4 Steps to Motivate an Underachieving Salesperson

Jen Wagstaff

More than 10 years spent working in sales training have taught me to understand and turn around salespeople who are struggling. Here are four steps I’ve found most effective to re-motivate a salesperson who’s falling behind.

1. Start positive – identify their strengths

If you’re a manager in charge of one person, or a team of salespeople who aren’t pulling their weight, the pressure to offer a solution can be intense.

But too many sales managers make the mistake of starting with the negative. If you start a conversation with a member of your team by talking about their failings, it’s not going to be productive. Nobody wants to feel like they’re getting a telling off from one of their teachers.

Instead, your first step should be to identify the strengths of the salesperson or team you’re trying to motivate. Start a dialogue to find out what areas they have the most confidence in. Ask them what’s working and where they think they’ve been successful.

Ask them how they think they can push themselves to become even better in those areas where they feel most assured. Starting with encouraging, constructive discourse will have a positive impact on your whole conversation.

2. Find out what motivates them

Staying in the same positive mindset, the next step is to find identify what drives the underperformer. They’re already aware of what they’re doing well. But to encourage them further it’s worth finding out why they’re doing it in the first place.

Ask questions:

  • Where do you want to be in six months, and why?
  • What will you do to celebrate when you get there?
  • What do you love about this job? Why?

When you become too focussed on underperformance, it can feel like you are forever flogging a dead horse. It can be easy to forget that the carrot works better than the stick. Taking some time to develop a clear picture of what success looks like for your underperformer will drive performance through positivity.

There should be rewards for achieving any goal, even if they are only personal. Discuss ways they can celebrate themselves when they reach them.

3. Identify challenges

This is a sensitive area, but if a salesperson is going to grow, you need to get to the root of the problem.

Bear in mind, if someone is underperforming, it’s likely that managers will have told them time and again what they believe the problem is. It will be drilled into them, and may be a cause of greater stress and anxiety. But, they may still not have gotten to the core of the issue.

It’s important to understand the problem behind the problem. Have an open and honest conversation about their performance. Ask key questions like:

  • Why some KPIs are lower than others?
  • What are reasons there has been no change so far?
  • What is stopping you?
  • Why do you think that is?

Take the time to have an in depth discussion. Ask probing questions to try to get as close to the core of the issue as possible. Really try to get underneath their skin and inside their heads. Only if you really relate to them will you be able to understand where the problem stems from. Be careful not to accept blame. Keep asking until you find a reason that they can do something about.

Then ask further questions which might have a bearing on their happiness and progress. For example, ask what challenges they might face within company culture. Once you have arrived at a detailed picture of the problem, you can work together to set about overcoming it.

4. Create a development plan – journaling

Even if they recognize an issue, many managers will just tell salespeople what to do to solve it. But this process shouldn’t be a passive learning experience for the person who is underperforming. Instead, managers should question them to come up with their own ideas for how to improve performance. Engage them with questions like:

  • What do you think you need to do?
  • What sort of options do you think you have?
  • How do you think you could work better?

Then, create a detailed development plan to keep track of your team's progress and help them work towards their goal.

But how do you create a development plan?

The most effective development plans are those used every day, especially daily journals. The right journal will ask your team questions like the above, helping them create a personal development plan tailored to their development areas. And once they have the right plan, it will help them embed the right habits of success into their daily routine and help them progress towards their ultimate sales goal.

I’ve put all these questions and many more into the Top Performer Journal, a focused daily planner designed to help salespeople develop the right strategy, mindset and habits to become a Top Performer in sales. If you’d like to give your sales team a step-by-step guide to developing a prospecting strategy for the coming quarter, you can access Part 1 for free here: http://bit.ly/TopPerformerFree.

Jen Wagstaff is a co-founder of CreativeMind, a UK-based group that helps salespeople create the strategy, mindset and habits to become a top performer in sales.