8 Strategies to Try Before Firing an Underperforming Rep

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Michael Halper
Michael Halper



Are you considering firing an underperforming salesperson? Such a drastic step might not be necessary.

But before you solve the problem (or decide it’s not solvable), you must identify what is preventing the rep from meeting or exceeding expectations.

Here are three common issues:

1) They lack the capability to perform the job

In other words, they don’t have the necessary skills, knowledge, or experience. This might sound like a dealbreaker, but if the rep has the desire and ability to learn and improve, you can work through this scenario.

2) They are not putting in enough effort

Sales results can often be correlated with activity levels (calls, emails, meetings, events, etc.). If a rep is not performing well, it could be as simple as the level of effort they are putting in.

3) They do not know what to do

The rep may not know which contacts and accounts to pursue, how to get their foot in the door, or what to say when communicating with prospects.

Knowing the root cause will determine how you use the following tips.

Focus On What to Do vs. What Not to Do

If you have an underperforming sales rep, you are probably not happy with many of the things that they are doing (or not doing). Improve their performance and salvage the relationship you have with them by focusing more on what you want them to do than what you don’t.

When someone doesn’t do something correctly, our natural reaction is pointing out what they did wrong:

  • “Don’t do it like that.”
  • “You aren’t doing it right.”
  • “You shouldn’t have done it that way.”

You can communicate the same point while highlighting the correct action. Not only does this approach improve their performance, it’s also better for their confidence.

  • “I would like to see you do it this way.”
  • “The best way to do that is ...”
  • “Try this next time.”

Provide Sales Training

After you identify what’s preventing your sales rep from performing, review the training that you provide your sales team to determine if it’s an area you are currently helping your reps with. If you are not, providing more training in that particular area will improve current and future performance across the team.

Establish Regular Check-Ins

Set aside time with your reps for one-on-one sales coaching to discuss what is working well and what isn’t. Build an action plan for improving performance and then tracking progress along the way.

Practice Handling Objections and Asking Questions

A sales rep’s ability to surface and resolve objections will directly impact their level of sales performance. If you have a rep that does not know what to do or say in certain situations, you may be able to greatly improve their performance with training.

The same principle applies to questioning skills. If you have a rep who’s not selling enough, observe how they ask questions. Are they willing to probe when necessary? Do they use a variety of question styles to get the information they need? Are they primarily asking open-ended questions?

Increase Activity 

If poor sales performance stems from lack of effort, ask the rep to increase their activity level by setting goals or targets for some of these common activity types:

  • Calls made
  • Appointments set
  • Meetings held
  • Events attended
  • Leads generated
  • Quotes/proposals provided
  • Presentations/demos delivered

Incorporate Gamification

One technique to help salespeople increase their activity levels is to gamify selling. Try creating a score for each rep’s activities and results. This can increase their enthusiasm, motivation, and competitiveness.

Role Play

Practice and role play common sales scenarios with your reps. They’ll make mistakes with you -- instead of their prospects -- enabling you to discover and fix where they are going wrong.

Establish an Open Line of Communication

If you have a sales rep that is not doing well, they will likely be confused, frustrated, concerned, unhappy, and stressed. Building a relationship where the rep feels comfortable sharing these thoughts and feelings with you will greatly improve your ability to help and correct their path.

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