Sales reps are a lot like professional athletes, in that they have a set routine – pre-call and post-call rituals that help them stay in a groove where they perform at peak capability. Sometimes, also like athletes, something goes wrong. The routine suddenly stops working, and reps find themselves in a slump with no idea how to get out of it.
When a rep falls into one of these slumps, the sales manager’s presence is never more valuable. Without help, a minor slump can turn into a years-long nosedive and potentially end the career of a high-quality performer who just couldn’t figure out what went wrong. Here are five ways to help that slumping rep get back into the groove.
1. Catch it early.
A skilled and attentive sales manager can spot a rep falling into a slump before the rep sees it happening. That’s because reps are apt to explain away a dry lead pipeline or lost order as a result of factors like bad luck, a devious competitor or company policies. When reviewing sales rep performance, always look for changes in patterns. The minute you see a change, act. If a rep is consistently adding leads at the rate of 10 to 15 per month and then produces six, find out why.
2. Get in the field.
You’ll never correct a slump just by talking to the rep in the office or looking at reports. The only way to really understand what is going on is to get into the field with the rep and see firsthand what is happening. Reps are not always aware of changes in their presentation techniques or inadequacies in their organizational and follow-up systems. Something as simple as writing more legible notes on a sales call could be at the heart of the rep’s problem, but it’s something you’d never see “inside the box.”
3. Be positive and coach.
When a good rep falls into a slump, don’t jump to negative conclusions. If you attribute the rep’s decline to laziness or complacency, you’re liable to convey anger and take actions that only dig the rep into a deeper hole. At the root of great sales performance is confidence; your job is to keep the rep’s confidence high while at the same time delving deep to help figure out what is going wrong. Even if the rep has become lazy, lambasting them for it will only make them lazy and angry. On the other hand, if you maintain a positive, energetic attitude, perhaps the rep will regain theirs.
4. Set small, achievable goals.
Trying to recover from a slump overnight, like trying to find the missing ingredient in a recipe with 500 steps, is likely to feel like an overwhelming task for the rep – and for you. Whenever you are faced with a big problem you can’t quite wrap your arms around, setting small, achievable goals is the way to go. Think about that hypothetical rep who fell from 10 to 15 leads per month to six. Perhaps the best way out of the slump is to set the rep’s sights on seven, not 10 or 15 or 20. A few small wins will start the rep thinking and acting like a winner; a big loss will confirm the worst.
5. Don’t be an enabler.
Sometimes, sales managers with the best intentions enable a slumping rep rather than confronting the problem (although they would never see it that way). The temptation, especially when the slumping rep is well liked by the manager and/or is a loyal, productive, long-term employee, is to provide cover rather than take corrective action that may feel unpleasant or undeserved.
Enabling a slumping rep involves activities such as transferring accounts to him or her to compensate for a drop in revenue, reducing quotas to make the performance look better on paper, or simply blaming the problem on some external cause. None of these actions helps the slumping rep; instead, they set the stage for an unfulfilling and perhaps short career. However, when you tackle the problem head-on, as uncomfortable as it may be, you and the rep will feel great about it in the end, knowing you did everything possible to succeed.