How to Tackle Performance Issues With a Difficult Sales Person.

Improve performance, progress careers




We can all remember a time we’ve been ‘performance managed’ the wrong way. Public put-downs, personal jibes and indirect or vague feedback can leave us disheartened, resentful and demotivated. However, when it comes to performance managing our team, we often forget the sensitivity of negative feedback, sharing detrimental opinions, demands and even threats in an effort to regain power and control.

In this blog we explore how to effectively coach a salesperson with performance issues. We use a variation of the GROW model; a coaching model used extensively in businesses to help managers connect, inspire and transform behaviour.

The real secret to effective GROW coaching is to provide great feedback and ask great questions. So, instead of telling them what they must do to improve, you give them insight and help them find their own solution.

The following steps show you how to tackle a performance issue and leave your team member motivated to make change.

Connect with them

In order to inspire positive change you have to connect with them first. No-one likes being publicly chastised or called into an office like a naughty child for their monthly review. Instead, keep the meeting discrete, keep it light and schedule it as soon as you can after the performance issue. Sit next to them and create connection by taking an interest in them.

Discuss their goal

Then ask them questions about their goal. This could be their sales goal or a goal they have previously set (like progressing to a more senior position). Even if you think you know the answer, getting them to say it will set a common objective you can work towards in the coaching session.


“What goal are you working towards at the moment?”  

Understand their situation

At this point it is tempting to go into ‘lecture mode’ and jump in with feedback, answers and solutions. Although this feels good to you, it completely dis-engages the salesperson.

Just like a great salesperson asks questions to understand the customer’s situation; a great manager asks questions to understand their salesperson’s situation. This increases rapport, makes the team member feel heard and heightens understanding of the situation.


“How satisfied are you with your current performance”
“What is stopping you achieving your sales goal?”
“How motivated are you currently feeling?”

Give constructive feedback

Now you understand their perspective, it is time to share yours. Direct, clear and constructive feedback is essential to awareness and growth, but it can be easily tarnished with vague facts and derogatory words. Instead, prepare your evidence of the negative behaviour (dates, frequency and impact) in advance and follow our tips below:


Repeat complaints or gossip of others, list problems, give personal opinions, threaten, offer no support, judge.


‘You’re way off target and a number of people have been complaining you’re bringing the team down with your low morale. Your motivation is low, you’re not making enough calls and you’re always late into the office. As you haven’t hit your goal again, you’ll need to get your act in gear or I’m going to have to issue a disciplinary”


Repeat their goal.
Ask for permission to give feedback.
Own your feedback (say “I have noticed”).
Use evidence, statistics and examples.
Have a conversation.
Discuss consequences.
Offer your support.
Empower them to come up with their own ideas.


I know you want to hit your sales target and my role is to help you do that. From my perspective I’d like to share a few things I think may be stopping you from achieving your goal, is that OK?

I noticed that on both Monday and Wednesday this week you arrived 30 minutes late. When you first started, you were early most days. What’s brought this on?

Also, over the last 2 weeks you made an average of 26 calls per week. Your target is 100 calls per week. What’s caused the drop?

It has now been 4 weeks since you closed your last opportunity. You know it’s very important you hit your sales goal this month. If you don’t there are disciplinary steps I will have to take. I want you to succeed and I’m here to help you do that. So what changes can you make to help you hit target?

Co-create options

Next, co-create a list of changes the salesperson can make to help them achieve their goal. Bite your tongue before you jump in with your ideas; if they come up with the solution they are far more likely to see it through.


“What can you do to ensure you achieve your goal?”
“What changes can you make?”
“What else?”

Gain commitment

End the process by gaining a commitment to the next steps. Make sure this comes from the salesperson, not from you! Get them to outline when you will see the changes and their ‘plan B’ if they don’t succeed.


“What are you going to commit to?”
“When will you achieve this?”
“What will you do if it doesn’t work?”

In summary, performance managing through dictatorial methods and negative feedback is a thing of the past. Instead, create an inspired and motivated team by using direct, evidence based feedback and powerful coaching support. This ultimately allows you to be clear and honest about performance issues, whilst also empowering your team member to find solutions and create long term impactful change.

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