Dear David: 

I have a sales associate that has worked for me for just over six years.  For many years she was my best sales associate, in fact, she averaged nearly $800,000 per year.  In 2015 she sold just under $450,000 and the rest of my sales team sold, on average, nearly $650,000.  I have met with her several times and discussed my disappointment with her numbers and I even gave her some advice on what to do to get better.  Unfortunately, nothing has changed.  I don’t know what else I can do to reenergize her.  Is it just time to let her go?


Dear Disappointed Owner, 

Your last option in this type of scenario should be let her go.  The cost of turnover is very expensive and good sales associates just don’t fall from a tree.  For a sustained period of time she was your top sales associate and something major must have happened to knock her from the top spot to the last rung on the totem pole.  Your job is to find out what happened and as quickly as possible determine if together you can get her back to the top or if indeed it is time to part ways. 

The process of determination is both quite simple and can happen quickly.  Listed in order of execution are the steps to follow:

Have a frank discussion to determine the underlying cause

They say when you ask someone what is the cause of their underperformance, stress, or unhappiness the first response is rarely the real trigger.   When she tells you she is doing everything the same as when she was successful and that the only thing she can pinpoint is the customer unwillingness to purchase don’t just stop there and come up with some empty solution of how she must do a better job convincing customer to buy from her.  If that were really the case all of your sales associates would experience the same challenges and the same effect on their sales volume.  You must continue to probe until you get to the real culprit and that is what you must focus on.

Come up with concrete strategies on what needs to be done

Once you determine the true cause/s of the underperformance it is time to figure out the EXACT things that must be done to improve.  The advice of working harder and focusing more are nothing but empty words.   Both parties must brainstorm and come to a consensus of what can be done to bring about a sustainable change to performance.  Build a plan with clear directives, timelines, and rewards and/or consequences.  If she believes that you are there to help and that the strategies are realistic and the goals attainable, you are more likely to achieve the desired results. 

Measure the right things

Measuring the change in sales volume will not give you the real picture.  The number of opportunities she has to sell (traffic), the number of people she can convince to buy from her (close rate) and the price/amount of what she sells (average ticket) all combined result in the volume she generates.  She could be a phenomenal closer, have the best average ticket in the store but spends too much time with customers.   Two good things but the third variable would diminish her opportunity to sell to more customers and reach the desired volume level.

If you don’t know what is really wrong any advice you give will be speculative at best.

Set expectations and follow up

Together you should set expectations that you both can live with.  If you are expecting her to boost sales to previous levels in the next 24 hours you may be in for some disappointment.  At the same time an open-ended time period will not provide a great enough sense of urgency. 

One good strategy is to meet weekly to go over progress to expectations and determine if there is a need to refocus or go in a different direction.  Most importantly, it will give you the sense of whether or not she is a full participant in the change and has bought in to her own improvement plan.

Celebrate success or cut bait

A rule of thumb is if you did indeed pinpoint her deficiency, implement a proven strategy to drive performance, set expectations, had her buy in to the change, met every week, tracked the right things, and after 90 days things still haven’t improved, it is time to give her a pat on the back and wish her the best at her new place of employment.  Tough decision, but the right one for your company, the rest of your employees, your customers, and in the end the right one for her. 

If all the above did occur and her performance did improve it is time to celebrate and figure out the next strategy to implement to drive an even greater level of performance than previously experienced. 

In the sales world there are two options:  you are either green and growing or ripe and rotting. And to be green and growing plants require watering, pruning, patience, and energy.  The same can be said for what sales associates need from their manager in order to produce optimal results and reduce the need to turnover sales staff due to underperformance.