02 May 2024 |

what if it’s the rep?

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

There are few things which suck worse than having a rep on your team who lacks self awareness.

These are the reps who:

  • Dismiss constructive feedback and/or deny ever getting constructive feedback despite your best attempts
  • Deflect responsibility and ownership of their performance
  • Try to find loopholes or shortcuts that typically result in breaching rules of engagement 
  • Can have a detrimental impact to team morale and energy

In short, the unaware reps are typically the ones who create more messes than you care to clean up.

But what is a manager to do when they have a rep like this?

I’ve got three thoughts on the best way to go about having the self awareness convo with reps. Here they are:

  1. Set super clear expectations for performance AND behavior early and often
  2. Understand people’s “why” (I know, it’s the corniest thing to recommend)
  3. Inspire them to change through coaching

Super clear expectations

If people don’t know what’s expected of them and they fall short of their manager’s expectations, that’s the manager’s fault. 

If a manager shares expectations, but doesn’t let their rep know when they’re falling short of those expectations in a timely manner…if that rep falls short of expectations, again that’s the manager’s fault IMO.

However, if the manager has:

  • Set clear expectations 
  • Shared constructive feedback regarding performance and behavior
  • Provided coaching and guidance on how to close the expectation gap
  • Followed up with rep again about gaps in performance and/or behavior

And the rep is still falling short, then that’s when a manager has the right to call foul on the part of the rep.

🏀Assist: I created a Rep Development Playbook so sales managers can cover their 🫏 and hold reps accountable when it is in fact the rep who is falling short, despite the manager coaching, guidance and intervention. Within the Playbook, you can add whatever competency you believe works best for self awareness, whether it’s categorized under Mindset & Motivation, Team Orientation, or Values. 

Understand their “why”

Not going to lie, whenever I’m running into challenges with reps and someone shares the “brilliant” (read: 🙄) advice to consider the rep’s “why”, I throw up a little bit on the inside.

But, sometimes the most obvious advice is the best advice. 

And in the case of a rep who lacks or is demonstrating a lack of self awareness, understanding what’ll motivate them to change is the play.

I wrote an entire newsletter on identifying rep motivations and their “why” last year, so if you’re not comfortable having the “why” / motivation conversation, I’d give that one a look. 😎

🏀Assist: It’s very possible that a rep who lacks self awareness won’t know or won’t have an accurate view on what motivates them. If that’s the case, I’d highly recommend encouraging them to seek out a professional coach who can facilitate motivation conversations, so the rep isn’t losing out on skill and development coaching. 

Inspire them to change

I have an older cousin — an elder of sorts — who told me years ago how people will change for only one of two reasons:

  1. Because they want to change
  2. Because they have to change

Reps who lack self awareness are more likely to fall into the latter category — they have to change — and as a manager, you are probably going to be the person who’ll need to catalyze that change for them.

While some managers may “lead” that conversation with reps with perceived threats, i.e. “this bad thing will happen”, I’ve seen asking questions to help reps come up with their own answers as a more productive way to catalyze change. 

Let’s go through a couple of specific scenarios and questions you can ask to surface the appropriate awareness for the rep. 

Scenario #1: Rep didn’t put coaching and feedback into action

If you’ve given feedback to a rep, partnered with them on a plan to improve and they haven’t put it into action, it’s best to address it sooner rather than later. 

Here’s one way you can initiate that conversation through a question: 

“I shared [insert constructive feedback] with you about [insert topic] in our last one on one and we agreed upon [insert development actions]. It doesn’t look like you’ve put that feedback into action. Help me understand, what got in the way?” 

Let’s break this down as to why this can work well:

  1. It’s focused on objectivity versus making judgments  — “I said this…you did this…this happened…this didn’t”
  2. Asking “what” vs. “why” questions can keep reps in a non defensive state — asking a question like “why didn’t you do this?” may inadvertently put a rep on the defense (read: they’re not listening to you anymore) 

⛹🏽‍♀️In the bonus:

According to Situational Leadership, there are three main reasons why a rep may not do what they’re expected to do:

  1. They didn’t know it was an expectation (but we’ve covered this)
  2. They don’t know how to meet the expectation and/or aren’t confident in their ability to meet expectation (this is an invitation to coach and provide affirmative feedback where appropriate)
  3. They’re unwilling and/or aren’t going to complete the task (this is where a consequence is needed)

If you’ve set clear expectations, provided appropriate feedback and coaching, and given the rep the proper amount of time to remedy the expectation gap, you might be dealing with an unwillingness issue. If this is the case, be sure to make expectations clear again of potential consequences of continuing to miss the mark, i.e. formal warning, coaching and/or performance improvement plan, etc. 

Scenario #2: Rep is performing well, but behaviors are unacceptable

Once upon a time I had a top performing rep on my team with an unfortunate reputation within the department. In this rep’s head, they thought “if my numbers look good, that’s all that matters”. But, here’s where they were messing up on the behavioral front:

  • Didn’t engage with or respond to their teammates
  • Were late or no showed team meetings 
  • Were perceived as disengaged by senior leaders at the organization
  • Disregarded and/or were unaware of how they were being perceived and what that meant for their internal brand

What I needed to do as a manager was sell them on the need for change. To do this, I asked

  1. About what mattered to them — for this rep, it was about increasing their earning potential, having variety in role, and upward mobility…aka they wanted to be promoted
  2. How they envisioned achieving their goal — “looking at where you’re at now compared to where you want to be, what opportunities at the company do you believe will help get you there best?”
  3. What skills / strengths they already had that could help them close the gap — “what are you already doing / are good at that’ll help you accomplish your goals?”
  4. Which gaps and/or risks could get in their way — “what, if anything, do you envision getting in the way of achieving your goals?”
  5. If I could share insights from my perspective — “Are you open to me sharing what I think could get in the way of you hitting your goal?” 

Let’s break this down as to why this can work well:

  1. Requires managers to take the time to understand what matters to the rep &  how the rep envisions realizing their goals
  2. Managers play the facilitator role in getting reps to think critically and strategically about their career 
  3. Lastly, this approach can give the impression that a manager really cares about them and what matters to them by sharing blind spots the rep may have that could inhibit or derail the success of their plan

⛹🏽‍♀️In the bonus:

According to the Skill / Will Matrix, sales reps can be categorized into four quadrants according to their level of skill and their level of will. There was one quadrant in particular I found the most interesting — Quadrant Two, Low Skill / High Will — because a mentor of mine called it the Quadrant of Loyalty. 

“With ‘Twos’, you have to quickly assess if you can get them to a Four (High Skill / High Will) so they’re on a path to a promotion and a raise, or if they should be recategorized to a One (Low Skill / Low Will) and exited it from the business. If you can get your ‘Twos’ to ‘Fours’, those will be your most loyal reps”. — Mentor

Thankfully, the rep within Scenario #2 was a testament to the wisdom my mentor shared with me. From our coaching and development conversations, the rep and I created a plan:

  1. The rep would create a guide listing out all of their tips and tricks to being a top performer in our segment
  2. They would present this guide to the rest of their teammates and agree to help the team in team meetings, over slack, and in virtual meetings, time allowing
  3. I would create an opportunity for the rep to socialize their guide as well as the impact they were having on the team to help turnaround senior leadership’s perception of the rep
  4. I would also socialize the impact this rep was having in their book of business as well as their teammates to any hiring managers I knew would be looking at internal candidates for promotion

The result?

The rep got an even better promotion and pay increase than they initially set out for! 

They also received the most shoutouts and positive feedback from the team compared to the prior two years they had been in seat, and got a huge kudos from our department VP after sharing their guide during an all hands meeting.

Still there?

Oowwweee..if you made it to this point — bravo! I know this was a long one! But we’re at the end now!

Last word…if a rep lacks self awareness, there are things sales managers can do to help them improve in this area. 

This doesn’t mean every rep who lacks self awareness will have the aptitude or willingness to improve in an acceptable amount of time. But, managers can have confidence in their ability to coach folks up in this area and hold them accountable.