Sep 16, 2015

The Stress of Under-Performing


Having been a VP of Sales leading over 100 salespeople, I know the stress and pressure of getting a team to performing at a superior level and maintaining that. When the CEO of the company sees a dip, then she/he addresses it with the President of the company, the President of the company addresses it with the Executive VP, the executive VP addresses it with the VP’s and the VP’s/Sales Managers have the task of addressing it with the salespeople. Just like the game of “Telephone”, the message that originated with the CEO can become distorted by the time it reaches the first-line VP/Sales Managers. What may have started out as, “Let’s see what we can do to help bolster the numbers”, becomes, “What the ____ are you doing with your sales team?!!! Why are they performing so poorly?! Why haven’t you been keeping an eye on this?!”

Unfortunately, that message is often communicated to the salespeople and the results can be devastating; to the people and the profits. So, please consider that the message received as a VP/Sales Manager, no matter how earth-shattering it may be or how intense the delivery, needs to be put into a vacuum and shielded from your people. That is, if you want the performance of your people to improve. You see, your people are already beating themselves up in ways that a Sales Manager couldn’t even conceive. They have already seen themselves being fired. They already have a bottle of Pepto in their car because of the growing ulcer. They are already wanting to take “Sick Days” because they really do feel physically sick. If you really want the performance of your people to improve, please consider the following:

When was the last time you desired to to a bad job? Unless you had a motive to cause harm to a person or company or you just didn’t care, you wanted to do a good job, right? Whether it was personal or professional, you consistently want to do a good job. Why is this an innate trait of humans? Because the work we do is representative of who we are.

If you have children, think about what you’ve told them about keeping their room clean and in order. You probably told them that it reflects upon how other people view them. You may have taken the “shame” approach and told them that no one would want to be in their room when it’s messy and how ashamed they should be of it when it is a mess.

Not only have we always been taught the value of doing a good job and the reflection it has on us, we have an inner “compass” that compels us to a good job, even if it’s just for our own self-ego and self-worth.

Now, take that information and apply that to a salesperson working for you that’s currently under-performing. When a salesperson is under-performing, most sales managers begin feeling negative toward the person because of the pressure from the people, or person, to whom they report. They may hold the belief that it’s the people below them causing the problem. Here are some of the behaviors they exhibit:

  • Provide no, or very little, personal interaction with the person who is under-performing. Why? They believe that if they take away this personal interaction that the person will perform better to win back their approval. Here’s a Manager’s Alert for those who invoke this tactic: You’re not that important to your people! This behavior only reinforces what they may already believe, that you only care about the numbers and not them.
  • Embarrassment and harassment. A sure way to get your salesperson who is already under-performing to quit performing at all is to embarrass and harass them. This behavior on the part of a sales manager most likely goes back to two sources; parent(s) and bosses. In the “Dark Ages” of management, it was thought that people only perform for compensation, so the ego and emotions of people were considered unimportant, other than to humiliate and shame them into producing. Those tactics may work very short-term, but, as people like Bobby Knight of Indiana University, Tom Beckman of the University of Illinois, and countless managers in business have found out, they aren’t tolerated in today’s world.
  • They threaten termination if productivity isn’t improved. When a person’s livelihood is threatened, primeval instincts take over. People go into “Survival Mode”. The brain shuts down all the creativity, excitement, motivation, enthusiasm, etc. All the traits the sales manager wanted to bring to the fore have been totally squashed. The moment the threat is stated, in their mind, the salesperson has already reworked their resume and begun deciding where to start sending it.

    These beliefs and behaviors I have seen most Sales managers exhibit are all self-defeating and counter-productive. They create the opposite result of their intention. So, what can and should Sales Managers do differently?

    1) Accept and own the lack of performance. Asking questions that cause them to consider how they have contributed is a great first step! Here are a few examples:

  • Have I given my people all the resources they needed to perform at a high level?
  • What areas have I neglected in training, coaching, and/or support?
  • Are their behaviors on my part that are causing a lack of respect, distrust, or other negative attitudes?
  • Do I know each salesperson’s needs and desires so that I can properly motivate them?

    2) Find out what the real message is from above. As I illustrated above, the message you received may not be the original message or the intent behind it. It may be someone else’s interpretation.

    3) Take the high road. Rather than playing the “Blame Game” and finding reasons why the sales are poor, which is focusing on the past and you can’t change, focus on the future using the KISS Model:

  • Discover what is working well and KEEP DOING those things
  • Find out what doesn’t work well and STOP DOING those things
  • Have a brain-storming session and discover new and different things you and your people can START DOING to increase sales.

    For sales success, rather creating more stress that leads to counter-productive results, find ways to help your people move toward the intended positive results! Also, if you would like to learn how to implement strategies that will boost your sales 10%, 20%, or more, contact me to set up a no-charge consultation today!

    Dr. Edward Lewellen is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

    Author of The 90-Second Mind Manager