Lead sales teams long enough and you’ll eventually need to have a tough conversation about poor sales performance. I first experienced this as a young leader with a newly inherited sales team. While it’s been a good few years since those early days, I can tell you it never gets any easier. The difference is now I have a procedure & checklist to support the performance management process.

While I’ve managed and handled underperformance, I’ve also been confronted about it too. I’ve been on a performance improvement plan (PIP) myself, and have used my personal experience to guide & improve how I personally manager poor sales performance.

Here is my process for improving this issue:

  • Clearly Communicate Performance Standards

The most common mistake I see from sales managers regarding performance is that the standard in the manager’s mind is different from that communicated to the team. It’s essential, then, that the sales manager clearly articulates performance expectations and reiterates standards with both follow up communication and action.

If you have set performance expectations & standards, post them, discuss them, showcase them, so there is no question whether your team understands them, and knows if they’re living up to them. If you don’t have any set performance standards, you need some.

  • Challenge Resourcefulness, Not Resources

Some failing sales people will quickly point out why the company isn’t providing them with what they need to succeed. While this might be the case, my experience has shown that success in sales is about resourcefulness not resources. It’s important to remind the poor performer that others on the team are meeting or exceeding sales expectations with the same amount of resources available to them. The main difference is how top performers seek resources, and explore new ideas and practices. Resourcefulness is about finding ways to overcome difficulties. Ask the salesperson what they have tried to overcome the poor performance. His or her response will tell you about the level of resourcefulness that exists in their business.

  • Allow the Sales Professional to be Successful…Even if it’s Somewhere Else

When a sales professional is underperforming everyone suffers: the individual, the sales team, the company, and ultimately the customer. Don’t allow the suffering to overstay it’s welcome. Address underperformance quickly. Someone once told me “to be unclear is to be unkind.”

We owe it to the team to address, correct, and prevent poor sales performance. Help underperformers improve their results with a PIP.  PIPs are great tools because they communicate to the sales professional that you, the leader, are here to help them recovery their sales performance. A good PIP outlines not only what the poor performer needs to do in order to improve sales results, but also what the leader and company is prepared to do for them. However, sometimes the best outcome is to allow the individual to be successful in a different role or with another company. Once you identify that performance recovery isn’t achievable, move quickly with grace and condor.

Even though dealing with poor sales performance is never comfortable, easy, or desired, these three tips will help handle the issue & minimize the damage it can cause. At the end of the day, the hard decisions we have to make, are often the most important. Good luck righting the ship.