How much time does sales management waste coaching poor performers? It’s safe to say, too much. Anyone who has ever led people has fallen into this sales coaching trap. 

And it’s not just the time spent actually coaching. It’s the time management spends thinking about ways to turn around struggling sellers. Good sales managers know they are responsible for their sales team’s performance, so it can be easy for them to become preoccupied with trying to find some way of coaching these folks.

But all that time spent pondering…

  • “Should I put them on a performance plan? (Or not?)”
  • “Should I go with the rep on five face-to-face calls?”

…is wasted time. Even worse, it’s time that’s taken away from the rest of the sales team. And it’s a lot of time when you consider just how many members of a sales team can be classified as underperformers. 

According to a recent Salesforce study, 57% of sales reps were not on track to make quota in 2019. It is an understatement to say that the sales environment has become much more challenging in 2020.

How Sales Leaders Can Stop Wasting Time on Underperforming Sales Reps

Instead of spending all that time stressing over sales coaching tactics, sales managers need to identify whether the rep’s lack of sales performance is a skills issue – or a will issue

This can be difficult to discern. It’s one thing if a sales rep really wants to be successful, but lacks the skills and experience it takes to advance a deal. If this is the case, sales coaching may not be a waste of time. 

But it’s a whole other thing if the rep’s issue is a lack of will to get the job done.

Wax On, Wax Off: Sales Coaching Tips from Mr. Miyagi

Remember Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid? All that car waxing, fence painting, catching flies with chopsticks and other menial tasks taught basic skills – but they were also tests of his student’s will to learn.

To get to the bottom of the skills vs. will issue, the sales manager should meet with the rep, address the areas of weakness head-on, and provide a detailed list of performance expectations. It’s not quite a performance plan, more like a roadmap that shows what it takes to be successful within the sales organization.

Too often, management waits for the annual performance review to directly address weak performance and wastes countless hours coaching smaller issues – without ever addressing the bigger picture.  

If management is puzzled as to what the sales rep’s underlying issues are, a sales assessment can identify issues such as cognitive deficiencies or a lack of drive that are often tough for management to put their finger on but can be the root of performance issues.

Within a week of a performance-related session with an underperforming sales rep, clues will emerge that indicate if the issue is skills or will

For the first three or four days, most employees will rise to the occasion and work on the issues discussed in their coaching meeting. But after that point, the reps who have the will to sell – and perform – will rise to the challenge while those who don’t, won’t.

“A week after a coaching session, reps with the will to perform will do their best to overwhelm a sales manager with effort.” – Brett Trainor, VP, Selleration

What are the likely outcomes?

  • The best-case scenario is that the underperformer heeds the message and turns it around. 
  • Another scenario is that management terminates the rep, who didn’t follow through on the opportunity to improve. This benefits sales managers by freeing them from wasting time sales coaching someone who has no interest in upping their selling game. 
  • The worst-case scenario? Ignoring this advice and continuing to invest in a bottomless pit of underperforming reps – while the rest of the team suffers from a lack of leadership.

The critical first step is to have the difficult coaching meeting. The longer you wait, the more time will pass with underperformers on your team. Coach them up or move them along so you can add sales reps that have the skills and will to perform.