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Chapter 16: Assessing and Developing Salespeople


On at least an annual basis, most Human Resources (HR) departments require sales managers to formally assess their staff. And despite the fact that the sales manager should have reviewed twelve (or more?) forecasts from each salesperson over the course of those 12 months, it can be a tough job to sit down and formally analyze what has transpired in a year.

Consider the following outstanding, average, and difficult performance reviews, which are composites from our experience working with salespeople over the years.

Salesperson A, Mary, consistently achieves 200-plus percent of quota. The manager invites Mary into his office, and begins

Mary, it is difficult to put into words what a pleasure it is to have you on my team. Thanks for your contributions over the past year. I've filled out your evaluation, so take a minute to review it and ask any questions you may have. (Mary spends 2 minutes reading the glowing evaluation and has no questions.) Well, then, this will go into your personnel file. I'm pleased to give you the maximum 5 percent raise on your base salary. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you going forward. At this stage, my inclination is to just get out of your way and let you sell. Congratulations on a tremendous year!

Salesperson B, whom we'll call Joe, struggles to make his numbers. Two of the last three years he has made quota (as he did last year) by a few percentage points. He achieved 92 percent of quota 2 years ago. He enters the office and hears:

Joe, let's review your performance evaluation. Take a few minutes to look at it, and then we can talk. (Joe sees several areas where he is considered average. There are a few areas showing his skills to be above average, balanced by areas needing improvement. It is a fair assessment that accurately points out his strengths and weaknesses.) Joe, I hope you agree with my assessment and comments. Overall, I'm glad to have you on the team, but I wish you could increase activity within your pipeline. If you were to increase prospecting activity, I think you could . . . (The discussion drones on for about 30 minutes, including comments about skill sets that must be "shored up," interspersed with compliments about strengths. The meeting grinds to a conclusion as Joe signs the evaluation.) Joe, I hope this session was worthwhile. I want you to strive to increase activity and make your numbers by the end of October. Won't it be nice for us to be able to enjoy the holiday season at the end of this year? I've put in for a 2 percent raise in your base. Let's make this the year that you knock the fences down.

Keith, Salesperson C, finished the past year below 50 percent of quota, and is sitting at about 50 percent of quota year-to-date halfway through the year. This review promises to be difficult:

Keith, why don't you come in and take a seat. (The manager rests his chin on both hands, effectively covering much of his face, and starts to talk.) Keith, Keith, Keith, this has been a rough couple of years for both of us. Do you see things getting any better? (Keith mumbles a vague, uninspiring answer.) Well, based on your performance over the past 18 months, we have two choices. One is for HR to get involved. We would put you on a performance improvement plan and give you a 90-day period to get year-to-date against your quota. It would necessitate weekly meetings and mounds of paperwork. If after 90 days you still weren't tracking to your numbers, I'd have to terminate you. Do you think that you can close that much business in the next 3 months? (Again, Keith's answer fails to inspire confidence.)

Look, Keith, I know you have a family, and candidly, I'd hate to have to terminate you. Off the record, we could look at things another way. If you feel you can't make your numbers, the next 90 days could be put to a different use. I won't be taking attendance, so you'd have time to explore other options. Most people find it is easier to find a job while they have one. Why don't you sleep on it, and let me know how you'd like to proceed. In the meantime, don't tell anyone we had this conversation. Maybe a fresh start at another company is just the thing you need to get your career on track. Let me know what you decide.

Sound familiar? Anyone who has managed salespeople has faced these situations. (And maybe you've even been Mary, Joe, or Keith at some point in your career.) Mary is a customer-focused seller who neither wants nor needs to be managed, and will consistently produce. Joe is typical of traditional salespeople, who constitute the majority of sales forces. Every year, making quota is an adventure, and one that typically goes right to the end of the year. Keith's situation is a nightmare for everyone. He may be unskilled, unlucky, or lazy. Most likely he'll be working for another company within the next few months, regardless of whether he opts for the performance improvement plan or immediately begins a job search.

The reviews presented above are typical of those received by salespeople who have not been supported by Sales-Primed Communications and a sales process. The traditional sales manager knows what he or she is doing, in terms of traditional methods of motivating the sales force; he or she also seems to have a pretty good sense of the salespeople. But it's certainly fair to ask: Is this the first time that Joe has heard that he needs to improve? How long has Keith been bumping along on the bottom without intervention from above? Can either Mary or her manager articulate what makes her a customer-focused superstar?

In this chapter, we want to introduce a sales management process to assess and develop salespeople.

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