Sell to Win

Sales performance reviews: 5 tips to make them valuable

Jacob Thomas
Contributor, Sell to Win
Jacob Thomas
Contributor, Sell to Win

Sales performance reviews don’t have to be so manufactured.

Sales performance reviews are supposed to help you. If your reviews are done correctly, you'll come out of them with a clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your team, as well as a course of action towards department-wide sales success.

Suffice to say, it's important to get them right.

What is a sales performance review?

It's pretty simple: a sales performance review is an evaluation, whereby sales managers and individual sales reps meet to discuss important topics like sales processes, productivity, personal development, team-wide goals, and more.

Most companies conduct sales performance reviews on an annual basis, though (as we'll cover in a bit) there's nothing wrong with conducting them more frequently. This is actually the preferred option for some companies.

Now that we've covered what sales performance reviews are, let's get down to business, specifically about how you can improve your performance reviews ASAP.

5 tips to improve your performance reviews

Sales performance reviews are important because they give sales managers the opportunity to critique, praise, and encourage sales reps—all essential things when attempting to improve your company's sales numbers.

Here are five tips to help you conduct more effective sales performance reviews:

1. Use a performance review template

How do you judge your team's performance? If you don't have a clear answer to this question, you aren't ready to conduct a sales performance review.

Without clear performance criteria, you won't be able to evaluate your team in a fair and effective way. Fortunately, there's an easy fix: create a performance review template, i.e. a standardized set of criteria you'll use to judge each member of your team.

Every sales performance review should touch on these three themes in one way or another:

  1. An evaluation of each rep's sales process
  2. A list of things the sales rep does really well
  3. A list of things the sales rep should improve upon

Once you've created your template, share it with your sales reps—preferably during the onboarding process. That way they know what's expected of them from the jump.

2. Analyze sales processes, not just results

Sales is a results game. So we understand the temptation to judge reps based solely on what they've achieved since the last time you conducted a sales performance review.

But here's the thing: results-based evaluations are rarely effective.

Yes, the number of sales a rep has made, as well as the amount of revenue they've generated for your company, are important and should be talked about during your review. But we suggest focusing more of your time on each individual rep's sales process.

Why? Because your team's processes are the foundation of their results.

If they have subpar processes, they'll achieve subpar results. If they have winning processes, they'll achieve the amazing success you want them to. Your job as a sales manager is to help your reps identify the flaws in their sales processes and fix them.

Here are a few process-oriented metrics to cover during your sales performance review:

  • Number of leads generated
  • Number of sales meetings held
  • Upsell and/or cross sell rate
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Average cost per lead

A process-first approach to sales performance reviews also prevents managers from simply blaming their reps for not meeting quota, which will destroy team morale.

3. Set goals and suggest ways to achieve them

Sales performance reviews should be actionable. What do you want your reps to do after you meet with them? Make sure these things are understood before your review ends.

And, no, "meet quota" is not the only goal you should set for your reps. Do your best to give them practical objectives that align with company plans and take into account each rep's individual career aspirations. That way reps stay motivated while they work for your company.

What does this look like in a real-world scenario? Meet Jeff…

Jeff is a sales rep who's been working in your department for the last two years. He's an ambitious guy and hopes to lead the company in just about every sales metric one day. But, after analyzing his sales process, you realize he has a ways to go before he gets there.

See, Jeff is great at finding high-quality prospects to contact. He's also a hard worker and sends plenty of outreach emails on a daily basis. The problem is, Jeff's close rate is lower than many of the other reps in your department. This is because Jeff is too pushy.

He tries to sell at all costs, rather than identifying exactly what each potential customer needs and providing them with the right solution. This annoys a lot of Jeff's prospects.

So, what do you do? As part of Jeff's action plan, you ask one of your company's top sellers to take Jeff under their wing. That way they can teach Jeff how to close at a higher rate.

This plan helps the company because Jeff will learn how to make more sales. It also aligns with Jeff's personal goals because once he learns the art of the close, he'll be that much closer to becoming your company's top seller.

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4. Frame your critiques in a positive way

Your sales reps don't want to hear about how bad they're doing—especially if they're doing really, really bad. That doesn't mean you don't offer them constructive criticism. But the best sales performance reviews frame feedback in a positive way.

For example, you could say something like, "Jeff, your sales numbers aren't where we need them to be. After analyzing your sales process, I see that you do a great job with outreach. I love how much effort you put into emailing potential customers. The problem is your close rate. It seems that you're pushing prospects too hard, which is a turn off. Don't worry, I have a solution for you. Why don't you connect with Randy so he can teach you how to close?"

This critique was completely honest, addressing Jeff's shortcomings, as all good sales performance reviews should. But it also made a point to recognize Jeff for what he does well, and framed the solution to his problem as an opportunity.

Pro tip: Be sure not to overdo it. People can spot a compliment sandwich a mile away, so keep your positive feedback genuine and relevant.

5. Ask for feedback during your performance reviews

If you really want to make the most of your sales performance reviews, ask for feedback.

How can you help your reps become better sellers? Do they need more support in certain areas? Are there specific tools you can buy that will help them become more effective in their jobs? And how can you adjust the review process to make it more enjoyable?

These are all questions you should ask your sales reps. Once you have answers to them, take action. Implement their suggestions and see what happens.

If your sales reps don't feel comfortable critiquing you to your face, give them an opportunity to leave anonymous feedback. You can get software for this specific purpose. Or you can put a "tip jar" in the office and let reps share their thoughts on little pieces of paper.

At the end of the day, how you get feedback doesn't matter. Just make sure you get it, one way or another, so that you have the chance to improve as well.

Bonus tip: Conduct sales performance reviews more often

Whoa, we're not quite done yet! We've got one more important tip to share: Conduct sales performance reviews on a quarterly, rather than annual, basis.

A lot can happen in a year. Company objectives can change. Customer preferences can shift. Email sequences that worked like gangbusters in Q1 might fall flat in Q3. That's why it makes sense to meet with your team every three months and assess progress.

The data backs this tip up, too. According to Forbes, companies that set quarterly sales performance goals achieve 31% higher returns than those that set annual ones.

So make the time for quarterly sales performance reviews. Will it be more work? Yes. Will your reps grumble under their breaths? Maybe. Will it be worth it in the end? Absolutely! Your goal as a sales manager is to increase sales. Quarterly reviews will help make that happen.

Final thoughts

Sales performance reviews are important, as they give sales managers like yourself the chance to critique and congratulate the sales reps they manage.

To take advantage of this important opportunity, use the tips we shared in this article. If you create a review template, analyze sales processes instead of just results, set goals for each rep, frame your critiques in a positive light, and ask for feedback, you should do just fine.

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