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.
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:
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.
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.