How I Survived Two PIP Plans in Sales (And You Can, Too)

I have survived two PIPs (performance improvement plans) in sales. Few people probably want to admit that they were ever on one, but a lot of reps go on those once in a while during their careers. I am also still friends with both my managers who put me on them. I doubt many people can say that.

What A PIP Is and Is Not

A PIP plan is something that a lot of people in sales dread hearing about. It kind of feels like you’re about to walk the plank professionally and there aren’t many escape routes. Getting put on a plan is usually the result of repeated missteps in a job. Typically, it’s your final chance at turning things around before being let go.

Just because you get put on a performance improvement plan does not mean you’re for sure being fired, though.

Some People Disagree with That

There are a few people out there who disagree with my general stance on PIPs. Human resources veteran Liz Ryan is a strong supporter of the idea that people only get put on performance improvement plans when management wants them out.

In some circumstances, that’s probably true. More than a few companies out there likely do their best to help an employee improve without actually putting anything in writing. Then, after repeated attempts at fixing the issues, they finally decide that’s all they can take and put someone on one.

Looking at the flipside of that, there’s also probably companies that don’t help their employees improve. After a certain amount of time, they just set the plan in motion. Next steps are usually escorting the person out.

Sales PIPs Are Different

In a nutshell, if you miss your numbers for a few months, that will get you on a PIP. Some can be escaped by hitting certain goals within a given timeframe and others take longer. Sometimes, a full quarter of consistent quota attainment is necessary.

I’ve seen more leeway for mid-market or enterprise account executives. Ultimately, the timing just scales with the amount they need to sell. Some reps have gone a year and a half without closing something in places I’ve worked, but that’s the maximum time I’ve ever seen.

Most companies have a pre-determined timeline in place to judge whether you should go on a plan if you are a sales rep or marketing/business development rep. This takes the emotion out of it for managers – either their employee hits and they don’t initiate a plan or misses and they do.

Whenever I’ve been in this situation, my manager has always been on my side. It’s a lot less awkward for them, too, since they get to root for you (or light a fire under you!) to try and steer things in the right direction.

How Many People Are on Them?

Even if going on a PIP feels like a lonely road, you’re probably not really alone. In companies with large sales organizations (and I’ve been in a few) there’s almost always a handful of reps getting put into performance management.

According to the Harvard Business Review, annual sales turnover can be twice as high as the overall labor force – that’s 27%! You might think it’s embarrassing to want to talk about it.

However, I’ve been in work environments where PIPs were so common, no one would hesitate to say if they were on one. That being said, I’ve also been in the reverse situation, so exercise discretion depending on your work environment.

Variations That Aren’t Called PIPs

In sales, I’ve also noticed that there can be performance management systems that lead to PIPs and have similar terms (but different names). No one gets fired for missing numbers while on those as long as they show up and try.

Again, though, I’m basing this on personal experience so it could be different for you. Pre-PIP plans are not to be taken lightly. In my experience, missing numbers on those usually leads to the actual performance improvement plan next.

The terms usually mention something about being let go early if you stop trying and have a bad attitude about it. They also have similar requirements for getting off of it successfully.

Why My Situation Was Good (And Yours Could Be, Too)

I doubt many people look back fondly on performance improvement plans regardless of the outcome. Since I’m a human being, I’ll admit that the two I survived still sting a little to think about.

At the same time, though, they were actually good for me. A few positive things happened with the first one. If you get into a similar situation, doing these things might save your skin:

  • I audited everything I was doing – my morning routine, eating, and most importantly, how I spent my day. This was as compelling an event as ever to change things.
  • Looked back at what had worked for me so far and how I could make more of that happen. Also, I started to investigate other ways of getting through to people. The ones who didn’t have phone lines, blocked our email addresses or were unresponsive on LinkedIn.
  • I strategized with my manager for how I was going to beat the plan. He added his input by meeting with me weekly to review progress.
  • I worked a few extra hours each week and every weekend. Almost fortuitously, I was made a salaried employee a week or two before, so it was legal for me to do that. The good news is that with my other PIP, this wasn’t an option, so I also have the perspective of only being able to work 40 hours during a plan.

The PIP’s Outcome

Along with having my best month to date, I developed some pretty useful strategies because of the PIP. The plan I’m referencing was just a 30-day one and there was no probation or anything after, which was nice.

My second plan was a 90-day gauntlet since I was in a higher quota position, but that’s for a different article. The pandemic also played a pretty big role in getting into the second one. Again, though, that’s for a different article.

I Also Discovered A Fourth Outreach Method: Video

It’s really true what they say, pressure can burst a pipe or make a diamond. Instead of losing my mind trying to get through to some people who wouldn’t reply, I started getting more creative.

Discovering video for selling might have been the biggest gem I found in that situation. I probably only used it about 20-30% of the time going forward, but when I did, it got results.

At first, I was using a service called Wistia, but then I found out our Salesloft package had a Vidyard integration. Both of those services are pretty similar, but I could drop videos into my emails quickly with Salesloft and Vidyard working together.

Plus, that gave me great analytics. Both Wistia and Vidyard have free versions if you ever want to give them a try.

There’s also a lot of free video editing software out there like OpenShot that you can learn to use in about an hour. If you want to show a prospect’s website in the video, using a free screen capture software like ShareX or OBS Studio is perfect for that.

Changing My Routine Was Also Big

Some other important moves I made were related to my routine. Mainly, I started getting up at the same time every day. In addition to that, I started eating the same thing at about the same time on most days, too.

There was something about that consistency that really helped me to stay calm and focused. There is some science behind that, if you’re on the fence about trying it. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has a great article about it here.

Looking at my phone and social media also went from the highest priority to the lowest priority, although those took months to completely break away from.

Tying It All Together

Getting put on a performance improvement plan is never fun. That goes for you and your manager who probably has no choice in putting you on it. If you decide it’s worth the fight, your chances of survival will be better by trying a few of the tactics mentioned here. Good luck, we’re all counting on you.

Image credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

Bob Buckley

Bob Buckley

Bob is the Founder of thiscollegelife.com and yourweatherconnection.com

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