Sales Superstars or Slackers? How to Manage Under-Performing Sales Reps


Are your sales people productive, or are they slackers? Not to oversimplify (or to over-complicate things either) but at the end of each month, all your sales professionals need to answer the “help me/hurt me” question.

In other words: did you add to the success of your company this month…or not?

A couple of years ago, I was facilitating a sales meeting with one of my clients. With a history of great sales performance, the company had recently become a little complacent and had worked its way into a sales slump.

During our meeting, one of the regional sales managers mentioned that in years past, she had a manager who made all of his sales reps answer the “help me/hurt me” question at the end of each month. To ensure visibility and accountability, this question was answered in front of the entire sales team (fun, huh?).


Not sure I would have built visibility around performance in that exact way, but this manager is 100% correct about creating visibility and dialog about each producer’s performance. To create a high-performing sales culture, a sales manager must create an environment of full transparency in order to ensure that continuous evaluation, continuous learning and continuous improvement are part of their daily sales culture…a prerequisite to achieving sustainable growth.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of ensuring that the companies I’m engaged with embrace a culture of transparency, self-reflection, self-assessment, and courageous/respectful communications. If any of these elements are missing from your review process, your team will consistently underperform.

You simply cannot optimize selling performance when the producer or manager does not accurately and honestly assess the sales-related activities and approaches in relation to results. To me, the “help me/hurt me” illustration implies that the manager understands the connection between visibility, traction, and momentum.


Sales management is both challenging and rewarding. The successful sales manager must create a culture of high performance as discussed above. This implies being proactive and taking action with the appropriate sense of urgency (regarding underperformance).

No matter what tool you use to evaluate sales rep performance, complete transparency will create traction. Visibility/transparency creates movement, and movement implies either improvement or exit.

There is a certain amount of improvement that will occur organically without management intervention. People who want to achieve improved performance will seek out help, star performers will often lend a hand to help a peer, and the people who can’t or don’t want to perform will head for the exit.

In short, when the manager creates visibility, that visibility then creates what I like to refer to as the TrainTrade or Free Agency environment.

Every under-performing sales rep falls into one of three categories: Train, Trade or Free Agency.

  1. Train suggests we have a sales rep who is capable, has a great attitude, and has a strong work ethic. He/she just needs a little additional training and support in order to achieve consistent selling success.
  2. Trade suggests we have a sales rep who is missing something. Either they are not capable of being successful in their current position, or their attitude or work ethic is missing. Reps who fall into this category may very well find success, just not in their current position or current company.
  3. Free Agency suggests the sales manager has been successful at creating a culture of high performance.  The manager creates full visibility regarding performance (activities and results) and is a courageous, respectful communicator with regards to deficiencies (areas in need of improvement).  When that sales culture truly exists, anyone who can’t perform (not qualified), or won’t perform (a slacker = poor work ethic) will exercise their right to free agency and leave on their own.

Before complacency creeps into your organization, it’s critical to ensure your management style and process are designed to attract and retain top talent, while repelling under-performers.

Simply put, a culture of high performance incorporates visibility/transparency, courageous communications, and a true heart for your team’s individual and collective success.

If hearing the particulars of this story would help you or your partners, send me a note or give me a call: and (414) 315-0523. You can also get on my calendar directly for a free discovery call here:

My background

My career path started out at IBM before moving on to start, build and eventually sell two technology service companies. From there, I’ve been a global channel development partner, and personal/corporate achievement coach helping leaders and teams break through to the next level. 

Break Through

If you or your team needs help breaking through to the next level of performance, or if you have a friend who’d appreciate having access to me as their personal and/or corporate achievement coach, please reach out for a free discovery call or email me at

See what past and present clients have to say about our work together or check out additional blogs and podcasts .


Phil Mydlach

Phil Mydlach is a high-performance executive coach who shows people and companies how to break through to their next level of ability, growth, and performance. He partners with them as they lean into their edge to confront the fears that are holding them back.

Print Friendly and PDF