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Under Performing Sales Reps: When to Coach vs Part Ways

October 20th, 2018


Content Team


Sales Forecasting



Estimated Time

16 Min

[ This article is inspired by the commentary from a thread composed by members of the Modern Sales Pros community — an exclusive, invite-only, group of sales operations, enablement, management, and leadership experts. We are sponsoring membership for any of our readers who want to join the community — apply for community membership here and put us “MoData” down as your sponsor. ]

Every sales rep is different. Anyone that has been in sales management for even 1 day can tell you that. But beyond things like quirks, hobbies, and personality – they differ in their performance. In today’s sales world, more than 50% of sales reps don’t hit their quota. So how do you go about identifying which of the under-performers have untapped potential and which are simply not a fit? In this article, we’ll explain signs to look for, a plan to implement, and how to interpret the results.  

The signs of indentifying potential of a sales rep


1. Motivational DNA

Every individual has a unique motivational DNA, meaning that everyone responds to differently to stimuli and goals. What may motivate one person may de-motivate another. For example, some people like to hear bad news bluntly and up front, and others take it offensively if you don’t warm it up with some context before delivering it. Another example would be that some people are motivated by competition and others are turned off by it. The point here is that for you to be able to successfully coach someone, you need to be able to crack their motivational DNA.  

Good sign: You are able to make progress on getting to know them and how to engage with them

Bad sign: They don’t respond positively or differently to a variety of approaches, essentially apathetic/tuned out.


2. Goals

Anyone who hopes to succeed at anything needs to have goals, they give us purpose and direction. Interestingly, many people don’t have their goals explicitly defined. If your rep is struggling in performance, they are especially likely to be in this situation. Talk to them and find out what their short term and long term goals are in their role. If they don’t have any, this is definitely a factor in their low performance. Help them set goals that realistic, under their control, and trackable for both short term and long term.

Good sign: They have are open to setting goals and see the value in setting them

Bad sign: They don’t take setting goals seriously. Especially a bad sign when they are already under-performing.


3. Receptiveness to help

Some people are naturally more receptive to coaching than others, but there are certain qualities that make it more difficult than others to break through the wall. Arrogance is often difficult to get through to, but if you can get them to listen and you have a positive impact on their performance they are likely to gain a new respect for you and will return to you in the future. Passive people that don’t ask for help are usually easier to change but they are less likely to seek you out for help in the future. Although most reps will agree to change or try something different when they are in the meeting with you, you need to look closely at the way they translate those conversations into actions. Do they follow through with the plan? Do they take it at face value or seek to understand why? Do they follow up with you about the results?

Good sign: They buy into the plan and let you know how it’s impacted them

Bad sign: They quickly go back to their old ways or use it defensively as a shield


4. Commitment to the sales process

There is a reason you spend so much time setting up a sales process and (hopefully) analyzing it religiously. That’s because, in today’s modern sales world, successful sales is much more repeatable and less reliant on pure talent as it was in the past. Sales is psychology, psychology is science, and science is repeatable. It’s very important to look into how compliant an under-performing rep is with the sales process set in place. If they are straying off and doing their own thing, have an open discussion with them about the sales process, why it works, and why they need to follow it. Simply put, you can’t help them if they don’t follow the process. If they are following the process but not seeing results, then it’s time to dig into where it’s going wrong.

Good sign: Already following the process, demonstrates a change if they previously were not

Bad sign: Relies on their own process instead of the designated sales process, resistant to change


The plan

Schedule some additional time with them. Walk through the process of diagnosing their bottlenecks with them by looking at their individual stages compared to the rest of the team. Make sure you are explaining how you are analyzing and drawing conclusions so that they are receiving analysis level training at the same time. Align on a stage that could be improved and ask them to tell you about their view of that stage (do they think they are doing good, bad, like it, don’t like it, etc) then give technical and tactical coaching. Align on 1-2 specific metrics within that stage that can be improved which are under their control (i.e. stage conversion is a bad choice because it relies on outside factors, number of phone calls good because they have full control). Set both a short-term goal (1-2 weeks) and a long-term goal (1 month – quarter) and plan to meet on it again in a few weeks.


The results

If you have set everything up correctly, interpreting the results if actually one of the easiest parts of this process. If they are engaged with the plan you set together, the designated metrics will improve. That is the benefit of choosing metrics that are 100% under the reps control. Further, if you’ve chosen the metrics wisely, this should result in an improvement of performance already. If they went off and did their own thing but are eager to tell you the results of something else positive, like closing additional deals, they are motivated to improve but likely only for the short-term and are not yet bought into working with you to improve their long-term performance. If they have not made improvements on the designated metrics it’s an opportunity to ask them why, but few will be justifiable, and you’ll be able to know.


The conclusion

Your sales process, by definition, repeatable for success. Understanding if you should invest in coaching underperforming reps comes down to how receptive they are to following the sales process, accepting and changing specific points of improvement which are under their control, and their willingness to partner with you on improving themselves. At the end of the day if they don’t have these qualities, unfortunately, it might be time to consider the realistic likelihood this person will improve in their role and what type of an impact they make on the rest of the team.  


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