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Sales Management Training for Sales Management Professionals » Blog Archive » What Does A Sales Manager Do With Poor Sales Performer? This is the second in an occasional series of guest posts from James Hughes, sales management coaching expert and founder of Sales Leadership Consulting. All of these answers may be appropriate, and if you have managed this team and this individual for quite some time, then you have probably done one or all three of the last 3 items and are ready for the first choice. The first thing to establish is what does your boss think needs to be done.  They are not always right, so understand their perspective and accept it or shape your own plan and ask for support in implementing it. Once you and your boss get on the same page, it’s time to improve performance.  Where do you start, and what do you do with the remaining poor performers? Well, it’s easy to say leave your top performers alone, but what if they need just a little help from you to close even more business.  Maybe they need a specific resource?  Maybe they need help in handling an objection?  What if they just need to show management involvement and the prior manager was not involved?  Now, a top performer has probably handled all this, but what if your top performer had just been lucky?  Never seen one of those?  Lucky you!  The key is making sure you ask.  It could be the greatest return on your time investment!
Now what?  Middle of the roaders?  The remaining poor performers?  This depends on a few factors.  1) How quickly can you hire someone and get them up to speed where the revenue will exceed the revenue produced by a poor performer?  There are a lot of variables here to consider. Once you have evaluated the team, and tried to decide where you will focus your coaching and development skills, (Your time investment!) Then, check yourself weekly.  Is the investment in this rep working out?  Is this person “Coachable?”  Are there other factors impacting the team’s performance?
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When people talk about Business Acumen for sales people they tend to cover a wide range of skills, knowledge and behaviours that they would like sales people to demonstrate in front of a customer.
If you were asked to design a 2-day workshop to cover business acumen, the question for you is “How would you allocate the time between each of the above subjects and also ensure that behavioural change happens back in the real world?” This was the challenge that a large software company recently gave to me and they were especially keen, and quite rightly, to focus on applying Business Acumen with their real customers. From previous posts, you will know that I am a keen advocate of the sales manager as coach being the ley reason that any sales person changes their behaviour in the long term (so I won’t re-iterate my thoughts here). As I created my initial design ideas, I spoke to a friend who had been through the excellent 2 year IBM sales school, and he suggested that the major issue today was a lack of knowledge around business and how businesses actually operate. But the key question is “What does a sales person actually need to do their job?” Once you start to strip away the unnecessary jargon and get to the key points that sales need to grasp the whole knowledge transfer becomes easier. From there we can think about the customer’s buying process and how they evaluate your offer, not only against the competition, but also against other potential purchases in other areas of the business, sometimes known as the competition for capital.
It’s very satisfying to take sales people without this knowledge and take them through the learning process that allows them to come up with new ideas on how to position themselves as offering true value to their customers. The learning I took away from this design was to go back to asking basic questions around what sales people need to know to do their jobs rather than trying to make them accountants. I speak to many Heads of Sales and Sales Managers and ask the question “What is it that your sales people are missing that would make them much more effective?” It may not surprise you to find out that they never answer a CRM system! This was the task that I was recently set by a global software company, how do we give our sales people the fundamental business knowledge and the skills to have executive discussions while allowing them to adapt their approach to create long-term behavioural change. In the next article I will look at the design approach to the Business Acumen workshop and how the customer challenged me to change the way I thought about these issues.
Those of you who follow my work will know that as well as working with my own clients I am a facilitator for CEB’s Challenger program and the various associated workshops for sales managers.


When reading memos or internal documents, underline or highlight business terms that are unfamiliar to you. A half day module for planning could have the following agenda:From this point the training developer can easily create good interactive content for the customer based on the objectives and the flow of the agenda. The materials developed – participant workbooks, facilitator guides, slides, role plays and case studies, etc.
Once the coaching session and longer term development of the sales person is postponed, we fall back to the same old management using the order entry numbers, rather than analysing the problems earlier in the pipeline and using coaching to develop the sales person’s skill set. In our analysis of sales management behaviours, coaching is the activity that is most misunderstood and although coaching is often claimed, it is rarely seen. Coaching is often seen as “fluffy” but it can actually be very effective when used in business performance issues.  When you are diagnosing performance problems you need to look at two areas. Slideshare uses cookies to improve functionality and performance, and to provide you with relevant advertising. Success is built upon a proper balance of Behaviour, Attitude, and Technique applied to a process and proven system.
2) After your first brush with each rep, are there “mid-performers” who have some good skills but are missing on a few key skills.  You may be able to improve their performance faster than hiring, or investing in the poor performer. Our training programs are not single events, but rather part of an overall sales management training system that includes assessment, customization, engaging training and ongoing reinforcement.
Our training programs include pre-training consultation and are personalized for your organization with customized case studies, examples and exercises to better address your unique sales challenges and make the training more relevant to program participants.
Under our flexible, cost-effective license terms, you can customize, repurpose and deliver the curriculum whenever and as often as you like.
The work is sustained by the sales managers coaching their sales people on these accounts and opportunities. How do we give them all the knowledge and skills they need while ensuring that they change their behaviour in front of customers.
This led me down the well-trodden path of most Business Acumen courses and my first design looked very much like finance for non-financial managers – with a focus on the financial statements in the accounts. Having enough financial acumen to be able to read key parts of the accounts, for instance the CEO’s strategy and the risk analysis for their business moving forward, are essential to having valuable business discussions with executives. How do they measure success, how does the business measure the ROI of any potential investment, do they prefer capital purchases or revenue payments, is off-balance sheet important to them? At the end of day 2 they consolidate the work they have been doing in teams and present to all the sales managers around a new way of engaging with the executives in one of their customers. Most of them talk about knowing more about a customer’s business, more understanding of how business works and being able to hold a discussion with an executive about their business issues – what I would call Business Acumen. Obviously courses do exist covering these areas but they tend towards finance for non-financial people rather than focusing on what sales really need to know and how they can apply it in real customer situations. The truth is that most sales people are scarred to have these conversations because their lack of business acumen may be exposed.
Many of you will have seen lots written about The Challenger model and so I thought I would give my perspective on it.  Let me say at the outset that the whole program really resonates with my sales and management experience and when compared to other programs that I have run I feel the potential for behavioural change is much greater. Take the time to look these terms up in a dictionary or ask someone to explain them to you.
If “coaching” sessions are actually observed, the sales manager at worst tends to be very directive (confusing coaching with telling) and at best seems to be using clever persuasion to get the sales person to adopt their point of view.  Very little coaching that is open and non-directive is observed.
The first is the sales person’s performance against the target, the second is the sales person’s performance against the key sales metrics that you need them to deliver. At Sales Readiness Group, we deliver training programs that produce real behavior change and improve sales results.


Sales Readiness Group also supports your internal trainers with a Train-the-Trainer certification program on how to deliver the High-Impact Sales Manager program, including how to facilitate the program virtually. This is the trap of most Business Acumen courses and why they often end up being led by an ex-accountant who says things like “Now we are going to take a set of transactions and create the income statement and balance sheet, remembering that credits are negative and debits are positive, etc.” And you may like to consider what sales people going on such a course do afterwards? This becomes part of their coaching development plan and is a great starting point for coaching conversations with their sales managers.
However, if we go back to the Heads of Sales, they would say that these types of discussion are absolutely crucial to move their businesses forward.
CEB are a top research and advisory organization answering the big questions that their members (customers) ask them, so the research is of high quality and conducted on significant sample sizes. Today, the Challenger model comprises skills, behaviours and organisational support that can be introduced into most companies and can sit across sales methodologies. The program is suitable for people who are relatively new to selling, as well as more experienced people who wish to refresh their basic skills.
CEB studied 10,000 customers asking 50 questions together with 25,000 sales people asking 44 questions. I have always had a nagging doubt about the Relationship Builder bending over backwards to satisfy every whim of the customer. In Challenger workshops, participants are challenged to think differently about their customers, starting from a business perspective and then moving towards their solutions. New CEB research is answering the next question that Heads of Sales are asking “Is there a set of customers we should be targeting who are more likely to mobilize to drive action on our behalf?” – this is the Mobilizer research and in its own way just as powerful as Challenger. These sample sizes give datasets of 500,000 and 1,100,000 that are somewhat more significant than those of some of the counter arguments I have read with customer sample sizes of just 700. Challengers build relationships but go further, using constructive tension to drive action. This approach stretches the sales people to learn more about the customer’s environment and deliver business value and only in the last step introduce their solution.
For anyone who is working in sales this research answers the key qualification question around where I spend my time – tell me who to talk to and who to avoid. The other interesting point that many people fail to realise is that CEB didn’t create the 5 sales profiles (Challenger, Relationship Builder, Hard Worker, Problem Solver and Lone Wolf) rather these were derived from the data using factor analysis. This approach of Challenging the customer’s status quo and assumptions is what customers want from sales professionals today – teach me about me, tell me what I am missing, what best practices have I failed to implement? The outputs from the workshop are action plans for key customers that can be implemented straight away and developed through coaching conversations with their managers.
For me, the most fascinating insight from the research is that most sales people are avoiding the very customers who can internally drive the action necessary to win the business. Sales people with no experience of truly working in partnership with customers and pushing back against their requests can find this approach eye-opening. Interesting, when this is compared to some sales methodologies, that start with the number of profiles they want and then build the “data” around them.
Yes, even challenging Government departments to think differently and rewrite the tenders to take into account the Challenger’s ideas.



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