What do you do when you have an underperforming sales rep?

It can be a fine line between knowing when to fire and when you should provide more training, guidance and support to get better performance. For most of us, it’s more practical and economical to achieve better performance than to go  through the time-consuming process of hiring a new sales rep.

Try using these expert approaches to get your underperformer back on track.

Step 1 – Make Time to Coach

Be willing to coach the poor performer, advises David Enderle, vice president of sales at Automatic Systems, a manufacturer of entrance control systems. You need to identify deficiencies leading to poor results and be willing to work with the person to overcome them.

“You have to spend time with sales reps,” Enderle said. That’s why Enderle allocates time with each sales rep every month on skill and performance improvement activities.

Some companies have their poor-performing reps spend time shadowing and being mentored by top performers. The problem with this approach is that many top-performing salespeople don’t have the time or skills necessary to improvement coach a poor performer. And sales reps prefer that coaching come from a direct supervisor, according to Brent Adamson, senior director of the Corporate Executive Board. (Go deeper by reading “7 Common Mistakes When Leading Sales Teams.”)

Step 2 – Provide Individual Coaching

One-on-one time spent with a poor-performing sales rep helps you to focus on the rep’s behaviors that lead to outcomes, not on just the outcomes themselves.

Although sales figures and CRM entries can indicate a problem, in and of themselves they don’t tell you the root causes of the problem.

Enderle points out that most poor-performing reps already know there is a problem. Talking with them allows you to understand the struggles they are facing.

Don’t shy away from asking questions. Find out how they spend their time. Learn what marketing collateral and tools they are using. Make calls with them to see how they run a call.

After you’ve identified the cause(s) of the poor performance, pick one thing to work on.

After going through these steps, I recommend you create a profit improvement plan. It’s the employee’s written roadmap to overcoming the identified obstacles causing lower production. It defines necessary actions and timeframes to achieve required objectives.

Step 3 – Implement the Plan

Greg Peninger, owner of ProTex Technologies, an Austin business and home security provider, believes salespeople need to know what the improvement means to them. “I think the No. 1 thing for anyone (not just salespeople) is to know why the change is important,” Peninger said. “When you articulate the message in a manner where the employee can understand why something is important (the benefit) and ultimately how it positively impacts them, then you have a real opportunity for improvement.”

Make sure to regularly monitor benchmarks identified in the Profit Improvement Plan to keep reps on track. Review sales calls and observe poor performers in action whenever possible. 

In most instances, Peninger believes 30 days to 60 days to be a proper time to see improvement. If the rep is still not performing up to standard, it’s time to reassign them to other duties or to replace them.

Step 4 – Preventing Poor Performance

Enderle points out that the best way to avoid under-performance is by hiring right in the first place.

Enderle has a defined profile of the behaviors he looks for in a new hire, and a process he follows when hiring. He’s found that his approach helps select people that are more in line with great behaviors. (Go deeper by reading “How to Hire Top Performing Salespeople.”)

When a new sales rep starts working with your company, monitor his or her behaviors closely. Behaviors determine outcomes; it’s better to spot issues and even mistakes quickly rather than allowing them to grow into huge problems.