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Sales Performance Counseling: Loaded Gun or Helping Hand?

Are you using B2B sales performance counseling as a tool to help improve performance, or as a device to get rid of reps?


Imagine that you are a captain in the army, and manage a foxhole with your ten-person Special Forces team. One of your subordinates gets hit with enemy fire and is wounded. Instead of treating the wound to stop the bleeding, you decide that they are no longer useful to you and shoot them in the head…killing them instantly.


Obviously we wouldn’t do that, but the example serves as a metaphor for how we too often treat struggling sales reps. They may be wounded and hurting, but they are still part of our team. Instead of treating them, we misuse the formal performance counseling process to get rid of them.

Posted January 8, 2014   /   By  Chris Hickey

Tags:B2B sales performance counseling, sales corrective counseling,B2B sales management training, sales management coaching, sales training, B2B sales consulting, sales consultant, B2B sales turnaround management, sales force effectiveness, sales leadership

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Cartoon sales manager with gun pointed at sales reps head

If this is your motive, be very careful as it could cost you your team. Not only is is wrong to treat the individual this way, but the rest of your team is watching to see how their friends were treated before they were terminated. Loyalty lost is difficult to recover.


Sales performance counseling (corrective counseling, performance plan, or just “The Plan”) originated as a necessary protocol to protect the company from wrongful termination lawsuits. As a result, it is perceived by most organizations (sales and non-sales) to be the first step in getting rid of personnel.


But performance counseling is not meant to drive sales reps out of a company. Its purpose is to improve performance which will bring sales results within company minimum standards. If they can do the job, why would we want to get rid of them, right?


Yet, some sales managers use it as a threat to their sales people such as, “You have to make two sales this week or I have to put you on a plan.” This is interpreted by the sales rep as, “You better make two sales or I am going to start the process of getting rid of you.”

If you are a sales manager with the right attitude about your roles and responsibilities, you know that your job is to retain sales people…not to get rid of them. Therefore, you approach your job as though everybody is on a plan every day. If the sales reps don’t have a plan, then how will they achieve it?


A proactive sales manager works the plan every day with their reps providing vision, clearing obstacles, implementing training, and performing field coaching. There is a bond between a sales manager and their rep that forms a bi-lateral team. If they are really working together, there are no secrets regarding performance deficiencies.


Therefore, shifting from informal to formal performance counseling should never be a surprise and definitely should not be used as a threat. If the sales rep is surprised when they are put on a formal performance plan, the sales manager needs to look in the mirror and evaluate themselves and their informal daily performance planning process.

So what is the objective of formal sales performance counseling and how does it differ from its informal counterpart?


Formal performance counseling is designed to create an increased sense of urgency for both the manager and the rep with a goal of bringing performance into alignment with company minimum performance standards. The commitment from both the sales manager and the sales rep should be increased. The manager should commit to increased coaching and development for the rep. Meanwhile, the sales rep should commit to increased work ethic and intensity along with hitting daily performance metrics.


If both sides commit to giving each other more attention and effort than ever before, and the sales rep’s results are not able to improve then it should be obvious to both sides that they are probably a bad fit for their position. But if they improve even incrementally, my rule has always been, “If they are growing, they aren’t going.” Translated: As long as they can continue to improve their results, we are not going to terminate even if they are still below company standards.

Growing flower through cracks of concrete

If termination ultimately results from formal sales performance counseling, then so be it.


However, we always need to remember that the purpose of sales performance counseling is to lend a helping hand to aid in the sales representative’s treatment and recovery. It is not a loaded gun, and should likewise not be held as a dark cloud over their head.


At the end of the day, termination should be the exception and never the rule.

Soldier with caption
Wrong password.