Let’s face it, turning a B or C player into an A player is a lot less expensive than turning them over. While sometimes its necessary to release an under-performing sales rep, its often not the best solution for your business. Performance management is difficult, and so is often either avoided all-together, or cut short because its just easier to let them go and find someone new. In fact, I’ve seen companies that hold managers who turn people over in high regard. In my experience, sales leaders with the highest turn-over rates are most likely your weakest leaders, and consequently their market is usually failing to hit goals. One of the reasons for this might be your organizations performance management process.

If your Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is considered a kiss of death, it will not be effective

All salespeople have strengths and developmental areas (we don’t call them weaknesses). Your job as a sales leader is to maximize their strengths and help develop their developmental areas. They best way to develop is through coaching and training. You cannot do that by blanket directives to the entire team. It can only be done by first gaining agreement from the rep that specific tasks are a challenge for them. Above all, that your goal is to help them become as successful as they can be in the industry.

A solid performance management program should have the following:

1. Established metrics that are tied to measurable, achievable goals to evaluate at specific times throughout the year.

2. Should focus not only on results, but also on characteristics and behaviors.

3. Should actually focus on future improvement vs. only on past results.

4. A defined follow-up plan to review progression towards future goals and changes of behaviors.

Sometimes a Performance Improvement Plan is necessary to change the behaviors of an under-performing rep. When that time arrives, the same steps above apply, only to a more specifically identified deficiency. If in your organization a PIP is considered a kiss of death, it will not be effective, will cost the manager a lot of time and pain, and ultimately lead to termination anyway. Try instead to gain agreement from the rep that there is an issue, ask for their input on the plan of action and expected results, and then hold yourself and the rep accountable for the actions and results. Get in the field with them, show them how you’ve been successful at the tasks, evaluate their comfort level and progression of the specific change of behavior.

You will either see progress and improvement or not, but you will be able very quickly to determine weather they “want” to improve, or weather they do not. Ask yourself this: Do I care more about the success of the rep than they do? If the answer is yes, then it might be time to part ways with them. If that’s the case, at the very least you’ll have all of the necessary documentation proving both yourself and your organization did everything possible to help the rep succeed before a decision to terminate was made.

If you create a documented, consistent performance management program, and your team believes that it is truly designed to help them improve performance and results, you will find more times than not that you can turn a B/C player back into the A player they can be. And remember this, its your performance as a leader that is being evaluated by the organization as much as it is the reps performance. Be known as a great leader, not as a feared terminator.


Mat Forester

VP of Sales & Marketing with an excellent record in business and corporate development, operations, strategy, profit growth and training. Proven leadership ability demonstrated in management roles throughout career. Major strengths include team leadership, sales and marketing leadership, increasing revenue and profit, hiring effective sales and operations professionals, motivating and training reps and managers for future leadership roles.

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