Sales Management: Discipline Salespeople Effectively

Discipline Salespeople Effectively

One of your primary goals as the sales manager is to create a peak performance sales team. This is only possible when your salespeople perform at the highest levels possible, which requires discipline.

The best athletes, and the best players on your team, are the ones who most enjoy and appreciate the rigors of highly disciplined work and conduct. When you set high standards and discipline your sales staff to meet those standards on a regular basis, you are doing each person on the team an incredible favor. Many people look back in their lives to a tough boss who was demanding in terms of performance. This person changed their whole attitude toward themselves and their work. As a result, they were more successful working under that boss, and later in other jobs and endeavors, than they ever would have been without that discipline.

Discipline Defined

My favorite definition of self-discipline comes from Elbert Hubbard: “Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, whether you feel like it or not.”

It doesn’t take any discipline to do something if you already feel like doing it, but it takes a lot of discipline when you would much rather be doing something else. It takes discipline to do things that require hard work, persistence, and determination. Self-discipline is the only way to build character and personal excellence. Discipline is the key to building a peak performance team of any kind, especially a sales team.

Jim Rohn said, “Success is tons of discipline.” He also said, “Discipline weighs ounces; regret weighs tons.”
Zig Ziglar said, “If you will be hard on yourself, life will be easy on you. But if you insist on being easy on yourself, life is going to be very hard on you.”

Set Clear Standards of Performance

The correct approach to disciplining people begins long before a need for a disciplinary conversation arises. It begins with your setting clear standards of performance and goals that everyone knows, understands, and agrees to.

When you set clear goals and standards, you must make it clear that these are definite standards with specific timelines. They are not voluntary or arbitrary. They are not a matter of choice or discretion on the part of the salesperson. You must make it plain from the beginning that people who cannot or do not meet these standards and deadlines will have to move on and make way for other people who are willing to rise to the standards of performance required.

To maintain discipline in your organization, you must review performance regularly, at least weekly and often daily. As discussed in Chapter 11 on planning sales activities, you should have clear action plans for each person on your team. These plans should include the number of new customer calls salespeople are expected to make each day and each week, the number of customers they are expected to meet with or speak to, the number of presentations they are expected to give, and ultimately, the size and number of sales that are required to keep this job.

Conduct Performance Appraisals

When I started off as a sales manager, having worked under some very difficult bosses, I was of the opinion that the purpose of the performance appraisal was to criticize the salesperson for poor performance and demand that the person do better. The turning point in my management life came when I realized that the real purpose of performance appraisal is not to punish, but to improve performance.

How do you improve performance? The only way that you can do it is by helping people feel more confident and competent about themselves after the meeting than they were before. Whenever you criticize or condemn poor behavior, you actually increase the likelihood of it occurring again. You make people so nervous and afraid of subsequent criticism that they actually decrease their sales efforts and activities, not increase them.

The rule is always to praise in public and appraise in private. There should only be the two of you present when you give negative performance feedback to another person. This saves the person from embarrassment and makes it far more likely that the individual will take action to improve after the meeting.

Explain Your Concerns

Begin by explaining that you have a concern about the person’s performance. Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages. Say things like, “I am concerned that your sales numbers are not where I expected them to be at this point.” By using these words, you put the focus on the sales numbers rather than on the salesperson. You discuss the sales numbers as if they belong to someone else. You evaluate the sales numbers objectively and unemotionally, mutually seeking a way to get them to improve. This reduces the fear and stress of a performance appraisal and allows the salesperson to discuss ways of improving the numbers without becoming emotional.

The most powerful words you can use in performance appraisal are the words next time and in the future. For example, when you are talking about the sales performance not being as high as you expected it to be, you can ask whether “in the future” the person might do this or that. Or you can say, “Next time this happens, why don’t you try this [and give an example of a particular strategy]?”

Whenever you point attention to the future, which is a period of time that people can do something about, you give them hope and optimism. When you criticize people for past performance, they often feel trapped and become angry and defensive.

Be Clear About the Problem

Agree on the problem that exists, whether it is poor time management, lack of prospecting activity, or failure to close the sale, and agree on a plan to improve performance in that area. Ask specifically what the person is going to do more of, or less of. What is the salesperson going to start doing, or stop doing? Make notes during the conversation so that you have a written record of what was agreed upon.

Offer to help the salesperson with additional training, support, and coaching. Very often a salesperson is lacking a particular skill that is sabotaging the entire sales process. Very often a single audio program, video training program, or a live seminar can transform a salesperson from a mediocre performer to a sales leader.

Think About Solutions

Keep thinking about what you can do to help your salespeople perform better. Remember that one of your key jobs as a sales manager is to train, coach, counsel, and be a helper. Be firm but fair. Don’t allow people off the hook. Once they have agreed to what they are going to do more of or less of, make sure that they do it. Check in with them on a regular basis, daily if necessary. Be a kind person, but a strict disciplinarian. This, above all, is what your salespeople need from you. Always insist on high standards of conduct and performance.


1. Identify one of your problem salespeople and arrange to sit down privately and discuss sales performance and what you could do to help the salesperson improve.
2. Make sure that all of your salespeople have clear, specific performance standards for each day and each week, written down, and that they submit regular sales reports to you.

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