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When You Lose Control of Your Sales Force: The Lost Art of Performance Appraisals for Sales Reps

11 May, 2007 By: Frank Masi imageSource

When You Lose Control of Your Sales Force: The Lost Art of Performance Appraisals for Sales Reps

Talk about this subject with some dealers and here’s what you hear: “If
he/she isn’t meeting quota, they get fired. That’s my Performance Appraisal

Others are amazed at how a sure-fire new hire turned out to be a dud.  And
some are mystified by the worst case of all – the good, productive Rep “that got
away.”  Why did he/she leave?  What signs didn’t I recognize?

The dealer never saw it coming.

In overall Sales management parlance, the dealer “lost control.”  And that is
a cancer of sales force management.

Now, let’s not over-simplify the business of developing Sales Reps and sales
teams.  It is a complex and challenging responsibility and changes sometimes in
what seems like nanoseconds. Areas  of concern center on:

  • Recruiting Sources
  • Interviewing/ Screening Processes
  • Sales Training
  • Motivational Programs
  • Compensation Plans
  • Performance Appraisal & Review (PAR)

You can lose control of your Sales Rep or team at any of these stops. But we
need a starting point. So let’s assume you’ve conducted a search for a Rep,
interviewed several, screened    out   some and you’re advancing others through
your process until you’ve identified and hired the candidate that, in your
estimation, exhibits the best traits for success in your business.

So where and when does Performance Appraisal come into play?

Let’s first stop and consider what Performance Appraisal really is. Is it
that “sit down yearly face-to-face talk” with a Sales Rep? Or, is  it a daily,
weekly, monthly or quarterly activity? Actually, Performance Appraisal and
Review (PAR) takes place in both of these areas.


In this process, you are training, mentoring, motivating and controlling the
Sales Rep. How many presentations are they making? Are their presentation skills
being honed down to the fine points? Do they know your product and the
competition’s? Or, in the case of more Senior Reps, are they enhancing their
closing skills and applications knowledge or falling short on cold calling for
new business? While this monitoring is taking place, the Sales Manager has ample
opportunity to inject Performance Appraisal techniques into his handling of the
Sales Rep.

This  is just the case with the Sales Development System at HPS Office
Systems in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jay Brinegar, VP Sales, says: “Properly
employed, our system works like a charm, and insures us of the proper
development of our Sales Team.” HPS’s system, known as PDC (Prospect, Develop,
Cycle) is basically a platform to provide for the Rep to review their on-going
performance, and for the Manager to coach and appraise.

PDC has four basic components: 1) Weekly Sales Meeting with each Rep where
Sales Forecasts are reviewed; 2)a Monthly Meeting that reviews the month’s
activities, and runs the gamut from # of prospecting calls, to product mix
sales, to GM performance; 3)A monthly forecast by the Rep on annualization of
his/her income based upon performance year-to-date; 4) A Quarterly Review
covering all of the above, with comments on variation from plan, and a forecast
for the coming quarter. Highlighted are corrective measures for improvement over
the last quarter.

At years end all four quarters are rolled up into a final Performance
Appraisal and Review. Jay says: “At this meeting we’ll review everything, the
Reps attitude, his/her initiative, their income realization, along with
performance measures.” From this evolves a Plan for the following year. So Jay
has a built-in review process in his PDC sales management and monitoring system
that not only measures performance and enhances skills, but presents the Manager
with an ongoing Appraisal system.

The Appraisal approach puts a layer of “personal coaching” on top of the
“standards of performance” guidelines approach which is more of a “this is what
you must do” command. Viewed in this light, Performance Appraisal is a result of
Performance Review and benefits both the employee and the Manager.

If you talk to John Williams, Director of Sales for Copytronics, a large
5-office dealership based in Jacksonville, FL, he will state flatly: “We come to
mutual agreements with our Reps after a year-end Performance Appraisal & Review.
They’ve agreed  and sign off on a Plan for Improvement and future goal
attainment.” During the year, there is constant monitoring and performance

With 50 Sales Reps spread over five (5) offices, John needs a Sales
Management tool that’s effective in building productive Sales  Reps. 
Copytronics’ monitoring and  review  system   includes  daily, weekly and
monthly reporting and “feedback” which varies for those achieving performance
goals, those who are minimally achieving these goals, and those who are
underachieving. For appraisal and monitoring purposes, Copytronics’ System for
underachievers  includes   daily  coaching  between Manager and Reps. The
Manager receives a “Daily Plan” on what they are doing today, and then at the
end of the day, what they achieved that day. So the Sales Manager takes this
opportunity to review and appraise the day’s work. Weekly, the Rep then prepares
a document of what they achieved or didn’t achieve, what they learned that week
and highlight areas where they feel they need more help. The counseling is
personal and different from the achievers who are asked to submit weekly plans
detailing their objectives for the week, and what assistance they need to meet
those objectives.

Layered on top of this are three (3) face-to-face meetings each month between
Branch Sales Managers and their Reps. The first meeting is 30-minutes and
produces a forecast for the month. By midmonth, a second meeting is held. John
Williams says: This meeting which lasts about an hour, is to ask the Rep if his
forecast is still on track, and how can the Sales Manager help to get it done.”
They also review the Reps 30/60/90 day forecast. The third meeting, about 30
minutes in duration, is conducted the last week of the month, and is held to
assess the final sales estimate and what the Manager can do to help. At this
point, the forecast is about 95-97 percent accurate. “But again,” says John, “we
are still coaching, appraising and helping.”

At year’s end, each Copytronics Rep is given a full Performance Review and
Appraisal. It consists of five pages of detailed ratings and evaluations, and
covers everything from prospecting to closing, product knowledge, and personal
habits. This  review lasts  two hours and concludes with a written plan for the
following year, complete with benchmarks, which both Sales  Rep & Manager sign
to signify their acceptance of the Performance Appraisal and Plan. John says:
“When you lose control, you’re lost at sea. Our Managers  embrace the
responsibility for growing our sales team.” Monitoring, coaching & appraisals
are control weapons for Management.

The Formal Appraisal – Drama in The Sales Office

Some dealers do it at the end of the year, and some do it twice a year - the
dreaded formal Performance Appraisal. That’s when the Rep sits down with the
Manager and gets a managerial assessment of how they have achieved their goals.
The Rep plays the role of the victim on trial, and the Manager plays the role of
prosecutor, jailer and just maybe – executioner.

But it need not be that way. Performance Appraisal should be a time of
discovery for both Rep and Manager through mutual review and feedback on issues
of achievement and under achievement. From this will evolve a plan for future
success and higher income realization.

It should not be a time of “wrongs and rights”, nor a time of
“finger-pointing,” and certainly not an occasion for chastising or belittling
the Sales Rep. Yet, how many Reps are wrapped in fear and anxiety as they
approach the “day of reckoning” with the boss. Reflecting on your own past
experiences, you would no doubt agree that many, if not most, fall into this
syndrome. So let’s examine how a formal Performance Appraisal should be
conducted for maximum impact on your sales efforts.  The Appraisal has five (5)
key segments:


1.         Assessment of Final Annual Performance

2.         Selling Skills Review

3.         Personal Habits and Attitudes

4.         Management Support Involvement

5.         Improvement Plan for the Following Year

Each should have detailed items. For example, in Selling Skills Review:


a. Frequency – Does the Rep see enough new prospects to generate new
business consistently?

b. Sources – How does the Rep find new prospects: Cold Calling, Data
Base Contacts, Referrals, Mailers, News      Articles,

c. Techniques – Does the Rep know how to cold call a new prospect, set
up appointments, demonstrate and close?

Product Knowledge

a. Does the Rep know our products?

b. How well does he/she understand the technology?

And so it goes. You get down to the nitty-gritty in each segment area. You
can use a 1-5 scale for measurement, plus detailed written explanations of your
assessments. To be meaningful, your appraisal has to be pinpoint.


For that uneasy day, the Rep needs to be prepared intellectually and
emotionally. Establish a time, date and place for the meeting. Give the Rep at
least one week’s notice. To promote an air of open discussion, it should be on
neutral ground, like a conference room. Mondays are not good days. The Rep
needs  time to shake off the weekend. So do you. Meetings should last about one
to two hours to be thorough.


1.         First 0btain his/her sales records (Quota, GM Levels, and

2.         Grade your Sales Rep on the Appraisal form, with marks and
comments, before the meeting.

3.         Give a BLANK Form to the Rep to rate themselves in each area prior
to the meeting.

What? The Reps rate themselves? Yes, and this step is   critical  to the
success of your appraisal system.

Here’s how it works: when you meet: compare their self-assigned grade to
yours. Where good grades match, not much discussion is needed. If you both agree
on a weakness, discuss corrective measures.

However, where your grades  disagree, this is an area you need to spend more
time on. Either you are not aware of something, or the Rep has the wrong idea of
what they are supposed to do. Example: they think they are good at “closing” and
grade themselves a 4 on a scale of 5. And you rated them a two (2) based upon
field sales presentations you shared with them. Obviously, they don’t understand
closing. This is an area you can discuss to affect improvement and  additional
training. Perhaps you rated them a (2) in  “time and attendance," only to find
out that their mate is medically challenged and needs extra attention in the
morning.  Here, you might change your grade and readjust attendance guidelines.


“May I Appraise You, Mr. Sales Manager?”

Frightening thought, isn’t it? Having the Sales Rep rate you during the
session! Yes, frightening, but necessary if the Performance Appraisal is going
to be a tool of discovery. If your handling and coaching of the Sales Rep is in
need of improvement (in the Rep’s eyes) then you must make adjustments just as
you are asking them to adjust and improve. To do this, construct a page entitled
– Subjects for Discussion, containing areas of Sales Management Support, such

  • Frequency of Shared Field Sales Calls
  • Sales Training Assistance
  • Technical Training Offered
  • Closing Support/Guidance

But don’t have them grade you. List items only as Subjects For Discussion and
give this to the Rep for completion prior to the meeting. Ask them to avoid
simple “yes  or no” answers or “good or bad” ratings, and spell out what they
feel they need from you to be more effective in their sales performance.

You may discover things you never knew about your own management style or 
shortcomings.  And this  will lead to improving your effectiveness in
controlling all your Sales Reps’ development.

Finally, your formal Performance Appraisal of the Sales Rep should result in
a mutually agreed upon Plan for Improvement for the following year, or six
months, whichever review cycle you employ. Both should sign the document to
formalize it, not so much as contractual, but as an agreement between Rep and
Manager. Woven into your sales monitoring system and annual review function,
Performance Appraisal is undeniably a key tool for maintaining control of your
Sales Staff.

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