8 Ways To Shake Up (And Wake Up) An Underperforming Sales Team

Being a sales manager can seem like a dream job when quotas are blown away and revenue is blowing in. But managing an underperforming sales team can be both deflating and frustrating.

Are your reps not closing deals? Not qualifying leads? Not being team players? Do you reprimand? Raise sales targets? Terminate people?

As a sales manager, it’s your responsibility to recognize the signs of an underperforming sales team and create solutions for turning them around. And ideally you would do so before the underperformance negatively affects your company and the morale of your sales team.

There are ways to shake up — and wake up — an underperforming sales team. But before you go shaking the branches, be prepared to do your own introspection. Are your management practices setting your team, your product and your company up to succeed?

Instead of clearing the decks and going on the hunt for new talent, invest the time and energy in the talent you have. Analyze your current sales culture, your personal management style and your reps’ individual styles, needs and performance. Then make adjustments that will lead to sustainable improvements across the board.

Here are 8 ways to turn around an underperforming sales team.

  1. Get to the root of the problem.


    Blaming and making assumptions are common knee-jerk reactions when things aren’t going well. But when have those tactics ever worked to anyone’s advantage?


    Before you can start making improvements, you need to know what you are improving and why.


    A well-documented interrogative method of sleuthing out root causes of problems is Toyota’s 5 Whys In its simplest form, you would state the problem, then ask “why?”…and continue asking “why?” until a process has been identified that either isn’t working or doesn’t even exist.

  2. Take responsibility.


    One of the most important and consistent traits of leadership is the willingness to own responsibility.


    As a manager, you set the tone for your sales team and your entire sales culture. The adage that “bad news travels up, good news travels down” can be slightly tweaked to say that “responsibility flows up, credit flows down.”


    The point isn’t that those downstream in the company hierarchy get credit for good stuff and no responsibility for bad stuff. It simply means that you, as the manager, should assume ownership of the problem by either fixing or delegating.


    Taking credit for all the good stuff while blaming those you manage for the bad stuff will only demoralize your reps. Assuming self-accountable transparency will set a good example and encourage open communication about challenges.

  3. Lead by example.


    Instead of “lecturing and leaving,” roll up your sleeves and get involved in the trench-work of problem-solving. Have a great technique for qualifying a lead? Get in there and demonstrate by doing.


    Show concrete examples and do so with the enthusiasm you want to see from your team. Mentor your reps and be someone they can look up to.

  4. Clarify your expectations.


    What do you expect from your sales reps, both in terms of behavior and results? No relationship survives if even one person is always having to mind-read to figure out what the other person means, wants or expects.

  5. Track and provide feedback.


    Communication with an underperforming sales team is no less important than communication in an important relationship. Waiting until the last minute, then calling 911, doesn’t leave much hope for sustainable viability.


    It’s important that you track and provide feedback on performance gains and gaps This is one of the most important ways that you will set your reps up to succeed. People can’t respond to what they don’t know.

  6. Have a formal system for qualifying leads.


    You can’t expect your team to have a full pipeline at all times if you don’t have a sales process in place to facilitate one.


    Identify your ideal customer and communicate that vision to your team. Then get about the work of creating an automated system for capturing, qualifying and clearly identifying quality prospects. Establishing clear processes at every stage of the pipeline will help to keep it full.

  7. Rethink your compensation strategy.


    Practices like capping commissions and raising sales quotas for high performers can suck the wind out of anyone’s sails. How can you ask a sales rep not to “hold back” on performance when you are holding back on the reward?


    Making the bold move to individualize your compensation strategy for each individual is a win-win move. If you want the best from everyone on your diversified team, treat them as the individuals they are.


    While your star performers may be over-the-moon with one big annual bonus, other reps may need regular benchmarks to keep them motivated and on-target.

  8. Take action.

If you as the sales manager choose to remain stuck in outdated thinking, you will see outdated results from your team. Instead of reaching for the old standby resolutions of changing performance plans or termination, make an investment in your reps that parallels the investment you expect from them. Reach for strategies like empowerment, training, coaching and counseling. Termination should be a last resort.

An underperforming sales team is as much a reflection of you as a manager as a record-busting sales team is. Bringing a team back from a losing record to a winning season isn’t about getting rid of current players and recruiting new ones. It’s about exercising leadership from the inside-out. Are you doing everything you need to be doing to set your players up to succeed?

If you could use some help shaking up an underperforming sales team, we can help you strategize a winning season. You can reach us here.