As the age of the sales professional increases, so does the tendency to plateau. The definition of “plateau” that I like to use here is “a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.”

A recent study of 200 companies indicated that only 7 of the 200 sales companies were not struggling with this problem. There are too many possible reasons for this to investigate here, but I can safely say that as the age of the sales team increases, so does the tendency to plateau.

As we continue to transition from the transactional selling of the last century, to the relational selling of the current day, we find that there are holdovers waiting to return to the old days. If you or anyone on your team are caught saying things like, “Well, that’s just the way we have always done things around here” or “I’m too old to learn new techniques,” then you most likely have a “plateau-er” on your team.

So, how do you know if you have one on the staff? Check out these warning signs and see if any of them resonate:

1. Lack of prospecting;

2. Lack of follow-up;

3. Works less and less hours;

4. Resists managing by another party, i.e. sales manager or sales coach;

5. Lives in the “good old days”;

6. Doesn’t stay up with the industry or products, and;

7. Content with compensation package.

The key question to answer once you have determined if you have a “plateau-er” is to find out if they are a poor producer, or just not motivated. If they are a poor producer and they are a plateau-er, then the decision tends to be a lot simpler than if they are a strong performer. If they are not producing and they tend to not be interested in moving forward, then termination appears to be the best solution for all involved.

I remember a day I terminated a person like this. I said to them, “this is a great day,” which they thought to mean there was a huge bonus coming. But the next words out of my mouth were, “We are going to have to let you go, because it is pretty obvious to all involved that you are not happy here. We are letting you go so that you can find your happiness elsewhere and contribute to that company.”

Termination, while it seems like a devastating decision, is rarely looked back upon as a bad move. Often my only regret in the termination process was that I did not do it sooner. But what do you do about those that are solid performers, but have hit a plateau? I have some thoughts about how to help them back to the state of progress, but they might be unconventional, so please, before you dismiss the ideas, consider them carefully.

1. For people to change, there must be something present that is more painful than staying on that plateau. Create an environment of discontent. Make it so painful on that plateau that you force them to move up. Things to consider:

a. Change their territories;

b. Change accounts;

c. Assign a new leader;

d. Add responsibilities;

e. Change the structure of the organization;

f. Change the markets that they focus on;

g. Change the compensation plan, and;

h. Change the products in which they sell.
These are all things that will create some discontent and will force people to decide what to do.

2. Look for alternative assignments. Maybe it’s time that they get into the leadership team. Or start an actual mentorship program and ask them to be the ones to create the program. If you can truly teach someone something, then it is safe to say that you have mastered the subject. And in that time where a “plateau-ed” sales professional is preparing and training to help, they tend to learn things that will help them get off the plateau.

3. Ask the sales professional for feedback. Get them to admit that they are on a plateau. Once people truly understand that they are on a plateau and they cannot stay there for long, they will have some ideas as well. Value their input. Expect their input.

4. Ask for them to change their outlook on their work. Too many plateauing people view work as a 9 – 5 gig. Ask them to increase their passion and take ownership of their position.

5. Understand that a leading cause of this plateauing tends to be a lack of a clear individual vision. Each sales professional hopefully has a personal vision that they carry with them when they are in their daily grind. For me personally, I ask, at the end of my meetings, “Was this helpful in any way?” My personal goal is simple: For each encounter that I have, I want the person I am with to leave better off than when they came. This is so gratifying to me and allows me to focus on my vision. Accomplishing this, rather than looking at a stale sales figure. I understand that some people are driven by numbers, so if this is not an option or seems foreign, I totally understand.

When people start to resist change, and want to stay with the transactional selling vs. the relational selling model, we must look at these to see which ones are better for the company long term.
Transactional vs. Consultative
Farmer vs. Hunter
Order Taking vs. Selling
Simple vs.  Complex
Short-Term Success vs. Long-Term Success
Inefficient vs. Efficient
Salesperson’s Needs First vs. Customer’s Needs First
Less Profitable vs. More Profitable
Talking vs. Listening
Telling vs. Asking
Sale is Goal vs. Relationship is Goal
Combative vs. Consultive
Reactive vs. Proactive
Peddler vs.  Trusted Advisor

Look at these and ask yourself, “Which one would I rather have on my team?” Then ask the team to see if they agree or not. This is a great teaching moment as a lot of plateau-ers have a blind spot and need some help to get back toward progress.

Better yet, invite in an outsider who can speak to this topic with the team for the best results.

I value your opinion and would like to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment below.

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