Developing Salespeople: Creating a Coaching Budget

Developing salespeople is like saving for retirement. If you don’t create  a realistic plan and invest accordingly you’ll be disappointed when you retire. Salespeople need a plan and an investment of time and energy in order to help them realize their full potential. Too often training and developing salespeople becomes a “round to it” for sales managers because they have other more pressideveloping salespeopleng things to do…like paper work and meetings. This is a mistake you can’t afford to make.

Another mistake sales managers make is treating every salesperson the same. This article will help develop salespeople while getting the most from each salesperson and your time.

Developing Salespeople

Each salesperson will require different approaches and need varying amounts of time.  Since you can’t be all things to all people, you must assess where your management time will bring its greatest return.  This means you must allocate your coaching time to make sure the people who have the greatest need and potential receives the most time.  The people who have the least need and represent the smallest potential for improvement receive the least time.

To make sure that you effectively allocate your time properly you’ll need to take the following actions:

      Create a Coaching Budget — To help you determine how much time you have available to spend with your people. For example if there are 240 work days and you want to spend 60% of your time coaching salespeople then your budget is 144 days. The results you get from developing salespeople are determined by how you spend your coaching budget.

      Assess each salesperson — When assessing salespeople you want to focus on their skills, knowledge and attitude. Make sure that you assess for  both the needs and potential of your people.  This will help you to spend the most time where the need and potential is greatest.

      Allocation of Coaching Days — Based on your assessment you now must commit your time to ensures that each salesperson gets an optimal amount of coaching time.  The key to setting priorities in this situation is to ask these questions “What will happen to performance if I don’t spend time with the salespeople?” and, “What will happen if I do?”

      Coaching Calendar — This formalizes your allocation of coaching time.  Since coaching time is the most important activity you can perform schedule it in your weekly and monthly plans first.  Then schedule other activities around your allocated coaching days.  Doing so will help prevent you from getting bogged down doing unimportant but urgent tasks instead of spending time with your people.

Developing salespeople won’t happen unless you make the time to do it. There are always going to be activities waiting to steal your time and distract you from your most important responsibility. If you want your salespeople to be peak performers then create your coaching budget and stick with it. Committing your budget to your calendar helps create the necessary discipline to make it happen.

If you’d like more information on creating a coaching budget and developing salespeople check out my eBook “Coaching for Peak Performance”. 

Developing Salespeople with the OREO Model

Developing salespeople is easy when you can understand and apply three basic concepts:

1.  “Winning is fun, losing isn’t!”

2.  “Winning is different for every person!”developing salespeople

3.  “Your job as a manager is to help your people win everyday!”

When you discover what winning is for your people, then you are well on your way to helping them succeed. The quickest way to help salespeople win is to have a clear description of where they want to go or what they want. This is called an outcome. Using their outcomes to achieve business goals is an effective method of getting results and developing salespeople.

One way to organize a plan for achieving an outcome is the OREO Method developed by corporate trainer, Gerry Schmidt.

  •  Outcome: What is the desired result?
  • Reality: What is the current situation, including the resources available and the resources that are needed to change the  current situation?
  • Evidence: What evidence will be used to demonstrate that the outcome has been achieved?
  • Operations: What will the salesperson do to achieve the desired outcome?

Here are some important guidelines for Applying OREO while developing salespeople:

1.    Key to successful coaching is having a clearly stated and well-formed outcome. To discover someone’s outcome ask, “What do you want?”

To ensure that the person’s outcome is well-formed, make sure that it is:

•      Stated in the positive (describe what the person wants and not what the person doesn’t want).

•      Within the person’s control. The actions that will lead to the desired outcome must be within the person’s control.

•      Actions must be small enough and specific enough to facilitate immediate action.

•      Actions must have time frames.

•      Achieving the outcome will produce or lead to achieving a larger goal or outcome.

To determine the larger goal or outcome ask, “What will ________________ (insert desired outcome) get you or allow you to do?

2.    The next step is to assess the person’s current reality and compare it to the desired outcome. To assess a person’s reality, ask the following questions:

•      Compared to your desired outcome, where are you now?

•      What stops you from having the desired outcome now?

•      What are you doing that is keeping you from having the desired outcome?

•      What resources are available?

•      What resources are needed?

3.    Evidence defines how people will know that their outcome has been achieved. To determine a person’s evidence ask, “How will you know when you have achieved this outcome?”

To help clarify the evidence, ask the following:

•      What will other people see, hear, and feel when you achieve your outcome?

•      What will be the first indications that you’re making progress towards your outcome?

•      What other benchmarks will you use?

•      What will be the long-term impact of achieving the outcome?

•      How will achieving this outcome impact other areas of your life?

4.    Operations outline the person’s plan of attack. To discover a person’s operation, ask “What will you do to achieve this outcome?”  To make the plan as practical and effective as possible, ask the following questions:

•      How else can you achieve the outcome?

•      What are you going to do first?

•      Specifically, when are you going to do it?

•      What could get in the way of your success?

•      What support do you need to be successful?

•      How certain are you that you will carry out the agreed upon actions? (Use a scale of 1-10, with 10 being absolutely certain.) If the rating is less than an 8, find a new outcome or a new plan of action.

When salespeople do things for their reasons they are far more motivated than if they were doing things for yours.  Using the OREO model for developing salespeople helps you keep them focused on activities that produce meaningful results.

Sales Process: The Key to Growing Sales, Profits and Customer Loyalty

sales processThe sales process is one of the most overlooked assets a small business has for growing sales, profits and customer loyalty. If you want to grow your business this is one of the first places to look for dramatic results. I’ll explain why and what you can do to get the most out of yours.

A sales process is a series of documented steps salespeople follow to move prospects from first contact to purchase. It should include:

  • Each specific step a prospects take
  • Knowledge prospects need to move to the next step
  • Resources you can provide to help prospects move forward
  • Length of time a prospects need at each step
  • Metrics that measure conversion rates (the percentage of prospects that move from one step to the next) for each step

With a documented sales process, you have a powerful tool that enables you to:

  • Sell more efficiently
  • Create more accurate sales and revenue reports
  • Estimate the revenue and return on investment (ROI) of your marketing campaigns
  • See which stages take the most time and find ways to move prospects forward
  • Create better literature and tools
  • Improve your campaigns
  • Minimize time your reps spend on estimates and forecasts

Unfortunately, with all the benefits of a defined sales process 70% of companies don’t require their salespeople to comply with a standardized, documented set of sales processes.*(*ES Research Group)

Not getting  compliance may be caused by any number of factors including:  the process is poorly designed, or it’s not understood or it’s not supported by the organization. For whatever reason, allowing salespeople to “wing it” is a very expensive business strategy. Without a defined sales process resources can’t be effectively allocated, revenues can’t be accurately forecasted and customers may not get the information they need when they need it. All these factors contribute to lost sales, lower profits and diminished customer loyalty.

Even if your company has a defined sales process, that doesn’t guarantee success. Your next challenge is to make sure that your sales process aligns with your customers’ buying process. Starting the sales relationship just after a customer purchased from a competitor is far more challenging than starting when the customer first becomes aware of a need or want. When do you want your salespeople to start allocating selling time and company resources? Aligning your sales process with your customers’  buying process ensures your selling efforts begin as early in the buying process as possible. Thus giving you the best chance to influence the sales outcome.

Does your sales process make sure that you use the right selling effort supported by the right resources to make sure that sales are made in the shortest time with the fewest resources? If your answer is not a definite yes then you have a great opportunity for growing your business without adding costs. Improving your sales process doesn’t add costs because it’s simply directing your selling effort more effectively. The sooner you start the sooner you’ll start seeing bottom line results.

Sales Message: Is Yours Positioning You to Win?

Sales MessageIs your sales message positioning you win, draw or lose? The answer depends on several factors including if your sales message is  heard, who is hearing it and how effective it is.

Having your message heard is a role of the media, message, timing, frequency and delivery. A recent LinkedIn survey revealed the number-one challenge on the minds of sales professionals was “getting the attention of prospects”. Customers are bombarded with information, so much so everything begins to sound like “Blah, Blah, Blah”. Making matters more challenging is only 3% of your target market is in the buying mode at a given time. If they aren’t buying they aren’t listening.  Getting your sales message to your customers too early, too late or without impact is a waste of time, money and energy.

In the communication jungle, there are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise. The mind, as a defense against the huge volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information it’s offered. The only hope to deliver your sales message is to be selective and to focus on narrow targets. In a word: “positioning.”

According to John Foley CEO of Interlink One,“This is a one-on-one world…you have to really be more relevant with the marketing channel and the media you use to the people you’re trying to reach and not only relevant in those channels or media, but also the content, messaging, timing, and even how they’ll respond.”

To effectively position your your products and services you must find out:

  • How the marketplace sees your company
  • How your ideal or target customers see your company and what they value
  • What you know about your own company and the customer value it creates

Positioning your sales message should be a foundation for action to design, manage and defend your brand. It should inform everything you do, including:

  • What  customer value you create
  • What you value
  • What’s your sustainable competitive advantage
  • How you conduct your business
  • How you communicate and interact with customers

Business consultant and CEO of Grow My Revenue Ian Altman worked with a health insurance company who was getting a 1% response rate to their cold calling efforts. Sales were down and morale was even lower. Altman helped the company change their generic sales message to one that highlighted what the company did best and appealed to a large segment of the market. Selling the same products with the same salespeople, the company saw its response rate increase to 30%. Achieving such a dramatic increase was accomplished by simply delivering a better sales message.

You must view your sales and marketing messaging as an asset that  you can quickly leverage into increased sales and profits.

Take a close look at your sales message and ask yourself: How does it help your ideal customers  clearly understand how your solution uniquely satisfies their buying criteria and emotional needs; and is it delivered when it most influences the buying decision in your favor? If you answered no to either one you’ve got some work to do. Improve your sales message and watch sales grow.

Stop Customer Churn by Managing Moments of Truth

Is customer churn draining the energy, profits and brand equity out of your company? If it is then you need to stop the customer customer churnchurn immediately. Committing your company’s resources to acquiring customers only to see them leave during the next buying cycle is a prescription for failure. Stopping churn requires you to examine you relationship with your customers throughout the customer experience.

In any relationship, whether it is a marriage, a frien­dship, or a sales relation­ship, there are phases when problems or conflicts are apt to arise. If such dilem­mas are not confronted and resolved early on, the pre­mature dissolution of a partnership may result. In the case of a customer part­nership, there are phases when the buyer’s expecta­tions of your prod­uct or service are tested. During these times you must prove to your customers that your product or ser­vice is their best alternative. Such confron­tations are called Mo­ments of Truth, and how you handle them will deter­mine the longevi­ty of the rela­tionship.

Moments of Truth are the real acid tests of long-term part­nerships. If your product or service per­f­orms as intend­ed and de­livers the benefits the cus­tomer is seek­ing, ev­ery­one is happy and the rela­tion­ship is se­cure. On the other hand, if the product or service fails to per­form or deliver the expected benefits, the custom­er is unhappy and the rela­tion­ship is in jeopar­dy. This is the starting point for customer churn.

A Moment of Truth can occur at any time, in a vari­ety of situa­tions. However, to best under­stand these mo­ments, it is helpful to focus on the six most common sales situations that constitute Moments of Truth. Because of their frequency and potential impact on the sales relationship you must master the skills demanded by each of these six Mo­ments of Truth:

  1. When you’re making the sale.
  2. When the product is delivered or the service begins.
  3. When you discover a problem.
  4. When the customer complains.
  5. When the competition puts on the pressure.
  6. When you make your regular customer retention contacts.

To ensure that you handle each Moment of Truth successfully you’ll need to develop a specific plan for each one. Having a well developed plan increases your chances of solidifying the customer relationship and in stopping the cause of customer churn.

How to Retain Customers on a Regular Basis

how to retain customers How to retain customers on a regular basis is an important step for increasing sales, profits and customer loyalty. Here are three reasons why.

  • Most (68%) customers stop doing business with a company because of indifference.
  • Existing customers are more profitable long-term than new customers.
  • It costs 5-6 times more to gain new customer than it does to keep an existing customer satisfied.

That’s why one of the cardinal sins of selling in the New Economy is taking your customers for granted. Failing to communicate or stay in regular contact leaves the door open for prob­lems to arise and temptations (the competition)to enter the picture. If the lines of communication aren’t open, the cus­tom­er may not remember you or won’t think to notify you if a problem occurs or a reorder is desired.

As a salesperson and as a company it’s important to have programs in place on how to retain customers that is effective and efficient. This will maximize selling efforts and deliver the best bottom line results.

In the New economy it’s not enough to just stay in touch. Staying in touch is important but it’s only half the battle. Once contact is made, you must use the opportunity to the maximum advantage. This means that when you make customer  retention calls they must be:

Unique. Each call should have its own unique reason for existence (follow-up on a new product, information on company inno­vations or changes and new incen­tives).  Provide the customer with new information, ask additional questions, tackle varied topics.  Your customer does not want to rehash old information or waste time.

Memorable. Make each call count by making a lasting impression on the custom­er.  Customer retention calls are a personal­ly deliv­ered commercial for your product or service.  Offer your customers “food for thought”, make them laugh or give them something to remember the call. If you don’t do something to stand out in the “sea of sameness” your message will forgotten soon after you leave the call.

Personalize. Since most sales are emotional decisions supported by logic you must use theses call to connect with your customers on an emotional level. Helping your customers emotionally identify with you. your product and your company is an essential step in building customer loyalty.

Many salespeople view customer retention calls as perfunctory at best and occasionally a waste of time. Miscalculating the importance these calls usually leads to the deterioration of a relationship and ultimately lost sales.

How to retain customers on a regular basis must become a priority if you want to protect your most important asset, your customers. Remember the saying, “If you don’t take care of your customers someone else will!” Put a customer retention plan in place today.

To learn how your customer retention plans stacks up take the Growth Positioning Survey now.

Developing Salespeople While Coaching on the Run

One of the biggest casualties in the battle to “do more with less” is developing salespeople. With fiercer competition, shorter deadlines, and the urgent replac­ing the important, sales managers are starting to view developing salespeople as a luxury they just can’t developing peopleafford.

Although common, this approach to manage­ment is short-sighted and can lead to long-term disaster. Even with more demands on your time you must realize that developing salespeople isn’t something you do instead of your job. It is your job!

This means finding opportunities to make a difference as they present themselves.

The key to coaching on the run is the “hand in the bucket” test. When you put your hand in a bucket of water, the water level rises.  This is the case when a you spend time with a sales­person. While you are present, the sales­person’s level of perfor­mance is elevated.  The real test for developing salespeople occurs when you are no longer present. Does the salesperson’s performance return to the previous level, or does it stay elevat­ed?  In other words, did you leave something with the salesperson to make a real and lasting difference?

Before we discuss some of the specific aspects and techniques for coaching on the run, let’s review what it takes for salespeople to perform at their optimal level. Use the checklist below to determine if you’re giving your salespeople what they need to win.

Coaching Checklist for Developing Salespeople

  • Do your people have a clear understanding of what they are expected to do?
  • Do your people have clear standards for ac­ceptable performance?
  • Do your people have the authority and re­sourc­es to perform effectively?
  • Do your people encounter little task interfer­ence (e.g., conflicting goals, objectives, procedures,   etc?)
  • Do your people receive timely and accurate feedback on their performance?
  • Do your people receive positive conse­quences and reinforcement for performing the job as it’s supposed to be done?
  • Do your people experience negative conse­quences when they fail to perform?

These guidelines apply to performance in general, as well as specifics tasks and assignments. Use the questions to assess your coaching abilities and to analyze performance problems.

Each “no” represents a potential performance problem for developing salespeople. Taking action to convert your “no” respons­es to “yes” will go a long way toward improving your people’s performance.

Building Customer Partnerships in the New Economy

Building Customer PartnershipsBuilding customer partnerships is essential for success today. Why? The New Economy demands a new approach to selling and so the world of selling has changed. Rela­tively simple times have given way to a selling environment influenced by eco­nomic, political, technological, and demo­graphic factors. The fact is, if you don’t think beyond your own product or services, and don’t adapt your selling approach to the changing times, you will be blind-sided by the competitors who do.

       The traditional selling approach focuses on a single event persuading the sales prospect to say yes to an offer of a product or service.  In each case, the selling process is a series of linear steps: pre-ap­proa­ch, ap­proa­ch, needs analy­sis, presen­tation, nego­ti­a­tions, close, and ser­vice. There are varia­tions to this tradi­tional ap­proach (and hun­dreds of sales tech­niques), but the bottom line is always the same: If you are suc­cessful in the process, you will reach the objec­tive a closed sale.

       Suppose we turn that process around to focus on customers. Suppose we place the value of winning customers above that of making a single sale. Suppose the goal is not to sell a product or service but to win customers. What have we accom­plis­hed?

       First, we have changed our perspective from short-term to long-term. A “repeat” customer is significantly more profitable in the long run than a “first-time, one-time” buyer.  Second, a steady customer produces better cash flow.  Third, the cost of re­taining a current customer is less than that of pros­pecting for a new one.  Fourth, an existing customer repre­sents a better potential for new or add-on servic­es with less asso­ciated sales ex­pense.  And final­ly, a satisfied customer is our best form of ad­vertis­ing, repre­senting an excel­lent source of refer­rals.

       In reality, successful sales­people usually hit their tar­gets. If your goal is per­suading the customers to sign a contract with your compa­ny, your past perfor­mance tells us you will not fall short. But simply making a sale falls short of the real goal of win­ning customers. And there­in lies the theory behind build­ing customer partner­ships.

       Building customer partnerships is built on a foundation of ten principles. Understanding and adapting these principles can help you become a more successful salesperson.

Principle 1: People buy for their reasons, not yours.

       You know exactly why you want to sell the customers on your products or services.  The more customers you sell the better off you and the company will be at the end of the year. Customers also have equally strong reason for buying. Perhaps they want to save money for their com­panies, as a way of increasing their worth as employees.  Or they’ve had a bad experience with your competitor and are looking for a supplier who will eliminate headaches. The important thing to remember is that customers always have their own unique reasons.

       Finding out each customers’ buying motive is a key element of building customer partner­ships. Therefore, it is impor­tant to listen to what the customers says and how he or she says it. When you’ve uncov­ered the hidden motive, you can start aligning the features and bene­fits of your product or service with the per­sonal needs of the customers. Once customers see that you can satisfy their needs, they will do whatever is necessary to do busi­ness with you.

Principle 2: People buy solutions, not products or services.

       A consumer does not buy a car because it has four wheels and two doors; a consumer buys a car because it provides transportation from point A to point B in a style the consum­er finds to his or her liking. Likewise, customers are interested in what your services can do to help solve their problems or make life easier for them. For example, buyers care less about details of how you make your product than how that product’s superior features will benefit their company.

       To be a top performing salesperson, you must transform the features and advantages of your products and services into terms customers can understand, appreciate, and apply to their own situation. When you do this, you’re building a partnership with the customers, not simply selling the customers a product or service.

Principle 3: The act of buying is a series of decisions.

       Just as you size up customers during the initial meeting, those customers are making a series of decisions about you, the company you repre­sent, and what you have to offer. Customers are also analyzing what they are currently using to service personal needs, its cost and dozens of other factors known only to customers.

       If you realize the act of buying is not a single deci­sion but a series of deci­sions, you can concentrate your efforts on learning which decision is currently uppermost in the customer’s mind. When you do that, you will be able to provide the infor­mation that will result in a favorable verdict and move the process along smoothly.

Principle 4: Decision-making follows a logical sequence.

       Each step in the decision-making process is made in a logical order. But the emotions and speed behind each decision will vary with each customer. For example, a customer may require several sales calls to accept you as a salesperson, but then move quickly to a final buying decision. Another customer may reverse the process. Consequently, you must be aware of each customer’s unique deci­sion-making process. By listen­ing, observing, and questioning, you can learn where the customer is in the decision-making process. How you interact with a customer at one stage determines when or if you earn the right to advance with the customers to the next stage.

Principle 5: Customers decide by differen­tiating.

       Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a commodity product or ser­vice. Not in the minds of customers. They will always find ways to determine differences between your services and your competitors’.  Price is one differentiator. But so are conve­nience, quality, timeliness, and dozens of other factors. A more appealing, well-thought-out sales approach may also be considered as a differentiator in the decision-making process.

       Assuming you don’t want to sell on price differentiation, it is critical for you to help the customers see tangible (and intangible) differ­ences between your services and those of Company X. Once you have created differ­ences in the customers’ mind, the buying process will move forward. Failing to do so may cause the customers to develop their own differentiation criteria, which may or may not be favorable to you.

Principle 6: If you don’t differentiate, your competitors will.

       This is really a corollary of Principle 5.  Call it the art of positioning. You want to estab­lish a positive image of yourself, your compa­ny, and your products or services in the customer’s mind before a competitor has a chance to differentiate his services. Much like a military campaign, it is easier to defend a position than attack one. In many re­spects, the sales “battlefield” is the customer’s mind.  Salespeople who establish­ their position first, by differentiating best, will win the battle and, ultimately, the customer’s trust and business.

Principle 7: The cornerstone of selling is trust.

       Remember, our goal is to win customers not just to make a fast sale. You may manip­ulate customers into buying once, but you won’t establish a customer partnership until there is trust. Since most salespeople go for the close, customers have developed elaborate defense mechanisms to put sales­people off guard and avoid a decision.

       You could try to break down the customer’s defenses, but what you will end up with is an adversarial relationship. Rather than attacking, you need to create an atmosphere of trust. If customers trust you, they’ll tell you their needs and expectations, what they really want. If you can get them to talk about what they want, they’ll listen when a solution is presented. If they listen to what you’re proposing, they’ll believe it. If they believe, they’ll continue to buy. Which is how building customer partnerships leads to long term success?

Principle 8: Trust must be earned and then re-earned.

       Just as in a friendship, trust is something you must earn time after time, day after day, contract after contract. One slip: on your part a broken promise, a false claim, a breach of trust and you risk losing more than a sale. You may have lost a hard-earned customer.

       The objective is to establish the fact that you are committed to the customers, that you will always act in the customer’s best inter­ests. This is done not through words, but through deeds. It becomes an attitude on your part. But it also must be a quality that comes through loud and clear to the customers on every sales call, includ­ing the first.

Principle 9: Know where customers stand at all times.

       Establishing a partnership is a dynamic process. At any time, the customers may be moving from one decision-making level to another: from skepticism to trust, from nega­tive to positive, from reticent to ready. The successful salesperson is constantly aware of where customers are in the buying process.

       As you prepare for your sales call, think of the process as a loop. First, gather your facts and plan your sales strategy. Then, when face to face with the customers, react to what the customers says, present information, discover information, and manage the sale as you guide the customers through the decision-making process. Finally, after the call, evalu­ate where you are, what was accomplished, and your next steps with the customers.

       This allows you to plan and control the next phase in the buying process by address­ing issues important to the customers and by building your trust level.

Principle 10: No two customers are alike.

       That’s not exactly an earth-shattering revela­tion, but it’s surprising how many sure­fire sales programs fail to recognize that customers (and salespeople) are individuals with different needs, unique styles, and distinctive ideas about how they’d like to sell and be sold.

Summary

       Building customers partnerships in the New Economy is not based on patterned responses to projected sales situa­tions. Instead, it’s based on an approach that takes best advantage of ten sound selling princi­ples, basic human beh­avioral tendencies, and common sense. After learning the approach, you’ll discover, with growing confidence, that no matter what type of person you’re dealing with, or what the competitive challenge, you will be in a better position to establish a long-term partner­ship with the customers.

 

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

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

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.

Termination

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.

Summary

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.

Improving Performance: Are You Treating the Symptoms or the Cause?

Are your initiatives for improving performance treating the symptoms or the cause? Your answer may mean the difference between success and failure of the initiative and maybe your company. Let me explain.improving perfromance

A few weeks ago I developed knee pain and went to my orthopedic doctor. After an MRI and some X rays he told me the pain was from arthritis. My treatment options were physical therapy to strengthen my knee, cortisone shots and drugs to give temporary pain relief, surgery or knee replacement. When I asked him what the cause was he simply said “It was age and wear and tear from years of playing sports.” He said another option was to stop playing tennis and basketball because they put so much pressure on the knee.

Not satisfied with the options I was given I went to another doctor. Instead of focusing on my knee he examined my spine and my feet. He took X rays and picture of my feet (they’re flat). The doctor said that the options outlined by my orthopedic doctor were appropriate  for treating the symptoms. However if the cause of the knee pain wasn’t corrected I would continue to create the dynamics that caused the knee pain in the first place. This would especially be true is I continued to play sports.

The solution outlined by the second doctor involved correcting the imbalances in my spine and correcting the instability in my feet with orthotics. The goal is to stabilize my foundation and core structure so that my body can withstand the demands put upon it by high impact sports. This solution would relieve the pain now and help prevent it in the future. This is the option I chose.

What does my knee pain have to do with business? Everything. All too often companies throw resources at symptoms without addressing the underlying cause of the business pain. Treating symptoms may be expedient but it rarely produces sustainable results. In many cases it adds to the problem.

In today’s New Economy volatility’s and change are no longer the exception. Responding to the dynamics created by constant change puts stress on the foundation of any organization. If your company’s foundation (i.e. vision,values,strategies,people and processes) becomes unstable business pain in the form of performance issues can start showing up in any number of places.

When business pain like turnover,customer churn, decreased sales or profit erosion do surface don’t take a prescribed remedy until you fully understand the underlying cause. Take the time to gain the perspective needed to understand the relationship between the performance symptoms and the cause. If you can’t see a relationship yourself seek an outside resource to help you. This can be a coach,consultant,advisory board or mentor. In the heat of battle business owners and executive often have difficulty seeing the forest for the tree. Give yourself the benefit of clear vision before committing valuable resources.

Once you understand the cause of the business pain you can then select the solutions that can relieve the symptoms and address the cause. A good diagnosis is an essential first step in the success of any prescribed treatment. This is as true for business pain as it is for knee pain.