Performance Programs: Do You Know What You are Up Against?

Depressed Sales Professional

I know that you’ve  heard about performance programs, even if you have not been in this situation!  It can be a bewildering position, but it is not uncharted territory.  You can beat a performance program.  You should never give up if it is constructed fairly and you are good at what you do.  don’t be bewildered, chart a course of action and get at it.


Are you currently being threatened with termination?  Have you been put on a performance program?  I have seen both sides of this issue, and want to make some comments that I hope will be beneficial.

As a threatened sales professional, my sales program was fortunately loosely put together, but it was program nonetheless. Performance programs for sales professionals are structured tightly now, and you should know that what you’ll see when you view the performance program is essentially a template document from past programs and even terminations.  It will be fairly tight, if the managers that put it together are good.

As a manager, I put together sales performance programs that were designed to get someone to generate sales results or be out within a prescribed amount of time.  I suppose that you would call it ‘sales justice’.  These programs should be designed to be fair and equitable.  It probably will be based on the current goals and how those goals would apply in a shortened time period.

Owning and maintaining a sales force, or even a single sales professional is expensive.  Whether it is a single professional or a sales force can be expensive.  It is a wasted resource if it is not productive, even for a short period.  Programs are a necessary process and when used correctly can reform some behavior,

Can You Beat a Program?

The answer is yes… if the program is fairly constructed.  Sales professionals beat programs often if they have been working hard.  A well constructed sales program is potentially beatable if:

  • Your goals are constructed fairly and the time limits are granted correctly
  • You have been working hard and are not starting from ‘scratch’
  • You have never stopped prospecting and recognize that prospecting is a required activity
  • Your company’s products are solid and priced properly
  • You have the sales skills necessary to be successful

To capsulize, if you have fair goals and have been working hard, you have a chance.  That chance is enhanced if you have been prospecting and working to sell your products to a wide base of prospects, and thus creating real, sellable opportunities.  If you don’t have the above bullets on your side, you are toast!

Defining Fairness

I would be remiss if I did not cover this portion.  Fairness is a concept that defines an employer’s actions.  Here is a simple example of fairness:

Your goals are as follows:

Sales in Dollars – $500,000

Cases sold – 25

New Prospects – 250

Quotes – 125

What you have here is a results and activity requirement.  New prospects and quotes are activity standards, and dollar sales and cases sold are result standards.  Activity leads to results, so both are necessary.  Some sales organizations will rest on the results standards and require their sales professionals to reach the results goal, but the best organizations realize that they must us both.  The presence of the prospecting and quote portion requires that those activities necessary to have future and continued success are being done.

So a fair performance program for 3 months would look like this:

Sales in Dollars – $150,000

Cases sold – 6

New Prospects – 63

Quotes – 31

The simple fact is that the goal for the performance program is an elementary 25% of the annual goal.  A simple but potentially fair goal.  It is based on the previous goal, and is apportioned in a way that probably could be justified and would hold up if tried in a court of law if the sales cycle worked in terms of lead-time and production time.

It Happened to Me!

As a fledgling account representative I was put on a program at a time when nothing would go right for me.  It was a time when our company’s product was good, but priced a little higher than the competition.  The program had a component that was centered around activity (how many quotes?) and on production (how much did I sell?).

I was successful and beat the program, but the key to that was that I had never stopped working, but had just not had success.  The activity portion does not guarantee anyone continued employment, but it is the process that counts.  I refer you to BSJ 2/28/11- How Many Prospects Do I Really Need? It is probably more than you think!

I will be honest that I was not confident that I would make it.  I had worked hard, but just had not been able to convert.  For some reason during the time when the program was in effect, I generated some sales and locked myself in. It also created an expectation that I worked hard to keep up with.  Remember your chances are always better if you never stop working!

If the Program Is Not Fair

If your program goals are not attainable, then you have a couple of problems that may be insurmountable.  You need to have the conversation with your manager re making the program ‘doable’.  If that does not give fruit, you need to have a conversation with human resources.  Do it immediately.

If you are behind the “8” Ball, my suggestion is to do what is above while you try to work through it.  In most programs there is a clause covering any other deterioration of work.  In other words, you could be terminated earlier if you slow down your work effort.

Sales is a occupation with much objectivity baked in to it.  Be as effective as possible, and recognize that this job may be aided by relationships and a plan, but if you are not getting results, you are forever vulnerable.

Drop a note regarding your program and how you will beat it.

Always be the best. You can reach me at

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