As a sales manager, it is easy to get caught up encouraging the top 20% and accepting the mediocre performance of the middle 60%.  But what to do with the bottom 20%?

At a minimum, the sales manager should be riding herd on the bottom 20%.  This is a group that can drag a sales department down faster than a boat anchor.  If their performance does not improve, they need to be let go.  I know that can be difficult for some managers, but that is the reality of running a productive sales department.

Selling Power’s Incentives newsletter offers an article addressing this bottom 20%.  Fair enough – they should be given a shot to turn it around.  I think the author does hit on one important aspect of managing them:

In fact, these low achievers are not only not talked about, they’re frequently not talked to at least not enough by their managers. According to OnPoint Consultings Jennifer Forgie, who’s quoted in a recent Incentives Magazine article, many managers faced with poor performers prefer to dodge the issue, either by only sending subtle or indirect messages of disapproval to the individuals involved, or by simply hoping the problem will solve itself.

Some sales managers act like these low performers have leprosy.  If the manager works with them, they may go down with them too.  Subsequently, the manager takes a hands-off approach and claims the salesperson will either “sink or swim.”  I don’t like this approach.  The manager is the manager of the entire team so they should be down in the mud with these salespeople attempting to turn them around.

The article lists 7 suggestions for turning around the low performers.  Some of the suggestions are marginal, but a couple stand out:

1. What are we shooting for?
To reach the goals you set for them, people need to understand explicitly what the expectations are. Be precise about what high performance looks like. Avoid generic sounding criticism like, Bill, you need to be more proactive.

4. Timeliness is key
Don’t let performance concerns fester. No one enjoys confrontation (not counting the producers of the Jerry Springer show), but the awkwardness and unpleasantness is best dealt with immediately. If you have agreed-upon behaviors and performance targets, the conversation addressing a new issue will be much easier.

Good tips, both of them.  In these situations, avoidance is the worst option a manager can choose.  Set the goals up front and stay involved in their progress.  At the end of the day, you will know what has to be done.

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