10 Questions for Assessing Your Sales Reps (& What to Do Next)

Editor’s note: This post is the third in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

As you get started in your new sales manager role, there is no shortage of pressing items on your to-do list:

  • Learn as much as you can from everyone.
  • Get to know your people, the business, and your customers.
  • Get up to speed on how things get done in the organization.
  • Build your own network and support system.
  • Develop relationships and trust with your people and others in the organization.

Remember, though, as a manager your first, second, and third priorities are your people. Without getting to know who they are, what makes them tick, their strengths, and their weaknesses, you won’t be able to move forward in maximizing their performance.

You may have some initial thoughts or impressions, and other managers or leadership may have shared opinions they have about individuals on your team. By all means, take that into account, but keep in mind you need to do your own assessment.

Assessing Your Sales Reps: 10 Questions to Ask

Look at each of your people and do your best to determine the following:

  1. What are their strengths, weaknesses?
  2. How well are they meeting their goals and objectives? Here you’ll look at the metrics, pipelines, prospecting, and the typical reporting info.
  3. How are they doing against their performance plan? Assuming (hopefully) they do have performance objectives in place.
  4. What are their goals and aspirations? Are they realistic?
  5. What is their behavioral style? This is critical. Understanding their behavioral style is the key to connecting and communicating with them in the most impactful manner possible.
  6. How do they spend their time? This can give you great insight into opportunities to increase productivity by streamlining processes, removing distractions and impediments, and addressing time management issues.
  7. How well are they using the systems, tools, programs, and processes in the organization?
  8. How do they interact with their peers in the organization?
  9. How do others interact with them?
  10. How much management time and attention do they want? How much do they need? That might not always be the same answer.

How Do You Get Answers?

  • How not to get answers: Sitting behind your desk, analyzing your CRM and other reports
  • How to do it right: By getting engaged with each person on your team. Sit down, talk with them, and get to know them. Travel with them. Go or sit in on customer calls. Listening and observing is critical! Finally, ask lots of questions. Ask for their opinions and views! The point isn’t just to focus on the business, but to get to know them as individuals and people.

Note of caution:

As a new manager, you may be tempted to “share your opinions” with the team early on. You may feel the need to prove yourself talking about yourself and how did things when you were in their shoes. Be careful with this!

Yes, reps want to get to know you and what makes you tick, too. They want to learn how you can help them be more successful. But resist the temptation to get into “tell” mode. You need to listen, ask questions, probe, observe.

You need to build trust.

Developing a Plan and Focus for Each Rep

With each of your people, take all that information, and think, “How can I help them perform at the top of their game?” “How can I help develop them to their full potential?” By doing this, you’ll also begin to develop a clearer picture of where each rep stands.

  • A players: For some of the top performers, you may decide the best way to manage them is by supporting the hell out of them from a distance — generally staying out of their way, but not ignoring them, either.
  • B players: Other reps may need to be stirred up and refocused. They have promise, but they can perform better.
  • C players: Then, inevitably, you will have some challenges. Every organization has C players. These can be serious time drains, but they can also destroy you if you don’t do anything about them.

By the time you’re done with even a rough initial assessment you may already have a laundry list of things you need to address. Now keep in mind you can’t address all of them at once!

A good approach is to start by focusing on two top priorities for each rep — the top two things that will have the most impact on their performance. An even better approach is to make each of your reps active participants in this process. After all, if they aren’t engaged and owning what’s going on, nothing you do will be effective.

During 1-on-1s, share your observations on what you perceive to be their top two challenges and opportunities. Again, keep the focus limited to the top two priorities. You don’t want to overwhelm them with everything, but you do want to make it a two-way conversation, so make sure you give them an opportunity to weigh in and respond. Be sure to listen, probe, and drill down. Push back and challenge them a little. The goal should be to come out of the meeting with agreement on the top two areas you can be most helpful in pushing them to perform at the top of their game.

You may come up with a specific action plan, or you may just develop focus areas such as, “I’d like you to really help me strengthen my deal strategies,” or “I need some help in prioritizing my time to get more done.”

Warning: You Will Get Resistance

Some of your people will resist. They’ll have the mindset that they don’t need a manager, and would prefer for you to stay out of their way. This is unacceptable. Everyone needs a manager and coach. Everyone can improve.

Reps who bristle at this approach likely fall into one of two categories:

Lone Wolves: These may or may not be reasonable performers, but they’re likely not high performers. They don’t believe they need help or need to improve. They just want to be left alone.

There may be some businesses where Lone Wolves can thrive and “fit in well.” I’ve personally never seen one. The problem is Lone Wolves struggle in collaborative environments, and collaboration — within the organization, with partners, and with customers — is the new reality of today’s and tomorrow’s business.

You need to help these reps see how their behavior is limiting their success. You need to help them change their approach to include engaging others to help them achieve their goals.

If they don’t their performance will become a problem — I’ll be addressing this in future posts.

Mediocre and Bad Performers: These reps may claim they don’t need management help or support when they are in fact the ones who need it most. Typically, there are two reasons they will resist:

  • They don’t realize they are mediocre or bad performers, and are blissfully ignorant.
  • They are hiding out. They know their performance isn’t great and want to keep below the radar.

With mediocre and bad performers, you will probably have to be more direct and explicit in establishing the action plans and next steps. They need discipline, focus, and accountability.

The Good News

The good news is your top performers — even some who aren’t quite top performers — will likely welcome your support and coaching. When they discover your interest in them and in helping them improve, they’ll be excited.

They will realize they need a sounding board to test ideas and they will leverage you as a resource to help get things done. They realize they need to continually improve, so they will look for your ongoing support.

Don’t Stop Now!

Don’t think of this as a “one and done” type of exercise. This process of assessing and addressing your team’s strengths and weaknesses should be ongoing and iterative. As a manager, you need to be continually observing, learning, and looking for the next opportunity to coach and develop your people. As you see improvement in the top two areas you identified, move on and look at the next two, then the next two, and so on.

Coaching and developing your people on an ongoing basis is critical. It’s the only way they will make their numbers—and, as a result, the only way you will make yours!

More Tips for New Sales Managers

Get caught up by reading any previous posts in the series you may have missed:

  1. So You’re a New Sales Manager: The Biggest Change to Expect
  2. Your #1 Priority as Sales Manager (Plus 3 Things to Stop Doing Now)

Photo by: Wee Sen Goh

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