Salesperson Manages Accounts but Doesn't Sell

A client asks, "About a year ago I hired a sales representative. Their rapport with customers is excellent and they manage their accounts satisfactorily, but they do little in the way of account development or prospecting. What should I do with this individual? Are my expectations unreasonable?"

You are not being unreasonable. You are observing some strong pro-customer traits in this individual which you would like to capitalize on. But you hired them to sell, and you're asking yourself, "Are they a salesperson or a customer service representative?" To answer this question, first take a look at the problem from the company perspective.

  • Job Title / Job Description: When this individual was hired, were the job title and description accurate reflections of your goals for the position? Did you hire to the job description?
  • Productivity Standards: Do you have standards and does this individual understand what percentage of their time should be spent on prospecting, outbound calling and sales presentations?
  • Incentive Plan: Does your compensation plan reward the behavior that you want, namely account development and prospecting? Is the plan too comfortable, allowing them to be financially satisfied without earning the commissions associated with achieving the goals?
  • Accountability: Do you hold meetings at least monthly with individual sales representatives to review their sales numbers and hold them accountable for their performance against plan?

Now let’s take a look at the problem from the perspective of the sales representative. The first thing you should do is have a discussion with this employee. Position what you have to say as a factual observation ("I have noticed that your sales numbers over the last few months have been…") rather than as criticism. Be specific. Ask a lot of questions, such as:

  • Do they understand the requirements of the position?
  • Could it be that they lack the necessary skills to sell?
  • Are these skills that they want to develop through coaching or training?
  • Do they enjoy the prestige of being a sales representative but not the pressure?

A good discussion should bring some of this out in the open, and together you can develop a plan to improve the situation.

If over a reasonable period of time they are not performing at least at or above the group average, it’s time to make a decision. If you need an additional customer service representative and they are willing to accept the position and the change in compensation, offer it to them. If this is not what they want, they need to be placed on warning and potentially terminated.

Allowing an individual hired for a sales position to create their own "hybrid" job is rarely a good idea. They must be held accountable to the same standards as anyone else on your sales staff. Despite their winning ways with customers, an underperformer who is tolerated will bring down the morale of your sales organization and undermine your authority as a manager.