How to Fix a Broken Sales Team

Sales Teams in Transition

As a sales manager, whenever you are assigned to manage a new team it’s always a challenge – somewhere between Tommy Boy and Glengarry Glen Ross. There are very few opportunities to assume the leadership of a well run highly productive sales team.


Because the teams that are run well don’t need a change of leadership, or if they do there is a succession plan in place with coaching and mentoring.

So, for the vast majority of sales managers who are assuming the leadership of a new team, what do you do?

Even for the “been there – done that sales leader” it’s always a challenge since every situation is different.  Even with a lot of moving parts that need to be fixed there is a process that works. Here’s some basic guidelines and an overview of the process that has been proven to transition a low performing sales team to a quota busting machine.

Let’s get started.

You are facing a group that is used to doing things their way. It could be that the previous manager was too lax, or didn’t know how to lead a sales group, or left the company – it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s now your job to change the situation and develop a productive sales group as fast as possible.

Here’s the framework of the process on how to do it.

  • Awareness, plus accountability, then action creates achievement.
  • Desire, tools/skills, and structure are the test points that tighten the focus.

Start with the test points.

Check DESIRE – does everyone want to be there. Get rid of the toxic people first – as fast as possible. Next check for salespeople with low desire – motivate or move out. There are times when an internal change can be made. Examples are when a Farmer has been hired to hunt, or when a salesperson was hired without given them the full context of what they will be doing. In these cases see if you can make an internal transfer.

When salespeople have low desire it can just be that they don’t have the right skill set or haven’t had the proper structure in place. In these cases it’s up to you to fix the issue.

Here’s some examples where effective leadership comes into place. When assessing desire check for TOOLS and the SKILLS to use them. Tools can be laptops, mobile phones, building access. I’ve seen cases of where salespeople went weeks without a working laptop or mobile phone because the IT department couldn’t fix it or had to get permission to order a new replacement. When the salesperson perceives indifference on the company’s part it can cause them to lose desire.

Verify that your salespeople know how to use all the necessary software and applications necessary to complete their work. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to prepare a PowerPoint or how to input information into the CRM. Not knowing how to do something can lower desire. Evaluating the tools and the skills to use them can be a “2-fer” when motivating a team.

STRUCTURE is the big correction point. Structure is put into place through awareness, accountability, and action. AWARENESS is explaining the who, what, when, where, how, and most importantly the why of the goal(s).  When setting up structure verify mutual expectations by making sure everyone understands who is involved, what is expected of them (Standards of Performance), when goals need to be accomplished, where (territory), how (tools/skills), and why.

The “why”, is the most important component. From childhood we naturally ask why whenever anyone asks us to do anything. Saying, “because I told you so” is not an appropriate answer. Explain to your team why they need to accomplish the assigned goals.  It can be as simple as, “to keep your job” to a more complex reason to meet certain corporate missions.

The who, what, when, where, how, and why gives your team the basic AWARENESS of what is required. I’ve taken over teams where the salespeople didn’t even know what the quota was. Get everyone aware and deep set the metrics and goals that are required to succeed. This is the time to establish mutual expectations. Verify that everyone knows what is expected of them.

You can’t have responsibility and accountability until awareness is achieved.

Everyone has a responsibility for the common goal – show up on time, participate, reach the team objectives. ACCOUNTABILITY is a personal responsibility. People need to understand that they are accountable for their actions. As a leader it is necessary to provide the awareness and structure for accountability by monitoring each individual for verification that they can be accountable. Here again, mutual expectations must be in place.

Having a Standards of Performance document is a good idea. Clearly state the minimum KPI (Key Performance Indicators), or metrics necessary to be successful and keep your job. The consequences for not attaining the SoP metrics should be included and acknowledged. Review this document with the team and have everyone sign a copy.

The SoP will also be used during work reviews to ensure that everyone is aware of what they should be doing to be successful. Successful work reviews is a complete topic on its own and is discussed in another article.

With awareness and accountability in place the team can begin the knowledge-based ACTION that will accomplish their goals. Awareness and accountability must be in place or people will become busy with aimless pursuits. When focused, salespeople can pinpoint their activity and achieve their goals without wasted time and effort.

Now, you’re thinking that this sounds too good to be true – well, you’re right, it’s not that easy.

It will be necessary to continuously create awareness, ensure accountability, and monitor activity. Use the test points of desire, tools/skills, and structure as you work out the low performers and coach the potentials.

 Here’s some tested “true-isms”:

  • Your sales will increase when you get rid of the toxic salespeople.
  • Your sales will increase when you get rid of the low performers.
  • As you keep hiring new salespeople the bar for performance will rise and everyone will sell more. Check out our “How to Hire and Keep Great Salespeople” topics.
  • Quite often a 10% increase in sales from your top performer is more revenue than a 30% increase from your mid-range performer. It is also more revenue than your lowest performer has ever done. Message – work with your top performers to get quick success.
  • The only time you should spend on the lowest performer is to move them off the team. This is not public school where everyone gets to feel good about themselves. It’s time to perform – that’s what you are getting paid to do.
  • You can’t impact change from behind your desk – get out and work in the field with your team.
  • Meet with all of your support groups and understand where the roadblocks are. Yes, there are always roadblocks, barriers to success, and those nasty corporate things that stall out sales – find out what they are and either get rid of those policies or learn how to work around them.
  • Sales teams are a reflection of their sales manager.  If you don’t like what you see as you develop your team look in the mirror – you might need to change yourself before you change your team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: