Whenever I conduct a sales coaching training workshop, I make a habit of asking participants about how many of them have a performance problem among their teams which they have not yet addressed. The vast majority of participants always raise their hands. When I then ask how long this has continued, participants often report it being an issue for months or even years. The concern over a confrontation often hinders them from taking action.

Perhaps a sales manager has other, more critical, concerns to see to before they can turn their attention to the issue at hand. Or, perhaps, they feel responsible for seemingly not having provided the salesperson in question with the appropriate training necessary to avoid the problem in the first place. Regardless, there are many reasons why such a delay might occur.

Yet, any team is only as strong as the weakest link. Regardless of what you might say, there is an unwritten rule that is always understood by every sales team. That is, the weakest performer who remains on the team sets the minimum performance standards for the team as a whole. Anyone who is even a little bit better than the poorest performer has job security.

While it is doubtlessly unintentional, this sets the scene for a race to the bottom. Why should anyone work to put in their best performance if you have made it clear that poor performance is acceptable? Begin confronting the problem today, for the greater good of your team as a whole.

The Conversation

As I explain in my sales management training, the first step should be to have a “positive confrontation” with the problematic salesperson. Be prepared to be very specific with examples of what exactly is wrong and must change, and to ask questions and such to determine the reasons behind the problem. It might be a skill issue, a will or attitude problem, or even a personal family concern, any of which will require addressing.

Next, make it clear as to why the specified changes should be made. All too often, sales managers have a tendency to focus too much attention on the expected outcome, such as reaching sales quotas, instead of the necessary inputs and their importance to making it happen. If you explain why a task needs to be performed in its given fashion, your salesperson can also be made to understand why the task can’t be ignored.

Finally, you will want to be prepared to clearly explain what the consequences will be for failure to change. There are several options here, but if you do not have a plan in mind to lay out for the troublesome salesperson, then they will be far less likely to appreciate the seriousness of the issue.

The “Two-Roads” Path

A sales manager I’ve worked with calls the final stage of the process the “Two Roads” discussion. Essentially, this means clearly describing the two possible paths the salesperson can take. On the one hand, they can continue as they are and face a given consequence, or they can choose the other path and straighten themselves out.

While you should of course provide any training or coaching that is required by the sales rep, or which would potentially help them along, it is important to remember that the responsibility to change is on the salesperson, not you as the sales manager. Thus, if the problem persists without the rep taking responsibility for changing their behavior, you may need to cut your losses sooner rather than later and look for a better fit.

The greatest sales managers remain aware of the influence poor performers have on their teams, accept responsibility for taking prompt action in response to problems, and are not concerned about doing their job by confronting problem reps.

Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc. which specializes in sales management development and custom sales training.

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