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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sales Managers and Poor Performers


Making 2014 the Year of the Sales Leader

Two other blogs, were published on this:

Mike Kunkle of Richardson

and Dave Brock of Partners in Excellence

Both are worth reading and thinking about.

I add mine as a a contrast to both, as Sales Management is, in many ways, all about Managing Performance


HOW you deal with poor performers will
define your performance and your future as a Sales Manager.

road to perdition

© 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved


The fastest route to Poor Performance, by a Sales Manager,
is to focus on poor performing Sales People.

This is not a casual observation by a casual observer, it is a causal analysis by a trained observer!
We have studied the roots of the failure of Sales Managers for 30 years,
and one of the recurring causes of failure is a focus on poor performers.

We use a bell curve to ‘identify’, or as an ‘indicator’ of Poor Sales Performance.

The axis that we use varies.

Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales




At the simplistic level it is
Current Sales Performance,

at the Revenue Generation level.

This is easy to measure, and is acceptable to discuss at C-level.


But, really it’s a WHAT chart.

What happened,
not “WHY is it not happening?”





We then, put the Sales force through a FIVE level filter, five, separate, charts:


Activity,  Skill,  Knowledge,  Sales Attitude and  Sales Strategy.

Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales   Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales   Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales    Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales   Bell Curve Normal_distribution_and_scales


We “score” on the ‘standard nine’ scale, where 7 is the lowest ‘desired’ score,

1, 2 and 3 is poor performance,

4, 5 and 6 is needs improvement,

7, 8 and 9 is performance to excellence

Simple Performance Turn-around can be achieved if, for example,
ONLY Activity is wrong, or low, this is ‘fixed’ by Management Control and Supervision.

activity Calendar

Great Sales Management careers have been launched on the back of Diary Management!




strategy key2

Sales Strategy, is also a relatively straightforward fix.

If a competitive situation, changed product/market, or Customer shift has NOT been incorporated into strategy formulation and execution then,

Sales Management can re-direct.







When the Poor Performance is associated with low levels of Selling Skills,
poor Product/Market knowledge and/or wrong Sales Attitude, this then is a Business calculation.

The time/effort ‘Cost’ of fixing the performance problem,
weighed against the likely Revenue ‘Benefit’ derived from fixing the problem.

Unlike the first two areas, Activity Management and Strategy Formulation and Execution the Sales Manager does not ‘own’ Lack of Skill, Lack of Knowledge or Poor Attitude.


The problem ‘owner’ is the Salesperson.


Salespeople, NOT their Sales Managers,
are responsible for their own Selling Skills,

their Product/Market knowledge and their Sales Attitude.

Fixing these problems is the primary responsibility of the individual Salesperson,
the Sales Manager has a secondary ‘supporting’ role.

These problems affect your personal employability, now and in the future, take responsibility for them!

In order to ‘earn’ Sales Management support, Poor Performers must demonstrate progress with their Sales Skills, increases in Product/Knowledge and improvement in Sales Attitude. The time and effort put into fixing these poor sales performers primarily comes from them, not from their Sales Managers.

Sales Managers, effective high-performing Sales Managers, will be far too busy working with the top and high average performers to make investment is Sales poor performers who are not prepared to invest in themselves. 

There is no ‘Pareto formula’, to define effective time/effort usage by Sales Managers. 

There is no magic formula, no ‘right’ way.  There is only contingency, finding the right answer to your given situation, your people, their poor performance.  You will need diagnostic skills to find the cause, then flexible Leadership skills appropriate to giving the best outcome, Directing, Coaching, Supporting and Delegating.



The “Learning from other High Performers”, is a decision which calls for good judgement on the part of the Sales Manager, and the willing cooperation and coordination from the High Performer. The poor performer MUST have great Sales Attitude, high energy and a real willingness to learn.

The Hollywood construct is “Master and Padawan”, the Jedi Apprentice. In Sales tradition it was “the bag carrier” and the Senior Salesperson. The success of this is not solely dependent on the Senior’s Selling Skills, Product Knowledge and Sales Attitude as well as the ‘trainees’ observation skills, but also on Senior's Training and Coaching skills, which are very, very rare!

In science ideas are tested for their fit with reality.

In business ideas are tested for their profitability in the Product/Market.

In Sales we MUST do both, fit with reality and demonstrate Profitability!

If you reduce it all to an axiom:

“Treat Poor Performers differently, and appropriately!

  Or, like a leaking ship, you will both sink.”



Further reading on Managing Poor Performers:


  1. Brian, that's a great post and I appreciate the reference to mine. I guess I'm slow, because I do not see "the contrast" other than the fact that I (speaking in generalities and outside of a specific workplace context), recommended that managers spend only 10 percent of their time with the bottom 20% performers, helping the new ones rise and working the old ones out of the organization. If you read my post, my comments on Dave's post, and my previous posts on my own blog about coaching, we seem to be in violent agreement. Stay the course, Mike

  2. Brian: Great article--actually a wonderful complement to Mike's and mine. I think you make a great point--we have to treat poor performers differently. Actually we probably should treat everyone appropriately--not investing the same formulaic time, the same formulaic coaching, etc. Our coaching and development and investment in time must be appropriate.

    We want to invest our time where we have the greatest impact on performance and return on our investment in time.

    Too often, we see managers just ignoring poor performers. This is just wrong. We can't ignore them, but we can't treat them the same as others. Poor performers are a drain on the organization. We either have to get a workable plan for performance improvement--they are committed to and to which we believe there is a high potential for successful outcome, or we have to get them in a role where they can perform or get them out of the business.

    So I do think we are in agreement on principles, though actual execution will vary. We seem to have been able to play off each other pretty effectively---it's a great conversation with two great minds--Mike and Brian. Thanks for continuing it. Regards, Dave

  3. Mike and Dave, we recognise the importance of dealing with poor performers in Sales, we have put it on the 2013 agenda. I hope that Sales Managers, Sales VP's and CEO's will take action, soon their [and our] future depends upon their actions.

    I hope that we have offered alternatives, differences, as well as fundamental agreements,
    and that to me is Social Networking at its very best!

    Thanks for your initiatives and responses.

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