How To Deal With Underperforming Sales Reps

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One rep on your current sales staff stays at or above quota, while the other has a difficult time consistently achieving the sales goals. Recently, you decided to hire a third salesperson. As soon as the new rep starts, you know the underperforming salesperson will be motivated to work a little harder.

Whoa! Not so fast. Ideally, it should work that way. The struggling salesperson, feeling pressure from the arrival of the new hire, becomes energized and starts to meet quota. While nice in theory, adding a new salesperson to your staff before dealing with a non-performing rep will likely bring about more problems than it solves.

No secret
New salespeople quickly size up their fellow reps—they identify the top performers, as well as those not hitting the sales goals. When underperformers remain on the company payroll month after month, new hires quickly get the idea that achieving quota is great, but not mandatory.

A slight dulling of their competitive edge occurs. They know they don’t always have to be at the top of their game. It won’t cost them their job. No worse statement can be conveyed.

Negative atmosphere
Though gainfully employed with your organization, nonperforming reps know they aren’t accomplishing what they’ve been asked to do. They’re aware that losing their job might be a possibility, however remote.

Mixed or negative feelings—spoken or unspoken—will come out during their interactions with the new rep. Neither party benefits.

Assess the salesperson
Avoid this situation altogether. Don’t begin the search for an additional salesperson just yet. First, determine whether or not the struggling reps should even be in sales. Ask them to take a sales assessment.

This tool may show that they can sell, but have weaknesses in certain areas of the sales cycle that prevent them from reaching their full potential. If that’s the case, enroll them in a sales training course right away.

Create a plan
If the assessment results show the reverse to be true—that the rep lacks the sales skills necessary to be at least a solid producer—take some definitive action. Put him on warning and inform him in writing that he must be consistently at or above quota for a certain length of time or he will be terminated.

I tell my clients that 90 days should be the maximum amount of time a person should remain on warning. Otherwise, the process drags on for too long.

Sales training
When you sign non-performing reps up for sales training, their behavior changes. You are making an investment in their career and giving them a vote of confidence. All salespeople appreciate this.

Their general demeanor around the office will change. Lack of a solid sales education may have held them back in the past. Interactions with the new rep and other coworkers should be more positive.

At the same time, it’s fair to let them know you’ve been disappointed with their performance in the past. Tell them that this training comes out of your budget and that you expect them to put what they learn into practice. They need to start hitting their sales targets consistently.

The warning process
Reps on written warning behave differently. Sales training hasn’t been offered as an option. They need to perform or they’re out of a job. Some focus and do all they can to make their goals, while others realize they’ll never succeed in their current position, do the minimum and try to secure employment elsewhere.

In either case, they may act somewhat aloof or detached from their coworkers. Minimize their interactions with the new rep. Ask your stronger rep and other employees to help the new hire during orientation.

Once you’ve decided which path to take with the underproducing salesperson, move ahead and start the hiring process. If you find the right candidate, make them an offer.

You might wonder if it’s okay to do that if the non-performer hasn’t completed sales training or hasn’t shown any marked signs of improvement and you aren’t sure whether he will. Is it still okay to bring the new person on?

Yes. The non-performing rep isn’t showing up to the office each day and phoning it in. Goals have been set and the penalty for not making them, in the case of the rep on probation, made clear.

In large companies with sizable sales staffs, several reps might be on probation at any given time. Sometimes their coworkers know; sometimes they don’t. Regardless, they work alongside one another with few problems or issues.

Too much information
What if the new rep suspects or finds out that one of the salespeople is on probation? It happens. Rumors travel through the office grapevine. During the interview process, the potential hire may have even asked if any reps were currently on probation or may have inquired about the company’s warning process.

Conversations between you and the non-performing rep are private. Certainly you can’t confirm any employee’s probationary status. You can, however, discuss general company disciplinary procedures with the new hire.

He will come away from that conversation knowing that you have performance related expectations of your employees. When those expectations aren’t met, there are consequences. The new hire will value his position with your company more, stepping up and giving you his best performance. As an employer and leader of the company, that’s the best position to be in.

About Suzanne Paling 4 Articles
Suzanne Paling is the principal consultant of Sales Management Services, a consulting and coaching firm offering sales management advice to growing businesses ( She’s the author of The Accidental Sales Manager (, published by Entrepreneur Press—a finalist for a Best Books 2010 Award from USA Book News and a bronze medalist at the Axiom book awards. Download a complimentary copy of her Accidental Sales Managers Guide to Hiring at

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