Here’s the scenario: You’ve just hired a new sales rep. He seemed perfect. He did great on the sales personality test, he had all the right answers, and everyone liked him. He told you he’d be the hardest worker in the office. Two weeks in you notice he’s a few minutes late half the time, leaves promptly at 5, is sitting in the office instead of out making calls, and he works no nights or weekends. What happened to your future #1 sales rep?
Another example: You run an insurance agency and you have an agent who builds a book of business to the point where they’re making a decent living. Next thing you know, they’re spending most of their time in the office servicing their accounts and their new business dwindles to pretty much zero.
Of course the first remedy to either of the above is to directly address the issue. Let the person know what you’ve observed and have a conversation about it. What are your concerns, what would you like to see instead, and how can you two collaborate to make it happen? If they don’t change, what are the potential ramifications or consequences? While you want to try to encourage people and do everything you can to positively get them on track, if those don’t work, you’re going to have to resort to less pleasant alternatives. Among those are: let them go, change their role (expectations) along with their income, or come up with another exit plan. All of that said, below are six steps to help you avoid the two scenarios above.
Step #1: Know the “why.”
In the above situations, you most likely have a comfort zone/motivation issue. The key is to know up front what will motivate your people to sell and make a lot of money. For new-hires it might be a new house or car, paying off student debt, traveling, or getting married. Later in their career it may be paying for college educations, weddings, leaving a legacy, retiring on time, or as one person said to me, paying $110,000 for the experimental cancer treatment to save his wife. As we get older the “why” changes. Stay on top of it throughout a salesperson’s career. Know what the why is so you can push that motivation button when people start to get comfortable. If in the interview process you find out the kid still lives at home and only needs beer money, they may not be motivated. If the insurance agent’s kids are out of school and married, and he has some decent savings, the money motivator may be gone. Facilitated Introspection and other similar questioning methods, can be extremely effective for helping people find their why and get back on track.
Step #2: Set the expectations.
Let people know what’s expected of them. Salespeople, producers, agents, or whatever you call them in your organization, are getting paid to sell and bring in new business. This goes for new-hires as well as veterans. In addition to having sales goals, new-hires should also have activity goals. For example: make 50 in-person cold calls per week, go to 4 networking events per month, and learn all sales scripts in the first 30 days. In addition, they should have a set of rules to follow. Example: be at the office by 7:30 a.m. Monday to Friday, be out of the office making calls from at least 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and work at least three nights a week, most Saturdays, and perhaps even some Sundays, your first three years in the business.
Once you’ve set the expectations, watch people. Do they show up early and stay late? Are they working nights and weekends? Do they have a good attitude and get along well with others? Do they have a good work ethic? Can you take them at their word?
Veterans may not need rules and activities, but if you notice their production starting to drop off as with the insurance agent, you might want to consider some.
Step #3: Hold people accountable.
Now that you’ve set the expectations, you have to hold people to them. The biggest issue I see in the workplace by far is a lack of accountability. People who aren’t doing their job will get away with what you let them get away with. Also, what you put up with you tacitly condone and get more of. The fastest way to drop production and morale is to have people in the workplace who aren’t pulling their weight and no one calls them out on it. It’s okay for someone to have a bad day, week, or even month, but if it’s not addressed it will get worse and hurt everyone all the way around.
Step #4: Provide the right environment.
Related to the above, people are products of their environment. If you bring the right person (positive attitude, hard worker, and more than capable of doing the job) into an environment in which people are negative and aren’t held accountable, guess what happens? That person will either become just like the other negative slackers, or leave. Culture begins with leadership. You must set the tone of a professional, positive workplace in which everyone is held to the highest professional and ethical standards. This means respect for all, honesty, integrity, showing up on time, and working until the job is done. A great culture also includes no negativity, gossiping, or anything similar. Any of the above must be called out and addressed immediately.
Step #5: Refuse to settle for less or drop your standards.
Stop trying to justify why you should keep someone around who isn’t doing their job. While you think you’re saving your part of the world by keeping this underperformer around, you’re actually hurting them, you, everyone else in the company, and ultimately your customers. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. No one is “entitled” to get paid for a job they’re not doing thus setting a bad example for everyone else.
Step #6: Change things up.
If you find yourself in the second paragraph of this article, in other words, you have a salesperson who was doing well and now that they’re comfortable, they’ve stopped producing, after addressing the issue directly, the next step is to change the rules of the game. This is usually done by restructuring their payment plan along with instilling penalties or changing incentives.