If the necessary corrections are not made during probation, termination may be the final solution.


Probation is a management tool that is de­signed as the last attempt to correct unaccept­able performance or behavior, prior to termina­tion. It is not an attempt to motivate, nor to punish.

Performance problems rarely go away by ignoring them. They must be recognized, given increased attention, and then appropriate action taken. Probation should be considered when:

  • All appropriate performance manage­ment actions have been tried.
  • The salesperson’s actions have failed to improve positively as a result.
  • If the terms of the probation are not met, you are ready and able to termi­nate.

Probation Guidelines 

If probation seems like the most appropriate action, there are several issues you should consider. The following guidelines are designed to help you address those issues:

1. If probation is warranted, check with man­agement or review company policy before proceeding.

2. The length of probation and its focus should be determined by the severity and duration of the problem, as well as the perfor­mance history of the sale­sper­son.

  •  Unacceptable performance. Proba­tion due to a failure to meet estab­lished per­for­mance standards should usually be 30 to 90 days in duration. New s­ales­peo­ple must be given an appropri­ate start up time.
  •  Breach of Company Policy. The pro­bation period will depend upon the seri­ous­ness and frequency of the in­fraction.

3. Written documentation during proba­tion is critical. Action plans and re­ports must be specified and fully com­pleted. De­tails of discussion should be careful­ly noted.

4. If a salesperson on probation decides to resign, ask for a letter of resigna­tion. If a letter is not forthcoming, a company letter, confirming the terms, should be sent to the individual as soon as possi­ble.


When it becomes apparent that a salesper­son on probation is unwilling or unable to perform the given tasks, termination is usually justi­fied. If you select this action, be sure to follow company policy.

Immediate termination, without a probation period can also be justified for a serious breach of company policy.

The objectives of termination are to formally end a salesperson’s affiliation with a company. This also includes communicating to the em­ployee the company’s responsibilities and commitments, such as back pay, benefits, time of departure, etc. At this time it is important to secure all com­pa­ny documents, equipment and other property that may in the individual’s hands.

Although it is a difficult and an uncomfort­able task, terminating unproductive or irrespon­sible per­sonnel is a necessary act; and should not be swept under the carpet. The conse­quences of not taking the appro­pri­ate action can create additional problems for you and the company, including the continua­tion of poor performance of the individual and the erosion of the organization’s suc­cess. Consider that your time and the time of others will be contin­ually wasted and the atti­tudes of other staff members could be in jeopar­dy.

On the other hand, termination often produc­es positive benefits to all concerned. Termina­tion allows the salesperson to move on to a career, company, or position that is more suited to his abilities. The sales staff can focus on their performance and you can hire a per­son more suited for the job.

Termination seldom comes as a surprise, especially if you have done your job effectively.  Salespeople on probation sometimes welcome termination because it disengages them from the uncomfortable situation of failing.


Your job is to get results through your peo­ple. Ideally, you hire and develop people who have the ability and willingness to perform the job.  When people fail to meet their perfor­ma­nce goals, you have three tools available to you: Counseling, Probation and Termina­tion. Using each tool effectively and in the appropri­ate situations should help when managing poor sales performers and to become a suc­cessful manager.