Frustrations with the Mediocre Rep

A reader writes, "Eight years ago I hired a rep that has been a mediocre producer from day one. She hits her sales goals - but always just by 1 - 2 percent. A pleasant enough person, she spends an inordinate amount of time in my office, asking for help closing deals and discussing company policy. I'm beginning to feel a sense of diminishing returns for her staying with the company."

Ah, the average rep. Sales managers all over the world, in every industry, spend countless hours coaching, listening to, and trying to motivate this rep. They want desperately to figure out how get them to the next level. 

The Conundrum

Most average reps possess some sales skills, represent the company well, and get along with their co-workers. They rarely have really bad months or quarters. When other reps sometimes struggle, their steady production occasionally saves the day.

Conversely, as other salespeople realize 30 to 40% gains - or higher - this rep comes in right at quota. They demand a lot of attention from management, struggling with the same issues again and again.

Rep Profile

Average salespeople have one thing in common - abdicating responsibility. They take their issue and email it to you.  Start placing accountability back where it belongs - with them.

Assess the Rep

If you've never done so before, have them take a sales assessment. Their scores, usually on the low but acceptable side, show they can sell but that the role doesn't come naturally. They need to work harder than most of their peers to achieve the same results. 

Discuss the findings with them. Next, ask them to draft a plan for working on any problem areas identified by the assessment. Have them select a book to read on the topic.  Discuss one chapter each week, during your one-on-ones.  Assign homework.

Change up the Interactions

Mediocre reps have a talent for steering the conversation off course and off subject. Even seasoned managers get caught off guard. Grab the steering wheel back.

Prior to all one-on-one meetings, send out an agenda. Start off with the book discussion and a review of their assignments. Next, discuss their sales performance against quota, and minimum performance standards like prospecting, calls, and presentations. Schedule the meeting for a certain amount of time and end it promptly.

When they call or come into your office for help, push back.  Say things like:

  • "We've discussed addressing that objection on several occasions. How have I advised you to respond?"
  • "That's company policy. As part of this sales team you need to follow the rule. Can you do that?"

Impromptu Visits

When having yet another time-draining conversation you know won't go anywhere, tell them "I have ten minutes right now, or all the time you need after five."

Enough said. We both know they won't be back at 5:05pm.

Review the Numbers

Show the reps the group numbers: 

  Quota Actual Difference %
Julie $2,100,000 $2,675,000 $575,000 127%
Connor $2,000,300 $2,800,000 $799,700 140%
Ann $2,073,000 $2,099,000 $26,000 101%
Nate $2,200,000 $2,100,000 ($100,000) 95%
Zachary $2,195,000 $2,544,000 $349,000 116%
Total $10,568,300 $12,218,000 $1,649,700 116%

Ask fair but thought-provoking questions like:

  • "Why do you think you consistently finish in the middle?"
  • "Zach started two years after you. He's at 116%. Why do you think that is?"
  • "Do you want to get out of the middle of the pack?  How do you intend to do that?"

Weigh the Costs

This rep achieves quota but comes in 15% below the group average. That's costing the company at least $300,000 annually. Your competitors gain ground in her territory. Provided she has all the same tools at her disposal, yet continues to lag behind the rest of the group, it could be time to consider probation for failing to achieve the group average.

Final Thoughts

Most average performers stay that way throughout their career. Each sales leader must decide whether to terminate their employment and train a new rep or stick with the status quo.

No matter which side you come down on, change the relationship. Set different expectations. Minimize your interactions with them. Don't allow them to monopolize your time. Allocate the majority of your management efforts to high-performing and up-and-coming reps.