Sales team underperforming? Here’s what to do

It sometimes happens, in the natural ebb and flow of business – volatile economies, changing market demands, unpredictable workforce – that a sales team underperforms. I see it all the time when I’m brought in to consult with and coach the leader of that sales team.

They themselves are experiencing pressure from the executive leadership, and also from themselves. They’re trying to hit targets but something isn’t quite working out. This scenario is often exacerbated by additional stress added by Q4, which is usually expected to be one of the biggest sales periods of the year.

So how can the leader of an underperforming sales team turn it around? Here are my tips for leaders between a rock and a hard place when it comes to fixing internal bleeding:

Start with a super-clear plan

What do you want? How do you want it to happen? Create your plan with the end in mind and break the steps down from there. Be very precise and specific about what you want to achieve, what steps you need to take to get there and also how you’ll measure your success – i.e., how will you know when you’ve achieved your goal?

Beware pressure from above

As the head of a team or department, the buck stops with you when it comes to accepting responsibility for an underperforming team. This means that, even if you’re experiencing pressure from your leaders, it’s essential that this pressure doesn’t create negative outcomes for your staff – like turning you into a micro-manager. This kills motivation and will lead to worse employee engagement problems down the track. Turning that pressure into micro-management also has the effect of undermining middle management who run the performance of your teams. Protect your people from too much negativity, positively encourage, give feedback & coach by holding people strongly accountable for best results.

Find the right way to motivate your team

At the same time as avoiding micro-management, leaders must also incentivize performance, and you’ll need to find the right combination of carrot and stick to do that. Part of doing this is in explaining the benefits and consequence of reaching – or not reaching – your goals, and bringing your team on board to help them feel invested in those outcomes.

Give recognition

Recognition is one of the best ways to engage employees, whether it’s formal (like a company award for high achievement) or informal (simply stopping someone in the hall and saying you heard they did a great job). Recognition creates loyalty and a positive spiral of engagement and productivity.

Ask yourself: Am I coaching my people?

It’s the oldest piece of advice out there, but leaders who inspire action get great results. If you’re leading a team of sales directors with a team of their own, for example, you need to be excellent at engaging and motivating those reports, coaching them to another level: if leadership goes to another level, so do sales.

It’s usually true that 20% of your sales team will bring in 80% of business, so identify those high performers and work to help them improve – you’ll see the quickest results from this action. In order to coach effectively, you need to find out what people find difficult, and coach them to be better – but you also need to find out what they’re good at and help them become even better than that.

Leaders should also engage in a combination of transformational coaching and transactional coaching. In transactional coaching, you’re in the trenches getting your hands dirty, meeting customers (though being careful not to get into micro-manager territory). Transformational coaching is all about coaching your team for top performance by supporting them in overcoming obstacles, having the resources to succeed and being in the right state day in day out for success.


To dramatically develop your people and their performance contact the Carroll Consultancy Group team at