04/04/11

By Hannah McNamara

A sales person who isn't pulling their weight can be a burden to the rest of the team and a drain on the sales manager. With the right intervention, things can be turned around.

Executive coach and sales trainer Hannah McNamara from HRM Global has some tips for transforming an under-performing salesperson.

Identify the Problem

Before you tackle things head-on, make sure you have a good idea of what the problem is. It's rarely just about hitting the numbers. Under-performance can show up in all sorts of areas. For example, an individual may be apparently lazy and uncooperative and yet miraculously convert all their leads in the days before the end of the quarter. On paper they've hit their target, but they have had a detrimental effect on the rest of the team for weeks. You might also find they have taken extreme measures to get the sales meaning other departments have to deal with the fall-out, for example where the salesperson has significantly over-promised or heavily discounted to get them to sign.

Get Your Facts Straight

Trusting your gut or listening to rumours from other people isn't good enough, you need specific examples of what the person has and has not done. It's all too easy to write off someone as 'lazy' or 'pushy' and then ignore all evidence to the contrary just so you prove yourself right.

The Cause

What is causing the problem that the salesperson has? They might tell you it's a lack of good quality leads and yet their colleague seems to be able to convert the leads they are given, so don't take everything at face value. However, if everyone has the same issue with leads, they might have a point and you'd need to work with the marketing department to get everyone focused on the kinds of leads they need.

For someone who's being given leads, but isn't converting them, there could be a number of reasons such as:

Inactivity — they aren't following up properly or are procrastinating

Lack of credibility — they don't look or sound convincing when dealing with prospects

Inflexibility — they aren't prepared to negotiate or put together other packages for prospects

No rapport with prospects — they don't make the effort to get along with them or understand them

Poor time management — they aren't using the day effectively and miss opportunities, or they spend all their time with unprofitable prospects/customers and neglect key accounts

Don't ask for the sale — they spend all their time on building rapport, but never get down to business

Lack of self-belief or confidence — this can effect salespeople at all levels, even those who used to be top performers

Look at the Impact

What are the consequences of their actions or inactions? Let's say they freeze when they have to make a phone call to follow up a lead and they put it off for a few hours. This can set off a chain of events where the prospect starts to go cold or gets frustrated no one has called back. When they do pluck up the courage to ring, the prospect has already become annoyed and started calling competitors. The salesperson now believes that the competitors are going to under-cut them so starts discounting and becoming more aggressive in their follow-up. The prospect starts to feel rushed and begins avoiding their calls and emails. The salesperson gets more desperate to get their attention so emails them with an 'amazing deal' if they sign today. The prospect starts to question the value of what's being sold if the salesperson is so ready to cut the price to sell it. Eventually they choose another company and tell the salesperson they got a better deal elsewhere because they don't want to say it was because they were too pushy. The salesperson now thinks what they are selling is over-priced and begins to doubt themselves. They start to fear talking to prospective customers about price and when they get another lead they leave it even longer before calling them, starting the whole chain of events over again. Telling someone to just pick up the phone and make more calls won't have any impact if they believe they are being set up for rejection.

Changing Behaviour

What do you want the salesperson to start doing differently? You might say, 'close more deals' but this would be too simplistic. Focus on what you would see or hear the person doing differently or how they would feel when working on different stages of the sale. To get someone to change a working habit does take time and persistence and they will most likely need their manager's support and the support of their colleagues.

Become a Coach

Just as athletes and sports people need help with their mental attitude as well as their sporting technique, a salesperson's performance is often dictated by their state of mind. Those who believe they can 'win' usually do. Get them to visualise success and give them aids to help with this — this is why progress charts and pictures of prizes for the best salesperson can be very effective in some sales teams. Allow people to spend 5 minutes getting 'in the zone' before they start work and give them a pep talk. A positive environment focused on success will generate more sales than one where the sales manager is giving people a verbal beating. Understand that what motivates one sales person may not motivate them all, for example one may be driven by earning more money and another by helping more people. As a manager, you need to adapt your style for each person to coach them effectively. Being a coach also means helping them to learn, so be prepared for giving them hands-on training and working with them until they feel confident on their own.

With the right amount of nurturing, an under-performing sales person with the right attitude can be turned around.

Hannah McNamara is the CEO of HRM Global an international business training and coaching company based in London, UK. To discuss getting their help in transforming your sales team contact them via www.hrmglobal.co.uk or contact their small business division SME Academy www.smeacademy.co.uk