May 9, 2013

why-do-salespeople-plateauYou just hired a new salesperson who seems to be the perfect candidate to fill a gap in your team. Smart, driven, excellent at making contacts, this skilled new hire hits the ground running.

You give the new employee a slightly larger territory, maybe a few more contacts. The new hire eats those up, too. The employee seems like he could be a top earner on your team, so you offer the amount of work equal to your top earner.

Suddenly, you are met with resistance. In fact, the new hotshot’s numbers may have even fallen. Eventually the work flattens out and the salesperson appears to have lost all ambition.

Has this happened to you? What is really going on?


Common External Factors to Diminishing Sales Production

It is possible that your management style simply does not mesh with one of your salespeople. Even top performers can have their productivity undermined by the wrong work environment. This could be due to a few different reasons:

  • Not enough leash. Keeping employees “on a short leash” is typically done by either not providing enough new, professional opportunities or by micromanaging. Since this article is focused on a salesperson that has flat-lined, in this case we refer to micromanagement.
  • Too laid back. On the flip side, giving employees too much leash can also be a bad strategy. If salespeople are coasting, maybe it is because they think they are meeting all of your expectations. They have grown comfortable in their positions, and might need a little nudge to continue.
  • Not providing enough information. Knowing how much information to give to your team is the mark of an experienced manager. If your employees feel like they are being left in the dark, you may want to hold a meeting to share goals, discuss their jobs and explain your vision for the company’s path forward.
  • Ignoring their needs. Keep in mind that the line for addressing needs is highly subjective, but a salesperson may feel that you are not concerned with addressing his or her career concerns. This is a common reason for an employee’s performance to flat line. If this happens, your salesperson has stopped viewing the position as a career opportunity and instead as a job. It is up to you to prove otherwise. Reach out to determine your salespeople’s needs. Provide training and invest in them. They will respond.


Internal Factors Affecting Your Salespeople

Assuming external variables like fair compensation and good management are in place, chances are you have someone who is not particularly high in one of the key personality traits we look for in high performance salespeople: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism – collectively known as Drive.

Why High Need for Achievement Is So Important

iStock_000011297236SmallIf you recall from earlier posts, Need for Achievement is a non-teachable personality trait that compels certain people to keep raising the bar, no matter how high they have already pushed it.

They are never quite satisfied and continue to want more, which, in the context of sales, means they will keep pushing themselves to produce more to meet their ever higher sales goals.

Distinguishing between Need for Achievement and the sometimes similar quality of aggressiveness and poor temperament is vital. You may be able to tell based on the manageability of the employee in question. Aggressive employees are not easy to manage. They tend to be unsatisfied with everything and compete with their co-workers to an unhealthy degree.

Salespeople with high Need for Achievement are actually easier to manage than the average salesperson because they are self-motivated. They require less direct supervision and are capable of following projects through to completion.

To detect whether your ambitious employee is aggressive or self-motivated, administer a professionally developed sales skills test.

A Healthy Dose of Competitiveness

Too much competition can sow discord among your team.

However, a healthy amount of competition is necessary. Salespeople especially need to see what their co-workers (and salespeople from other companies) are capable of achieving, so they can set milestones for themselves.

Also necessary is the desire to compete internally, always striving for better numbers year after year. A non-competitive employee will be unaware of co-workers’ numbers and is probably not tracking his own figures closely.

Optimism Pays Off

The signs of a salesperson lacking optimism can be fairly obvious. Occasional rejection is to be expected in sales.

Low optimism will lead to your employee take those rejections personally, diminished enthusiasm and productivity. Salespeople high in optimism know that the sales industry is a numbers game. A rejection means that the odds are in their favor to close a deal next time.

It is also worth noting that a high-earner harboring a negative attitude may signal burn-out. You will want to test these individuals immediately for Drive and watch for decreases in performance.


What to Do If You Think Your Salesperson Has Plateaued

As a business owner or sales manager, you may try various motivational techniques to boost a salesperson that has flat lined, but ultimately you will find it impossible to overcome this hard-wired psychological barrier. That is why it is so important to administer a sales skills test to both current sales team members and new hires.

Depending upon how you run your business, it may be wise to have some “steady Eddie” flat liners on the team, as long as you do not waste your time and resources trying to turn them into something they are not: high flyers.

Many sales teams thrive with the right balance of “hunters” and “farmers,” but sales managers must first identify these traits in their current team to optimize their performance and set realistic expectations.


What tactics have you tried with salespeople that have plateaued on your team?