How to handle underperformance in your sales team

Startups looking to scale their revenues look to build and optimise their sales and marketing teams to take the business to the next level. But if you don’t come from a commercial background, it can be hard to determine what underperformance in sales looks like. How do you set targets for a salesperson or the entire team? When should you pay their commission? And perhaps most importantly, when do you know if they’re underperforming?

Did you hire the right salesperson?

Being a founder with a technical background can make hiring salespeople challenging. Yes, you can hire a head of sales with plenty of experience to lead the team, but you need to get that hire right, too. If you get the wrong person, you might spend nine months to a year realising you’ve made an expensive mistake. The average sales leader in 2021 stayed in role for 18 months, and this number is going down!

And if you start with sales executives, you may wonder what traits to look for. It’s a tricky balancing act and one you’re responsible for. Founders often make the wrong hires with the right intentions, especially in areas where they don’t have expertise. 

Identify the problem

If reps aren’t meeting targets, it will become clear that they are not performing. At this point, you need to get to the root of the problem. Why aren’t they meeting their KPIs? Perhaps the target is unrealistic? What are the reasons behind their struggles and downfall in performance? Have you as the founder enabled them with the tools they need? 

Before handling the underperformance aspect, you need to know what’s causing it. Any conversation will be difficult without doing so because you’re not approaching the situation with complete clarity. 

Be empathetic

Underperformance in sales isn’t happening on purpose. There may be several reasons they’re not up to the task, from not being a good fit for the role to lacking relevant support. Therefore, you should approach the situation with empathy and try to understand why they aren’t performing to the expected levels. 

Mental health and culture are prominent aspects of a company’s workplace, and a sales role is one of the most stressful. By avoiding harsh judgement before you know the entire story, you can make an informed decision while respecting your employee. 

Think about your service

Is it just one sales rep underperforming, or is the entire team struggling? One employee might be a correctable issue, but if everyone is missing targets, you may need to reevaluate your sales proposition. Think about where your product sits in the market and how it stacks up against competitors. 

Look at your target market again and see if there’s anything you’re missing. It could be that your value proposition needs tweaking to enable sales reps to do the best possible job. Everything should be regularly reviewed and revisited at this stage in your startup’s journey. 

A little help from some friends

You need to lead your team as a founder at all times, even if you’re not confident in the sales space and don’t come from a commercial background. Identifying all these traits in your salespeople can be daunting if you’re not entirely sure yourself. 

This is why many startups turn to external help, utilising the expertise of companies that make up for the experience a founder may lack. It can help identify essential factors, like underperformance. For instance, you might be setting unrealistic targets, or the team isn’t enabled with the right tools.  

You may have ended up with the wrong people in the bad-fitting roles. However, you won’t be able to identify these issues if you’re unsure what to look for. That’s where Sales for Startups could help get you moving in the right direction. We use our experience to review processes, setups and team members to identify areas where you may face issues. We then work with your to get the correct setup in place designed to empower your sales team. 

Avoiding underperformance

Whether your business has been going for one year or 20, underperformance in sales will creep in now and then. But with the right mindset and understanding, you can quickly identify and solve any issues. As a result, the business can carry on moving forward in the right direction. 


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