How to Pinpoint the Root Cause of an Underperforming Sales Rep

21 Jun 23

Learn how to pinpoint the root cause of underperforming sales reps and take proactive measures to improve their performance.

Identifying the root cause of underperformance allows managers to take proactive measures and provide targeted support to help sales reps improve their performance. Discover the key to identifying the root cause of underperforming sales reps and how to effectively address performance gaps with these tips for managers.

Why Is It Important to Identify Underperforming Sales Reps Early?

Performance issues typically do not get better on their own. This is especially true for new sales hires who may not understand expectations or have the requisite skills to achieve their sales goals. By recognizing and addressing these issues early, managers can take proactive steps to help the sales rep improve their performance.

Even with more experienced sales reps, if their performance declines over time, it is essential for managers to understand the root cause of the decline and take appropriate actions to support the sales rep in getting back on track.

Common Signs of Underperformance in Sales

One sign of underperformance is a noticeable drop-off in sales activity. Managers may observe declining calls, meetings, or overall engagement with prospects and customers.

Another red flag is a stagnant pipeline. If opportunities remain in the pipeline for an extended period without progressing, it may indicate a lack of effectiveness in advancing deals or a problem generating opportunities.

Managers should consider whether the sales rep effectively engages with prospects, asks the right questions, and delivers value during interactions. Quality conversations and impactful initial meetings build relationships and lead to new sales opportunities.

What Causes the Underperformance of Sales Reps?

In some cases, underperformance may be influenced by external factors such as economic headwinds. While economic conditions can be a valid reason, taking proactive steps to navigate these challenges effectively, such as adopting new prospecting strategies to improve sales, is crucial.

Motivation can also be a key factor when underperformance is specific to an individual. While frontline managers should be aware of these factors, managers should avoid delving too deep into personal issues and seek assistance from a member of their HR team.

Skillset is another potential cause of underperformance, particularly for new hires. Providing targeted training and development opportunities can help bridge this gap and improve performance.

Why Is It Important to Diagnose the Root Cause of Underperformance?

Simply telling a salesperson to work harder without understanding the root cause of their underperformance provides them with limited guidance and support.

By pinpointing the root cause of underperformance, managers can determine the appropriate actions to take. This could include resetting expectations to address sales activity issues, providing targeted coaching or training to address skill gaps, and counseling to address motivation issues.

Addressing the root cause early on increases the likelihood of success. The longer an performance issue persists without proper intervention, the more challenging it becomes to reverse the situation. Taking timely action allows managers to proactively implement the necessary measures to support sales reps in improving their performance.

Metrics to Track Underperforming Sales Reps

First and foremost, tracking the number of meetings conducted by sales reps is essential. A drop-off in activity can be an early sign of underperformance. If sales reps are not engaging in enough new meetings or prospecting activities, it may indicate a problem that needs attention.

Another crucial metric to monitor is the pipeline. Is the sales rep effectively generating new opportunities and filling the pipeline? Stagnant or slow pipeline growth can be indicative of underperformance.

Lastly, examining the existing opportunities within the pipeline is equally important. Managers should consider how long opportunities have been in each pipeline stage. Are they progressing from stage to stage? It is crucial to establish clear exit criteria for each stage and set a maximum number of days an opportunity should remain in a stage.

4 Best Practices to Ensure the Effectiveness of Sales Performance Reviews

To effectively pinpoint the root cause of underperforming sales reps, it is crucial to follow the best practices when conducting sales performance reviews. Here are four ways you can create a clear and collaborative environment for feedback and improvement.

#1 Communicate expectations

Clear communication of expectations sets the foundation for evaluating performance accurately. Ensure that expectations regarding results and activity levels are explicitly defined and understood by each member of your sales team.

#2 Maintain Frequent Communication

Establish a scheduled calendar of conversations with sales reps, such as weekly check-in meetings. The frequency of these interactions may vary depending on the individual’s maturity within the sales organization. Regular communication allows for ongoing assessment and alignment.

#3 Provide Regular Feedback

Start by highlighting performance gains and acknowledging the areas where the sales rep exceeds expectations. Recognize and play to their strengths by emphasizing their positive contributions. When discussing areas for improvement, focus on underlying behaviors rather than passing judgment.

#4 Encourage Open Dialogue

Sales performance reviews should be seen as an opportunity for growth and development rather than a punitive exercise. Foster a culture of trust and support where sales reps feel comfortable discussing challenges, seeking guidance, and sharing their perspectives.

4 Tips for Addressing the Root Cause of Underperforming Sales Reps

If the underperformance is due to a skill gap, it becomes evident that training and coaching are the best approaches to bridge that gap. By providing targeted training programs and ongoing coaching support, sales managers can help sales reps develop the necessary skills to succeed.

On the other hand, if the root cause lies in attitude or motivation, a form of performance counseling may be required. Understanding what factors contribute to the salesperson’s lack of motivation is essential.

In some cases, there may be numerous external factors that are impacting performance. As the manager you should try and address these factors and refocus the sales rep on the actions and activities that are within their control.

Lack of confidence in a skill can also be a cause of lower motivation. For instance, a sales rep who lacks good prospecting skills may not feel confident focusing on new account acquisition.

In addressing the root cause, there are generally four actions that managers can take:

  1. When a salesperson performs better than expected, empower them and provide positive feedback to reinforce their strengths and accomplishments.
  2. When a skill gap is identified, provide targeted training and coaching to address the specific areas of improvement. Continuous monitoring and support are crucial to track progress and ensure skill development.
  3. If an attitude or motivation issue is evident, engage in personal conversations to gain insights into the underlying factors. Is it internal or external influences affecting their motivation or attitude? Understanding these factors enables managers to offer appropriate guidance and support to help the sales rep overcome the challenges.
  4. Regardless of the root cause, ongoing communication, feedback, and support are vital to facilitate performance improvement. Regular check-ins and open dialogue foster a collaborative environment where sales reps feel valued and supported in their journey toward improvement.


Pinpointing the root cause of underperforming sales reps is essential for maintaining a high-performing team. By identifying the underlying issues early on, managers can take proactive measures to support sales reps and improve their performance.

Common signs of underperformance include a drop-off in sales activity and a stagnant pipeline. Underperformance can be caused by factors such as a lack of understanding of expectations, motivation issues, or skill gaps.

Diagnosing the root cause is crucial to providing targeted solutions, whether it is through coaching, training, counseling, or other appropriate measures. Tracking sales performance indicators such as meetings conducted, pipeline creation, and opportunity progression helps monitor underperformance.

Addressing the root cause involves empowering sales reps, providing targeted training and coaching, engaging in personal conversations, and ensuring ongoing communication and support. By implementing these strategies, managers can help underperforming sales reps excel and contribute to the overall success of the sales team.

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