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4 Ways Sales Managers Can Turn Their Bottom Sales Performers Around

(This week, we want to speak directly to sales managers. And we at People First PS partner to bring quality content from our network to our readers. With all that in mind, we have quite the guest blogger: PandaDoc CEO Mikita Mikado. Mikita will give you strategies for dealing with team members who aren’t selling enough.)

Forbes contributor Bruce Rogers reported in 2016 that “56% of sales teams are expected to hit growth goals that are at least 20% higher than last year.”

That same sales pressure hasn’t abated in 2017. And while your top sales performers may have cleared these higher expectations with no issue, those at the bottom may be struggling to keep up.

As a sales manager, it’s your responsibility to turn around the performance of these underachievers. The four strategies below may help.

1. Look at the Numbers

Sales underperformance isn’t a single problem with a single solution. Before you begin any performance improvement campaign, you need to define exactly which milestones aren’t being hit (and by how much).

That’s where new sales analytics software programs can help. Contributor Shelley Cernel describes for Salesforce how sales analytics users can increase team quota attainment 4x faster than non-users:

“When sales analytics and sales dashboards come together, they can offer invaluable insights about the efficiency and effectiveness of sales reps in driving revenue by illustrating pipeline conversions and highlighting stages where opportunities advance, stall, or fall out of the sales process.”

Don’t worry if you don’t have the budget for programs like these. While they can be helpful, you can calculate many of the same conversion metrics (or, at least enough of them to understand where exactly underperformance is occurring) by hand.

2. Get to the Root of the Problem

You may, through the sales analytics calculations described above, determine that your bottom performers are suffering because enough MQLs aren’t coming through or because needed resources are missing at different funnel stages. Those problems can be easily fixed by allocating resources differently.

Now, suppose your initial analysis leaves you with no easy solutions. Instead, the problem appears to be a salesperson who’s simply unmotivated to perform at a higher level.

At this point, it’s your responsibility to dig deeper and figure out what’s really going on. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that your sales reps -- whether higher performing or lower -- are going to outright tell you what’s bothering them. Instead, you’re going to have to put on your detective hat and start asking questions:

  • Do they feel they have the skills needed for success in sales at your company?
  • Do they feel their compensation is fair?
  • Do they have concerns about their territory or the leads assigned to them?
  • Do they see favoritism in the workplace?
  • Do they feel their quotas are achievable?
  • Do they have the tools and support needed for success?
  • Do they feel their efforts are being recognized appropriately?
  • What else do they think might be holding them back?

That last one is a big one. I’ve had the chance to recruit and manage salespeople for three different organizations. In all cases, I found that it wasn’t compensation structures or team competitions that motivated them. It was recognizing their wins publicly and thanking them for their contributions.

3. Invest in Their Training

According to data gathered by the Brevet Group:

  • 55% of the people making their living in sales don’t have the right skills to be successful.
  • Continuous training gives 50% higher net sales per employee.
  • The average company spends $10K-$15K hiring an individual and only $2K a year in sales training.

Taken together, these three statistics paint an interesting picture.

More than half of all sales people don’t have the right skill set for success from the get-go. And while we know that ongoing training results in more sales, we’re still spending significantly less on sales training than we do to recruit a new employee in the first place.

The obvious solution? Invest in paid training. In particular, target the training options you select for your bottom performers to the underlying causes you identified in the analysis described above.

If, for example, your salesperson is underperforming because they don’t feel confident cold calling, invest in either cold calling training or in training on other methods of lead acquisition the person’s skill set is more suited towards.

“Training” doesn’t have to be expensive, either. Time set aside to read industry blogs or to shadow more effective team members may be as effective as jetting off to a $5K conference.

4. Support Them with Content

To some degree, subpar sales performance is understandable. In addition to the skyrocketing pressure to meet quotas mentioned earlier, salespeople are facing an image problem.

According to HubSpot Research, “only a mere 3% of people consider salespeople to be trustworthy. Meanwhile, 49% trust doctors, 12% trust accountants, and 10% trust professional musicians.”

Salespeople who wish to improve their performance must overcome this trust barrier. One way to do so is to leverage marketing content throughout the sales cycle.

A report by Demand Gen suggests that “an overwhelming majority of B2B service and product buyers -- 95% -- consider content as trustworthy when evaluating a company and its offerings.” Produce the right content, and you may be able to establish the trust needed to secure a sale -- no matter how your salespeople perform.

Take the example of Vodafone, which aimed to move away from traditional sales approaches and invest instead in becoming a communications thought leader. The company achieved this objective by integrating its sales and marketing teams to produce marketing content that supported every stage of the sales funnel:

Image Credit: B2B Marketing

After investing months into the collaboration and development of vertical content campaigns, Vodafone reported five major wins:

  • Sales teams became a channel for marketing by sharing content with their contacts.
  • Fully engaged sales teams are 100% behind the campaigns.
  • Marketing teams benefitted from the outset from sales perspective on customer.
  • Sales and marketing teams worked collaboratively throughout.
  • Sales and marketing teams gained valuable insights from each other.

Underperforming members on your sales team may not be lacking the necessary skills -- just the resources. Support them better with content collaborations between sales and marketing.

Know When to Cut Them Loose

Ultimately, there may come a point where you’re throwing good money after bad at an underperforming salesperson.

Using the data identified with your new sales analytics campaign, work in conjunction with HR to set acceptable standards of improvement. If your rep fails to meet these agreed-upon milestones, know that it may be time to cut them loose and move forward with a new hire.

(Mikita Mikado is CEO of PandaDoc, which helps organizations close more deals with a better quote, proposal and contract management processes. He is an entrepreneur, executive and former engineer. He works on, speaks and writes about companies doing innovative things in technology and business. He was previously CEO of Coding Staff, and he describes himself as a "bad surfer and happy dad.")

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