Three Options for Underperforming Sales Reps (A Note to the Sales Manager)

You hired a salesperson. When you hired them, you took on the duty of providing them with the tools, the technologies, and the training that they need to succeed. You also took on the obligation to work for them, helping them learn to navigate the organization and giving them air cover when they need it.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a salesperson just doesn’t perform up to your expectations. Instead, they struggle and limp along, never improving. There are three primary choices available to you as a manager. Here is how you might think about them (and do think about them in this order).


Sometimes a salesperson fails because they need to improve some trainable set of skills. There are some tests here to determine whether retraining is a good option.

The first question you have to answer is whether or not the salesperson has a healthy underlying belief structure. Do they believe that they are a salesperson? Have they embraced sales? If they are truly not a salesperson in their heart of hearts, there is simply no amount of training that will help them produce better results.

The second question you have to answer is whether or not the salesperson generates activity. If the salesperson you hired won’t prospect, if they won’t make their calls, and if they find every excuse in the world not to do the heavy lifting that precedes all sales, then training isn’t going to do much.

This is a more difficult question to answer. Some of the people you hire may need to provided with more language choices and a greater command of the material to be truly comfortable selling. This is something you as a sales manager are responsible to give them.

Finally, you must answer the question as to what training would help the salesperson improve. If you work closely with your salesperson, you may be able to help them with training based on your observation. If you give them frequent reviews, you have a forum and a method for asking them what they believe they need to produce better results. If the two of you together can’t come up with a development plan that will help them succeed, retraining isn’t your answer.


Some people want to work in sales because they like what sales offers. It gives them the ability to work independently and it gives them financial rewards that they can’t easily get in another role. So they masquerade as salespeople, even though they are really salespeople in name only.

Many of the people your hire that haven’t embraced sales are still good employees and great hires. Just not for a sales role.

If you can, you should try to keep these people. There are a lot of roles for people with great client relationship skills but who can’t or won’t sell. They make great strategic account managers. They also work well in customer service roles, sometimes even management roles. People with great client relationships skills and some sales training improve the operations part of the business when they are reassigned there.

Answer these questions. Does this person really have all of the skills and attributes necessary to succeed in some other part of the business? Is this a good employee that would be happier and make a greater contribution in some other role?

Being fair to the people you hire means giving them what they need to succeed. Sometimes that means finding them a new home in your organization.

Remove and Replace

Now it gets a little tougher. If you can’t retrain or reassign, you are running out of options. Keeping the salesperson in a role in which they can’t succeed isn’t an option. You are a steward of your company’s finances, and as such you have some fiduciary responsibility to the organization.

You also owe the salesperson the chance to have a job where they can be successful and where they can do meaningful work. If you aren’t happy with their results, you will never be happy with the salesperson. If you are never happy with the salesperson, they will never be happy and fulfilled with their work.

Hiring salespeople is difficult. Even when you do everything right, mistakes are made.

Letting and employee go and replacing them is never easy. You have to make sure before you do so that you have been fair to the employee. And then, you owe them as soft a landing as possible.

If you can help them find another job where they can succeed, you do. If you can write them a letter, you write it. You treat them like you want to be treated were you them. Or, if that doesn’t get you thinking about what it means to be fired, imagine it was someone you love, like your son, daughter, mother, or father. Then act accordingly.


What are the options available to you to hep an underperforming salesperson?

How do you decide and choose on a course of action?

How do you know that an issue can be corrected with training?

Are there salespeople in your organization who are underperforming but would succeed in some other role?

If you have to remove and replace a salesperson, what duty do you owe them?

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Filed under: Sales

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