it for screwing up. “I always ask them what they did to try and help the other part of the organization,” she says. “Did they handle all their pieces correctly to help others in the company do their job properly?” She also coaches them to think in a more holistic manner, with such questions as, “How would a team approach help you get your job done better?” Bring their behavior back around to their ability to meet their own goals, she suggests. By linking their poor at- titudes with their bottom line, you “hit ’em where it hurts,” she says. As these problem reps begin to

bring their actions and attitudes in line, make sure to notice and remark

The Expert Weighs In

When you’re having a problem with a salesperson on your team, you need look no further than the mir- ror for the responsible party, says sales trainer and keynote speaker Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Little Red Book of Sales: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness (Bard Press, 2004).

“Non-performance is not a problem. Non-perfor- mance is a symptom,” he says. To fix the real issue, man- agers must get to the root of why a rep isn’t performing. Here are his five main reasons for problem sales reps: 1. Denial. Most managers don’t want to admit that the hire was a mistake, Gitomer says. But avoid- ance only delays the inevitable and makes a pain- ful situation worse.

2. Objectifying the hiring process. More and more companies – particularly larger ones – are turning to tests and other objective screening mechanisms to make hiring decisions, rather than relying on the more subjective (yet typically more reliable) gut feeling of the hiring manager.

3. Misaligned training focus. Most sales teams focus on product training, to the detriment of sales skills training. On average, skills training accounts for 20% or less of total training efforts. “It should be reversed,” says Gitomer. “There’s no such thing as a poor salesperson – only poorly trained sales- people,” he says.

4. Lack of third-party endorsements during the sales process. Endorsements lower the perceived risk for the prospect and shorten the sales cycle.

5. Aiming too low. Salespeople typically start at the


on their improvements – both so they know you’re paying attention, and so you can track their progress (or lack thereof). “You can’t just say six months later, ‘You know what, you’re nicer!’” the general manager says. The good news is that the likeli- hood of this effort paying off is high – at least, more probable than with reps whose issues are performance related. He says that, of the three or four reps he’s had to call on the carpet for at- titude reasons, all had made changes for the better. “They haven’t changed 180 degrees,” he admits, but they made a significant improvement. Despite this optimism, both managers remind others that prob-

lem reps can eat up more than their fair share of your time and energy. While it’s natural to focus on the areas where your team is lagging, the reality is that you can’t pay atten- tion to the bottom of the curve, to the detriment of your high perform- ers. The key is in recognizing who’s salvageable and who isn’t, says the sales director. She recalls a particu- larly poignant piece of advice she received early in her management career. While it was put a little less delicately, the gist was this: You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. If someone’s an inadequate performer and they can’t get any better, she says, cut them loose. 

lowest, easiest point of entry and then wonder why they can’t get to the decision maker, says Gitomer. The reason? “They started too low to begin with,” he says.

Gitomer’s suggestions for addressing these core issues: • Increase your own skills. Sales managers have to be one notch better than every other salesperson in the organization, says Gitomer. Keep improving yourself and your own skills if you want to make your team better.

• Improve customer relationships. The stronger your customer relationships, the more you can leverage those ties. Getting “the voice of the customer” not only helps train your team, but it also lowers per- ceived risk for your potential clients.

• Be proactive, not just active. Managers must ac- company each salesperson on sales calls at least some of the time, stresses Gitomer. Use that time in front of the customer to coach and teach your team members. “It’s no different than a grandfather teaching a grandson how to ride a bike,” he says. By demonstrating skills for them to model and then letting your reps test their wings in front of you, you can gauge their performance and guide them to the next level in real time.

• Train on sales skills, not on products. Product knowl- edge is useless if your team doesn’t know how to connect with and sell to your customers.

• Minimize the paperwork. Managers, says Gitomer, should be “hands-on,” not “report-on.” Instead of asking your team what’s happening, get out of your office and find out for yourself. “Sales reports are largely bogus,” he says.

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