Key learning outcomes:

  • Recognise the signs of under-performance such as low closing rate and low lead generation.
  • Distinguish between lack of ability and lack of opportunity when analysing under-performance.
  • Develop tools to lift an under-performer’s results.
  • Understand the benefits of training and regular reviews to boost sales output.


One of the most important roles for a business leader is to help those around them to perform to their best. It can be frustrating and disappointing for both the salesperson and the business’s management when the salesperson is under-performing. In most situations this will mean that the salesperson is not meeting their targets and goals. As a leader it is important to find out why they are under-performing and develop ways to get them back on the road to success.

You may have a “gut feeling” of what the problem is; however, it is important that you work with the salesperson to really hone in on the specific areas that need improvement. Before beginning any discussion, be mindful that the salesperson may be feeling sensitive or defensive. They know that they under-performing. Therefore, try to take the emotion out of the situation and begin by explaining that you are there to help them and that you want them to succeed as much as they want to succeed.[wlm_ismember]

Reasons why salespeople under-perform

There are two main reasons why a salesperson under-performs: a lack of ability and a lack of opportunity. In some cases it may be a combination of both. In this article we discuss how to identify the cause of under-performance and suggest ways to improve results. We will use a case study to illustrate how to apply this framework to your business.

Case study details

Lack of ability

The following are some key signs that a salesperson is lacking the skills and expertise to perform their job to the maximum level.

If you determine that your salesperson is under-performing due to a lack of skills and expertise, it is important to pinpoint the areas that need improvement. Once you have done this you are able to provide additional training. You may want to commence some one-on-one coaching or provide some other assistance to improve their future performance.

Often when a salesperson is new, a lot of attention is placed on training. However, remember that there is a lot of information to take on board in these early days, and new employees may find it difficult to retain all of this information in the first few days, weeks and months. Sometimes, a new person, such as the one in our case study, will require ongoing training for at least the first 12 months.

Lack of opportunity

You may determine that an under-performing salesperson does not lack ability, but rather lacks opportunities. There are a number of things to think about when looking at sources of opportunities for salespeople. A successful salesperson needs to have the ability to convert both the opportunities that come through the business and those from their own generation efforts. Work through the following sources of business with your salesperson to assess which areas may need improvement:


When we look at the above case study, there are two things that the salesperson can do to improve their results: they can either convert more sales from the potential customers who they are working with on a monthly basis or they need to generate more sales opportunities. Often the reality for an under-performing salesperson is they need to work on both areas. Use our framework with your sales team to address any shortfall areas. We suggest you monitor progress on at least a fortnightly or monthly basis. This article can be used in conjunction with others in the “Sales training” section of our website.[/wlm_ismember]

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