Sales Managers: Recognize and Take Action on Low-Performers

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The Sales Warrior Within | Season 2 Episode 64 – Sales Managers: Recognize and Take Action on Low-Performers

Host: Andy Olen

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Low-performing sales reps zap the energy and focus of the sales team, manager, and customers. It’s critical for the sales leader to quickly diagnose and then act on changing the low-performer’s trajectory. Try, and try again. If it doesn’t work, you’ll have to find a way to move the low-performer out of the organization.

  • Andy evaluates performance on two levels – SKILL and WILL.
  • Andy shares three low-performing sales personas: 1) The Long-Term Success Turned Sour; 2) ROAD – Retired On Active Duty; 3) The Cancer on the team. Andy unpacks each persona.
  • Andy shares advice for sales managers on how to diagnose and performance manage these players. It’s all about seeing it, and acting quickly to change it.
  • Customers also see and feel the low-performer’s challenging attitude. This is a red flag. When customers no longer want to work with your sales teammate, they are no longer willing to work with your company.
  • Finally, Andy shares advice that he was given from a sales mentor. “If you see a performance on your team and fail to address it, the problem is YOU!” Spot on.

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Speaker Andy Olen:


Sales warriors, welcome to The Sales Warrior Within podcast. My name is Andy Olen. I’ll be your host today, like I’ve been all the time on this podcast. I think we’re over 120 episodes now. It’s been a lot of fun delivering this content, this show, this podcast to all of you. So thank you to all the loyal listeners out there. I know who you are because you often shoot me a note or give me a comment about hearing this or that on The Sales Warrior Within podcast.


And If this show has helped you express the sales warrior within you a little bit more, feeling more confident, more skilled, ready to go into that customer conversation to create value for your customer, ultimately feeling more empowered. And empowerment is the ability through your actions, through your approach, to control your own destiny.


Boy, if that’s been the outcome of listening to one, two, or 120 of these episodes, then thank you so much. And I’m glad it’s working out for you. Today what I wanted to do was talk about a couple of subjects and specifically talk to the sales managers and the sales leaders out there that listen to this podcast.


And if you’re an aspiring sales leader, this will be good for you as well too in your development. If you are a salesperson or a business person, also helpful insights for you to know, a little bit of the psychology of managing salespeople. And this is brought to you by my experience. And also working with a lot of sales managers, a lot of HR partners, and having these discussions over time about what happens when there’s a tough sales rep situation out there. And what I want to do today is sort of unpack why it can be difficult at times managing the tough sales rep, what the sales manager needs to do.


And I’m going to give you three different types of sales rep. difficult personas that a sales manager might have to deal with. So the first one is the long time success. This is a tough sales rep. And again, this is a situation where the sales manager is struggling to manage the sales rep. Maybe the sales rep is not communicating with the sales manager, not returning phone calls, text messages, not showing up on time for team meetings, not doing the pre-reqs for team meetings, or the assignments, or the takeaways, or getting things done on time. And this is a tough situation. Maybe the attitude is bad as well. I think about things as skill and will. If someone has the skill to do things, but they don’t have the will or they have the wrong attitude, bad will, then that’s a really tough situation for a sales manager to manage.


And so the first persona that can exude some of these qualities, not saying all people that are long tenured or long term successful salespeople actually do this, but the ones who are tough to manage, or who are exhibiting low will or a bad attitude, they may have been long-term successful salespeople in the region, in the area. And for whatever reason, times they are a-changing, they don’t think that they can sustain, they feel threatened by the new skills that they need to have. Instead of adapting the long-term, long-time successful sales rep, instead of adapting, they take all of that energy and they just kick back and they kick up. at the sales manager and they basically refuse to change by pitching a fit or going silent or ghosting the team and that’s not sustainable. As a sales manager, that’s a tough one because you have someone who’s had the experience of being successful who no longer is demonstrating a willingness to succeed, grow and evolve.


The next persona I’m going to talk a little bit about is ROAD, R-O-A-D. So that’s an acronym. And that stands for Retired on Active Duty. My dad taught me this acronym a long time ago. I’m sure he wasn’t the inventor of it. But it’s a really applicable one where someone may have been around so long. And it doesn’t really matter. This is not an age-based thing. But you can be retired on active duty. And basically, you’re just sitting on the sidelines. You’re waiting to take the next step. Maybe you’re looking for a new job. Maybe you do want to retire. Maybe you want to get fired, because if you get fired or let go, there might be a severance check waiting there for you as well. That is a very difficult situation for sales managers to work with and work through. And for all of these personas, it’s also very difficult for the sales teammates in the group to deal with these type of colleagues. They see that they’re not working. They see missed opportunities. And while they’re working hard and producing, their colleagues are not. taking the high road rather than taking the sales low road and not being productive.


That leads to the third persona, which is the out and out cancer on the team, or I should say the all out cancer on the team. What this means is that this person is just verbally caustic and challenging and deals with things in a very, very negative way publicly on team calls. in person at team meetings and is just really blatantly showing a bad attitude. This is not passive aggressive, this is aggressive. And so that’s the cancer on a team. And if you don’t deal with that as a manager, pretty quickly that cancer can metastasize and spread. And other sales reps are going to talk about that cancer salesperson quite a bit. And so much time, energy, and calories are burned up. dealing with someone on the team like this. So three different types of tough sales rep personas, actions, or if I sort of would bundle and categorize all of these things, we have the long time success. It’s not really being successful anymore. We have road retired on active duty. And we have the all out cancer on the team as well, making it very, very difficult for the sales manager to function and operate.


So now. Let me give a couple thoughts here and some observations. The first observation, team, is that if you’re a sales manager and you’re finding it difficult to manage a sales person for one of the three reasons I stated, or they’re taking on that persona, or if it’s a fourth, fifth, or sixth, what likely is happening, if it’s tough for you and it’s difficult for you, it’s also likely difficult for the customer. to work with that person too. And this should be a real big red flag for you. It’s like, oh my gosh, I’ll use myself as an example. I’m managing Andy here and he’s being really difficult. I don’t know where this is coming from. Maybe he’s road. He may just want to be a cancer on the team. He’s better off if he wasn’t here, but he’s always been successful and I just don’t get it. So why is he sitting down on the job? I guarantee you this and this has been my experience time and time again.


The most difficult. salespeople I ever had to manage, customers ultimately told me it was no more fun working with that person. It wasn’t value add working with that person. We haven’t seen that person. So a lot of the same qualities that these challenging sales are tough personas, these qualities that you’re experiencing as a sales manager, it’s likely your customers are. And the reason that’s a red flag should be obvious. is that if customers don’t want to work with the salesperson, basically what they’re saying is, I don’t want to work with your company. I’m not going to buy from you. I’m open to going elsewhere. And so this puts a significant premium on you as a sales leader to take action. And that’s the next observation best practice here, is that it’s going to happen where with everyone that you work with, even your top performers, you’re going to have to give constructive feedback. There are going to be moments where that person’s just not at their best. No problem. You talk about it. You work your way through it. Be brave. Be bold. Have that conversation. Show your empathy. Show you care. And so you’re going to have to address this. And I’m going to assume that you’ve addressed it at least once. Maybe you’ve addressed the bad behavior twice. But now it’s persistent. There is no change.


And Bill Davis, one of my sales mentors and business mentors out there, always use this line is that as a sales leader, If you know what the problem is and you fail to address the problem, the problem is you. And I think, Bill, I did that justice there for you. But that is a great, great performance management ethos to have in the sense that if you identified in diagnosis a problem, a performance issue, an attitude issue on the team, it’s up to you to take action. And if you do not take action, then the problem isn’t that person. The problem, as Bill says, is you, the sales leader. So we already know that if that person’s tough to manage, they’re throwing haymakers at you, they’re a cancer on the team, then customers are also losing faith in your organization. They’re also gonna lose faith in your credibility as a sales manager if you do not take care of this issue.


So it is important for you to act, and if there is no change, to act again. And if there is no change, bring your HR colleagues in, act with a performance plan. act to move that person out. Again, always hoping that the person changes. But the reality is that if this person, after your feedback, time and time again, which by the way, isn’t fun for someone to hear, but they don’t change, they don’t take the action, that means they don’t care about what you said. They don’t believe you. It’s not credible. Most likely, they’re just not happy being there. And so at some point, make them happy. Find them a new home. Encourage them to start that process. And most likely, by the way, they’ve started the process of either thinking about leaving and going to a new team, of interviewing, or of just stepping away. But sometimes in the most devious situations, it’s because the person is trying to get a severance or a pay package. And you know what?


Here’s my third and final observation on this. That I always thought there was just something unjust. Injust, unjust, I think it’s unjust. Something wrong in principle with companies resolving performance issues by paying someone to leave. Because just on principle, you think about it’s like, wait a second. I got to open up the wallet and pay this person who’s a poor performer who doesn’t want to be there is long time success, now failing, persona one. Rode, retired on active duty, persona two. Or three, the cancer on the team. And I got to pay this person to leave? I don’t want to pay this person to leave. I want to exit this person sooner rather than later. Well, here’s the reality. Based on how companies manage legal exposure to performance and HR issues with people, how they move through performance processing things, it actually, and this is what I came to be very accepting of, you can accelerate the process of moving under and poor performer on from your team if there’s an opportunity to agree to some sort of severance or settlement to have and encourage that person to move and to leave.


And so I overcame the principled issue of having to pay a poor performer to leave. I didn’t like that. But boy, once that person was gone and The team was happier. Customers were happier. I was happier because I didn’t have to deal with it. Yeah, after a while of hitting your head against the wall, just stop hitting your head and it feels better. Fantastic. And the team could be more productive. We could sell more. Those customers would reengage. I could hire someone who automatically brought new energy to the team. Everything got better. And if that payment is available and can facilitate a transition, then that’s okay. And so the principle changed from being upset about having to pay a poor performer to let’s accelerate. Let the principle be the acceleration of the process so we can get to a better place sooner. And that makes a lot of business sense.


Pay a little bit, but get a whole lot back in return. And oh, by the way, the top performers on your team, when they see you take action like that, they’re cheering for you. They know it’s an issue. And so they’re more motivated. They know this is a no-nonsense deal. motivates others that there are consequences to being the longtime success who’s now checked out, the road or the cancer on the team, their consequences and things will change. Last and finally, what I found is that, when people get to a point where they just don’t like working at the company, doing what they’re doing and maybe working for you, that’s fine, you gotta take ownership of the situation as well too and do some reflection on that, that They’re ready to go. They just can’t say the words, I quit. They just can’t say. But they’re ready, and they want to. There’s some uncertainty if they don’t have another job on the other side, or hey, I know I have this much more time to work, and what’s my value going to be out there? I don’t want to leave without having something.


And what you’re actually doing, this may sound odd, but it is true, is that when you sever that tie, when you move on with a severance payment, without one, either way. That person actually becomes happier because they don’t have to do the unhappy stuff anymore. And almost by default, they become happier by not being there anymore. And so you, in a way, you give them what they’re looking for. And the behavior is the tell that that’s what they’re looking for. More importantly is the uncorrected behavior is the tell that that’s what they’re looking for. And so when you as a manager have a difficult rep situation, work on it. Engage it right away. Try and try again. Keep working through this. Look for opportunities to improve it. Hope that it changes. Work towards that positive change. And many times it does. If it doesn’t, if it doesn’t change and things keep getting worse, you got to move aggressively and take action.


And so recognize the signs of the long term and long time successful person who chooses no longer to be successful and has a bad attitude about it. The retired on active duty person is just waiting for someone else to make a decision, but is no longer contributing to the group and to the effort and to the cancer on the team, which is just so overtly dangerous and visible to not only the team, but to customers that it is up to you to take action. And once you do, you can continue to make great progress selling, engaging with customers and keeping your team morale high. And oh, by the way, keeping your energy level high. and allowing you to do more of the value liberating activities versus having to do a ton of performance management. I’m not asking or implying in any way that you shouldn’t take on the performance management. But I don’t want you always in performance management. That would be a nightmare situation. So do it. Do it assertively. Do it with your HR partners. But if you can find an exit via Severance, take that off ramp, and you’re going to be much better off for it as well.


Well, this was fun. It was fun to talk to sales managers, but also for all of the folks out there either looking to get into sales in sales, looking to move up. Here’s some things that you can think about. And if this situation does happen to you, feel free to reach out to me. Always happy to talk through these topics. Andy at is a place to find me. is the website as well. And please on LinkedIn. Give me a follow. I’m also on Twitter at . And I’m trying to give more and more content and advice out there that hopefully helps all of you be better salespeople, better leaders, better business people, hey, just better people as well. This has been another episode of The Sales Warrior Within. Thanks so much for listening. My name is Andy Olen. I’ll be talking with you soon. And in the meantime, good selling, good leading, and good living.