Constructive Conversations to Have with an Underperforming Salesperson
What to look for in team development
by Maria Markusen

A few years ago, I walked into a recreational vehicle store to buy a Jet Ski for my family. A salesman named Earl greeted me right away. You could tell he lived his business. He was full of “elbow grease” from working on machines and tan from being outside.

He politely questioned, “What can I help you find today?”

I replied, “I am looking to buy a Jet Ski. I’ve done a little research so I have an idea of what I would like.” I then pointed to a model that I recognized and told Earl, “Actually, this is one of the models I have been very interested in.”

He asked, “Will the Jet Ski be for yourself?”

I responded, “Mostly my two sons. They’re teenagers, but I also plan to ride it a little.”

“I see,” he replied and then asked if he could make a suggestion.

Continuing, he mentioned that the model I was looking for was one of the fastest, most technically advanced in the store, and that he recommended going with a less advanced (and less expensive) model to ensure the safety of my teenage sons. Earl then suggested a more age-appropriate Jet Ski and advised that once they were older and more comfortable with the sport, he would highly recommend my original choice.

At this moment, he completely earned my trust. The idea of a high-powered machine for my teenage sons was already a little nerve-racking. To have a salesperson take the time to find out my family’s needs and suggest a lower-priced, more suitable product was impressive. Earl knew that he could have made the sale for my initial suggestion, but he understood the value of earning my trust. Because of him, I worry less about my boys, enjoy the Jet Ski more and, in time, will be going back to him for an upgraded model. I won’t price-shop him in the future. Earl has earned my business for life.

This example highlights the ideal salesperson and sales experience. Why? Because he understood the long-term value of my business. He acted more out of concern for my family, versus acting only out of concern for the sale. This is the difference between a good customer service rep and a great salesperson.

Sales vs. customer service: What’s the difference?

A good customer service person displays patience, empathy, warmth, friendliness and responsiveness. They live for helping others and have keen problem-solving and listening skills. Lastly, a good customer service person should be tenacious—they fill the requested needs of the customer, solve problems that arise and relate to the desires of others.

More often than not, in our business, people fill the prescription or order, but they don’t add on anything else or suggest products to make the patient or customer more comfortable or heal quicker.

Customer service is different from sales, however. Salespeople should possess all of the warm and fuzzy characteristics previously mentioned.

In addition, salespeople should engage in transactions and interactions at a greater level to build a relationship that is so strong that redirecting, suggesting and creating loyalty will almost always lead to additional immediate sales and long-term customer loyalty.

The biggest mistake a salesperson can make is to not listen to the customer. Often times, a salesperson who doesn’t practice active listening will sell products a customer doesn’t need. Usually, these people are more concerned about the cool factor of a product, making quota or making their commission.

When a customer goes home and isn’t “wowed” or doesn’t get results from the product purchased, they don’t necessarily have a negative view of your store and the experience—they just don’t come back. Instead, they shop you and go online to order—you lose the chance to build customer loyalty.

What do you do if a salesperson is just concerned with the here and now?

Where to start sales team improvements

When faced with salespeople that do not actively listen or are underperforming, improvement starts with setting regular goals and expectations. Try to set measurable sales goals daily, weekly and/or monthly that are centered around items such as topline revenue, number of transactions per day, number of items per sale and total dollars per transaction.

Next, provide product training, set the expectation, and give people the tools needed for success. Make sure to lean on your vendors for training and product knowledge.

Role-play every week with different customer scenarios and with every new product. You can also show your sales team how it’s done by closing a few sales in front of them.

If they are still underperforming, conversations around performance are easier because both parties are aware that goals are not being met.

Regular check-ins, additional role playing, proceeded by sales floor listening, can help put into motion constructive conversations geared toward improving sales performance—thus, allowing for successful adjustments to help your employee.

If the adjustments still are not working, it may be time to let your salesperson go. Circumstances for termination are when all sales tools have been given and then explained or revisited, and if attitude and sales behavior do not reflect a change.

A general rule for termination or position relocation is if the retraining and performance plans are missed, and sales goals are missed for more than 90 days. Below is a step-by-step approach for solving this issue.

  • Step 1: Train, communicate goals, provide tools.
  • Step 2: Track, monitor, retrain, recommunicate.
  • Step 3: Reward if goals are met, or create a performance plan with clear expectations when goals are not met.
  • Step 4: Repeat step 2, give a 90-day allowance and if no change, move to a different position or terminate.

What should you look for in a salesperson?

All things considered, when choosing and training a sales professional, look for an x-factor that separates a good customer service person from a great salesperson. They should interact seamlessly with others and build relationships through active listening. Remember Earl? Pay close attention to people like Earl, who dig deeper and really try to understand a customer’s needs.

As a result of infinite choices in the retail industry, customers are looking for that x-factor, too. Consumers today have critical expectations, as they should.

Consumer expectations are not just centered on store offerings, but encompass the whole package, including the experience. You’re already carrying the great product, and if your merchandising and marketing are relevant, your sales team is the cherry on top of a great customer experience.

Diligently find your x-factor salesperson, and don’t be afraid to have tough conversations if a member of the sales staff is underperforming. Your ability to do so will set you apart from the competition, grow revenue faster, solve your customers’ needs, lower marketing costs and build your reputation within your community.