Dear David: The underperforming sales associate

Home Columns Dear David: The underperforming sales associate

February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16

By David Romano

Dear David:

I have a sales associate who has worked for me for just over six years. For many years she was my best sales associate; in fact, she averaged nearly $800,000 per year. In 2015 she sold just under $450,000 and the rest of my sales team sold, on average, nearly $650,000. I have met with her several times and discussed my disappointment with her numbers and I even gave her some advice on what to do to get better. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. I don’t know what else I can do to re-energize her. Is it just time to let her go?


Disappointed Owner


Dear Disappointed Owner,

Your last option in this type of scenario should be to let her go. The cost of turnover is high and good sales associates don’t fall from a tree. Something major must have happened to knock her from the top spot. Your job is to find out what happened as quickly as possible and determine if together you can get her back to the top or if it is time to part ways. Listed in order of execution are the steps to follow:

Have a frank discussion to determine the underlying cause

They say when you ask someone what is the cause of their underperformance, stress or unhappiness the first response is rarely the real trigger. When she tells you she is doing everything the same as when she was successful and blames customer unwillingness to purchase, don’t stop there. Come up with a solution of how she must do a better job convincing the customer to buy from her. You must continue to probe until you get to the real culprit for her lack of sales.

Come up with solid strategies

Once you determine the true cause(s) of underperformance it is time to figure out the exact things that must be done to improve. The advice of working harder and focusing more are nothing but empty words. Both parties must brainstorm and come to a consensus of what can be done to bring about a sustainable change in performance. Build a plan with clear directives, timelines and rewards and/or consequences.

Key measurements

The number of opportunities she has to sell (traffic), the number of people she can convince to buy from her (close rate) and the price/amount of what she sells (average ticket) all combined result in the volume she generates. She could be a phenomenal closer and have the best average ticket in the store but spends too much time with customers. The third variable would diminish her opportunity to sell to more customers and reach the desired volume level.

Set expectations and follow up

Together you should set expectations that are satisfactory to both of you. If you are expecting her to boost sales to previous levels in the next 24 hours you may be in for some disappointment. At the same time an open-ended time period will not provide a great enough sense of urgency. Meet weekly to review progress and determine if she needs to refocus or go in a different direction. Most important, this will give you the sense of whether or not she is a full participant in the change and has created her own improvement plan.

Celebrate success or cut bait

If things haven’t improved after 90 days, it is time to give her a pat on the back and wish her the best at her new place of employment. It is a tough decision, but the right one for your company, your other employees, customers and, in the end, for her.

If the above steps were completed successfully and her performance improved, it is time to celebrate and figure out the next strategy to drive an even greater level of performance.

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