I teach folks in my programs a process for answering this question. It begins with the question: "Can they do the job?"
Most sales managers don't ever ask this question, but it's a necessary first step. There are two possible answers.
If the person has performed the job successfully in the past, then we know for sure that they have the ability. If they haven't, we must make a judgment about their ability based on training and experience.
If we think they don't have the ability, we need to provide training. For salespeople that training tends to fall most often into three areas: managing their call pattern, generating or responding to inquiries (getting appointments) and the face-to-face sales process for outside sales people. Retail salespeople have similar need areas.
If we think they do, we have to ask a couple of other questions. Does the person have the resources necessary to do the job? Specifically do they have the time, the samples, the equipment, the support they need?
If they can do the job but don't have the resources, then we should provide resources or adjust expectations before holding them accountable. For outside sales people a manager should always look at the size and makeup of the territory because sometimes a change there can solve the problem. For retail salespeople, the equivalent issues are whether or not marketing is driving customers to the store and whether there is sufficient staffing to allow the salesperson time to sell properly.
If they can do the job and have sufficient resources, we have to determine why they are underperforming. There are three common reasons.
Sometimes the salesperson has all the tools and training, but lacks confidence. Then coaching is the answer. The coaching process needs to generate lots of small wins until there's enough confidence.
Sometimes the salesperson is underperforming because of some temporary reason. That might be illness in the family, a change in domestic pattern, or any number of other causes. If that's the case, the manager needs to respond in a way that fits the company's culture, policy, and practice.
Finally, sometimes a salesperson is choosing not to perform. That can be for a variety of reasons. Some folks shouldn't be salespeople at all because they can't face people and ask for the order or because they can't handle the independence that often goes with the job. Some folks have a lousy work ethic. Some folks have decided that they don't have to do certain things because of a grievance.
If they're choosing not to perform, the reason doesn't matter. Here the sales manager's job is to deliver the consequences of non-performance up to and including termination. This takes time, attention to detail and loads of emotional energy and paperwork, but it's what needs to happen.
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