How To Improve An Underperforming Sales Team | Air Marketing x Cognism

This article by Cognism features Air Marketing’s Founder & CEO, Owen Richards.

It will tell you:

  • How to identify a sales team that isn’t performing well.
  • How to discover the root cause of the problem affecting an underperforming team.
  • How to solve issues related to activity, data, messaging and climate.
  • How to manage underperforming team members and communicate effectively with your staff.

Scroll down to read the Q&A.

What warning signs tell you when a sales team is underperforming?

Owen’s answer here was – it depends on the team.

“If you’re managing an SDR team, look at meetings booked. If you’re managing AEs, then look at pipeline and revenue contribution. For outbound sales, the key drivers are: is revenue coming in and is it staying stable?”

Owen identified a problem with revenue as a metric.

“The problem with revenue is it’s a lagging metric – it’s showing you what happened 2 or 3 months ago. By the time you spot a problem, it’s too late. The sales cycle for most SaaS businesses is between 3-9 months. If you look at revenue today and you see that it’s down, then that’s from 3 months or more ago.”

For Owen, productivity metrics are the ones to focus on.

“Look at things like activity metrics. The number of calls and the number of conversations – remember these aren’t always the same. Look at connect rates – are people calling the right numbers? Post-pandemic, you get better results from calling mobile numbers than switchboards or landlines.”

“Then look at conversion rate – the number of people that your reps speak to and actually book a meeting. Meeting quality is also important – how many of those meetings become opportunities and enter the pipeline?”

Owen stressed the importance of going beyond metrics and considering the mood of the team.

“Look at climate – how does it feel to be in the room? Are people happy or stressed? It’s a tough one to measure but it’s critical.”

“You can get a feel for climate from things like conversation quality, if you have conversation analytics. You can get it from 121s, from your line managers reporting back. It’s a lot less tangible but very valuable, in my experience.”

“In larger teams, employee retention data is a good way of spotting trends. If staff turnover is high, then there’s likely a climate issue.”

Owen gave us his checklist for spotting an underperforming sales team:

  • If it’s a reduction in calls – it’s a climate or activity-related problem. Or something’s getting in the way of performance – your reps are being distracted.
  • If it’s a reduced contact rate/calls aren’t connecting – it’s a data problem – your SDRs aren’t calling the right numbers.
  • If it’s a reduced conversation-meeting rate – either your messaging is off or your team needs more training (they aren’t saying the right things on their calls).
  • If it’s a reduced meeting-opps rate – there’s an issue with AE performance.

“Those are the metrics I’m looking at consistently – and usually one of them can tell me where the problem lies.”

Do you need tech to spot an underperforming sales team?

Owen was very clear on this point.

“Can you do it manually? Yes.”

“Can you do it as effectively? No.”

He explained his thinking…

“Manual is very retrospective – it’s all about looking backwards.”

“But with tech, you can spot the problem almost straight away. It also tends to be more accurate. I’ll say that’s not always the case – tech is only as good as the data going into it and humans are capable of messing up data input.”

“But in general, it’s a no-brainer. If you want to be best in class, you need a sensible tech stack. It doesn’t have to be too complicated – the essentials are a good CRM, a good phone system and good B2B data. Conversation analytics and pipeline tracking are also very useful.”

Owen walked us through how reporting worked at Air Marketing.

“I receive daily reports from my SDR Managers. These include activity metrics and conversation metrics. When you report on a daily basis, it means you can jump on problems a lot quicker. It’s been very successful for us.”

Once you’ve identified problems in your sales team, what steps should you take?

Owen’s first step is to diagnose the problem. The second step is to find out why it’s happening.

“To do this, you work backwards through the funnel to find out why. You have to get to the root cause of the issue.”

“If it’s an activity problem, then you have to ask: are we not talking to enough people? Or are we talking to enough people but we’re not getting enough of them to say yes?”

“Then you work backwards. If we’re talking to enough people, but a lot of them aren’t saying yes – then I know it’s a conversation quality issue. If we’re not talking to enough people in the first place, then chances are it’s either the data is wrong or the team’s work ethic is lagging.”

“Or it could be that the team is getting distracted. Are people having too many internal meetings, for example – leaving them with not enough time to call? Then you need to get even more granular – does the problem affect the whole team or just certain individuals?”

The third step in Owen’s process is to solve the issue.

“Think about what you can put in place that will solve the problem. Is it better data or more training around messaging? It isn’t always telling people to work harder – there’s no point getting SDRs to make more calls if they don’t have the right messaging or the right numbers.”

“So here I’d schedule some refresher training sessions around messaging, cold calling and conversations.”

“Or I could be looking at removing things that are standing in their way – helping them to reduce their admin, for example.”

What’s best practice for solving activity issues?

In Owen’s experience, activity reduction is usually driven by just one thing – climate.

“A number of factors affect climate in your sales team, namely: are your SDRs feeling ok at work? Has their manager left? Maybe some people have come into the team and disrupted it. Maybe there’s been a lot of sickness in the team recently. It could be down to lots of things like that.”

“As a B2B sales leader – you need to understand what’s causing it.”

Owen told us about his solutions for improving climate.

“If your SDRs aren’t feeling as motivated as they should be, schedule some 121s with them and understand what’s causing it.”

In situations like this, Owen is a strong advocate of data-led management.

“You have to provide some proof backing up what you say. Let’s say their activity has dropped by 20% compared to last month – present them with a graph showing this and ask them what’s causing it.”

“Usually, you’ll get a straight answer. If they’ve been distracted, then it’s usually something like they’ve been asked by marketing to contribute to a project or they spent 2 days at an expo. Sometimes they might not even realise there’s a problem.

“Then you ask them a simple question: what can they do to improve this month? Get the SDR to suggest their own solutions. People are more likely to adopt change if it’s their own idea, rather than you telling them what to do.”

The next step is to maintain consistency and accountability.

“Once the SDR has provided the solution, agree to hold them to it. Schedule weekly catch-ups for the next 4 weeks and find out how they’re getting on.”

Owen’s preference for data-led management doesn’t stop at the first 121.

“Transparency is very important. Give the SDR access to their activity data; let them see it and track it themselves. If their activity improves over the next month, then that’s a job well done.”

What about improving climate for a team, not an individual?

“You follow the same principle. Take 2 or 3 people in the team and present them with the data. Ask them, why has 80% of the team seen a 20% reduction in calls?”

“Then involve them in the discussion. Let them recommend solutions. People are always more accountable if they’re working with their own solutions.”

Owen had some great advice for SaaS sales leaders:

“As a leader, you’re not there to tell your team what to do. You’re there to facilitate them and help them to be the best they can be.”

What’s best practice for solving data issues?

Owen had lots to say about how sales teams should best use data.

“If we’re dialling lots of people but meetings aren’t being booked, then I know that’s a data issue.”

“The thing is, data can be good for a period of time. But it doesn’t always last. If things start to go wrong, look at your tech stack.”

“Have you pulled data from a different data provider than usual? Also, consider your targeting – have you gone into a new market or segment where the data isn’t as good?”

“Another problem you often encounter is that sometimes your messaging doesn’t match the data. And if that happens, if the messaging and data don’t match, then your reps will be calling prospects and saying the wrong things.”

“My advice is to structure and segment your data and ensure the messaging is right for each segment.”

Owen keeps a couple of questions in mind when thinking about this:

  • Are we calling phone numbers that don’t connect? That’s a sign your data isn’t good to start with.
  • Are we calling phone numbers but not booking meetings? That’s a sign you’ve got viable phone numbers but they’re in the wrong orgs.

What’s best practice for solving messaging issues?

Owen said:

“Almost always this is down to reps.”


“They change what they do without realising it. They listen to podcasts, they listen to each other and they learn new things. They try things out and copy what they hear. Then you get a drift in messaging – they say something new without realising it.”

“Drift happens incrementally, it’s not a radical change. A cold call an SDR made 3 months ago will sound completely different to one they make today. The changes happen subtly over long periods of time.”

Owen shared his process for dealing with message drift.

“This is where call recording software comes in. As I said earlier, you need tech to do this. It gives you the ability to listen back to calls. It’s vital for an outbound sales team.”

What would Owen do if he noticed a rep was having this problem?

“I’d sit down with them and play them their successful calls from 3 months ago and the calls they’re making now. Then I’d ask them: what’s different? What’s changed in your conversation? Are any of those changes conscious and if so, why?”

“Again you need to present them with the evidence that things have changed. The key is listening to call recordings and comparing them.”

The things that Owen looks out for in recorded calls are:

  • Has the SDR changed the messaging?
  • Is the SDR not handling objections in the same way?
  • Are the conversations too short? Is the SDR rushing it?
  • Is it their tone of voice? Are they coming across as too pushy or too laid-back?

“The way of solving all of these issues is through more training.”

What’s best practice for solving climate issues?

We’ve all heard about company culture – but what’s company climate?

Owen said:

“Culture is the things you do – socials, perks, training, incentives. A good culture is one that constantly invests in its people and makes the workplace the best it can be.”

“Climate is how it feels to work here. How does it feel to work in that team or walk into that room? Are people engaged and happy? Are they feeling positive? Do they like coming in every day?”

Owen highlighted why it’s important to be aware of the difference.

“You can have a good company culture but a bad company climate. For me, climate creates the biggest impact on how people work.”

“Climate isn’t always consistent; it can change from day to day. But generally, you want your team to be feeling positive most of the time.”

What sort of things affect climate in a sales team?

“All sorts! Someone in senior leadership leaves, for instance. Or if a couple of redundancies are made and then everyone else gets worried.”

In Owen’s opinion, why is it important to measure climate?

“It drives all the other things I’ve talked about. If people are feeling unhappy, they won’t work hard. They won’t put the effort in or be as motivated, so then your activity levels will fall.”

“Climate can cause drift in conversations because if your SDRs are thinking about what’s happening in the business, then they won’t be as focused on their calls.”

“This is a really important part of running a sales team. Reps need constant motivation – it’s a challenging and repetitive job. They’re affected by external factors all day, every day. Often they’re in the early stages of their career; they’re not as experienced or commercially mature as managers.”

What are Owen’s tips for maintaining a healthy climate?

“It all comes down to management. Good sales team managers don’t just manage, they do. They get on the phones, they speak to customers and prospects. They lead from the front. They run team meetings and let their team speak.”

So you need to make sure your SDR team leaders/managers are:

  • Demonstrating positive reinforcement.
  • Celebrating individuals and their contributions.
  • Holding honest 121s.
  • Holding good team meetings where everyone has the chance to speak.

When dealing with an underperforming sales team, how important is communication?

Owen answered this question by saying:

“Leadership is all about communication. It’s also one of the things that people find hardest about leadership.”

“As humans, we’re often uncomfortable about having difficult conversations. In a leadership role, you can’t be nice all of the time. You need to have honest, straightforward conversations with people.”

Owen told us about the first thing he teaches new team leaders at Air Marketing.

“Data-led management is one of the most powerful tools in sales leadership. If you’re showing someone that their performance has dropped, and it’s all there in the data, they can’t argue with that. It’s not your gut feeling or guesswork; you’re not singling them out or having a go at them. It’s fact.”

“Presenting them with a problem is just one part of it. You then have to involve them in the solution – what would they do to solve it? Give them the opportunity to come up with a fix.”

And the most important part of communicating with your team? Owen concluded with:

“It isn’t speaking – it’s listening! That’s the key to it.”

“Ask the rep a question, then sit back and let them answer. A really good question to ask is: what would you do if you were managing someone in this position?”

“That gets them thinking like a manager – they get thinking about the solution, rather than the problem.”

“In sales, you can have hundreds of problems every day – but it’s how you deal with them that counts.”

LIVE Event: The Great Sales Debate – Office Vs. Home Working

Sometimes the recipe for a good discussion is to simply pick an important topic, invite a few experienced people who disagree with each other, and then sit back and listen… so that’s exactly what we’re doing!

Join us for our latest live event series of 2022: The Great Sales Debate.

Watch as we bring together some of the top sales and revenue leaders from around the world, to argue their cases in controversial sales and marketing disputes.

The second topic of the series is: Office Vs. Home Working – which is best for SDRs?

Everybody has an opinion, most have chosen a side. Our panellists have tried and tested in their field, they have their favourite and they’re ready to battle it out…


Kaitlen Kelly – Sales Manager at Klaviyo
Tim Johnson – VP of Sales at Visualsoft
Georgia Benham – Head of Client Strategy at Air Marketing

Sitting in the middle is your host, Owen Richards, Founder & CEO of Air Marketing, who aims to challenge the viewpoints of our panellists and encourage a healthy debate, with tangible takeaways for everybody tuning in.

Who is it for?

– Founders
– Sales Leaders
– Revenue Leaders
– Sales Managers
– Sales Development Representatives

ON AIR: With Owen Episode 61 Featuring Conrad Ford – Chief Product & Strategy Officer at Allica Bank

Introducing our 61st episode of ON AIR: With Owen – our latest interview video series with honest conversation about scaling revenue, hosted by our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards.

Our 61st guest is Conrad Ford, Chief Product & Strategy Officer at Allica Bank.

Owen and Conrad discuss selling into SMEs – the differences; the challenges; what works and what doesn’t.

– Why is it important to sell in a different way to SMEs?
– How SMEs are misunderstood and underrepresented in society
– The dos and don’ts of selling to SMEs
– Commons mistakes Conrad has made or seen made by others
– Spotting signals in data to talk to the right businesses, at the right time
– The defining factors of successful salespeople in SMEs compared to enterprise
– The need for ‘gravitas’ in enterprise sales
– Where does process come in when selling to SMEs?
– The evolution of CRM platforms
– What marketing teams can do to assist sales teams in selling to SMEs
– The resilience needed to work in the small business segment

ON AIR: With Owen Episode 60 Featuring Mark Ackers – Sales Director at Allego

Introducing our 60th episode of ON AIR: With Owen – our latest interview video series with honest conversation about scaling revenue, hosted by our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards.

Our 60th guest is Mark Ackers, Sales Director at Allego.

Owen and Mark discuss why SDRs often fail to become effective AEs.

– Mark’s journey from SDR to AE and how failure contributed to his success
– The difference between a high performing SDR and an AE
– The top reasons SDRs fail to become good AEs
– The danger of promoting an SDR too early
– The things Managers can do to help their current SDRs become good AEs in the future
– The things SDRs can do themselves to make the transition as smooth as possible

Office or Home Working – Which Is Better For SDRs?

The pandemic has changed not only how we work, but where we work.

Before 2020, just over 1.5 million people worked from home. Now, this number has skyrocketed to 23.9 million.

Now lockdown is over, many businesses have requested their SDRs return to the office. However, others have continued to let their sales teams work from home.

While Airbnb has enacted a ‘work from anywhere’ policy for staff, Elon Musk recently made the headlines for forcing Tesla employees back into the office.

Which is the right solution? Let’s look at how office and home working can benefit your business and most importantly, help your SDRs develop to their full potential.

The advantages of working in the office

SDRs learn more

One of the benefits of office working is that SDRs learn through their interactions with others. For example, a new SDR might learn new sales techniques by listening to their more experienced colleagues making phone calls.

Learning through observation is harder in a remote environment as sales reps are more self-contained.

SDRs are more accountable

Creating a culture of accountability and responsibility in your sales department is essential, especially if you work with younger, more impressionable SDRs.

84% of employees say the way leaders behave is the most critical factor when it comes to accountability. In an office environment, managers and team leaders can be more present with sales reps and set a good example.

SDRs (typically) react better to being around people

Extraverted people typically gravitate towards a career in sales.

Extraverts are people who get their energy and motivation from being around others, which makes an office environment an ideal place for them to be.

If your sales reps thrive on getting out there and seeing people, the social interactions the office provides will keep happiness and levels of wellbeing high.

SDRs can make connections

When working in an office, SDRs don’t just connect with the people in their department; they connect with everyone in the building.

Whether they’re waiting to go into a meeting or making a cup of tea in the break room, there’s no telling who they might bump into!

Getting to know people at work helps SDRs feel part of the company culture and provides them with valuable networking contacts that will help them in their future careers.

The advantages of working from home

SDRs have more flexibility

One of the reasons why people fell in love with working from home during lockdown was it offered a better work-life balance. Workers had more time to spend with their families and partners and even started new hobbies – we all know someone who started making sourdough bread in 2020!

Giving SDRs the option to work from home means they can be happier and more productive in their sales role.

SDRs can work without interruption

As we mentioned above, some salespeople thrive in an office environment. However, others do their best work where it’s quieter, and there are fewer distractions.

If you manage a team of SDRs who are more likely to hit their targets when there’s nothing to disturb them, a work from home solution might be ideal.

Our thoughts at Air Marketing

We believe working from home full-time isn’t the answer, especially for those just starting out in their sales career.

We also believe working in the office full-time isn’t the answer either.

The solution? Hybrid or flexible working. One in four people in the UK now split their time between home and the office, meaning they get the best of both worlds.

For the final say on the matter, we spoke to our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards:

“When I was younger and working as an SDR, some of my best memories were time spent in the office. I learned from my managers and made friends that I’m still in touch with today. It’s vital that young people starting out in sales have that connection to the office as that’s how they’ll grow into the sales leaders of the future.

“At Air Marketing, we ask our team to be in the office at least two days a week. After that, they can work from home if they want to.

“I’m usually in the office four or five days a week. However, it’s great to have the flexibility to work from home if I need to write a report or want to spend time with my family.”

Don’t forget, if you need a little sales support, whether in the office or working from home, we can help.

Our expertly-trained SDRs will provide you with high-quality leads that are ready to buy your products or services.

Contact us today to find out more.

ON AIR: With Owen Episode 59 Featuring Will Holden – Co-Founder at Vidu

Introducing our 59th episode of ON AIR: With Owen – our latest interview video series with honest conversation about scaling revenue, hosted by our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards.

Our 59th guest is Will Holden, Co-Founder at Vidu.

Owen and Will discuss how to use Gifs, memes, and all forms of creative media effectively in your sales process and outreach.

– The definitions of memes and Gifs
– How creative media works and when you should be using it
– Examples of creative media that has worked and not worked well
– The personas that work well with creative media
– How to keep creative media fresh and engaging
– How to integrate creative media with other channels
– Who should be using Vidu

SaaSGrowth Live 6th July 2022

Wow, what an event! If you didn’t manage to tune in for SaaSGrowth 2022, powered by Sales Confidence, on Wednesday 6th July, you can watch it here. 1,700+ people signed up for the event co-hosted by our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards, and James Ski, Founder of Sales Confidence.

We listened to some incredible talks from fantastic speakers including a talk from Owen himself around SDR ramp time being much longer than you think. You can watch it below.

ON AIR: With Owen Episode 58 Featuring Tim Hughes – CEO and Co Founder at DLA Ignite

Introducing our 58th episode of ON AIR: With Owen – our latest interview video series with honest conversation about scaling revenue, hosted by our Founder & CEO, Owen Richards.

Our 58th guest is Tim Hughes, CEO and Co Founder at DLA Ignite. Owen and Tim discuss social selling and digital transformation in sales.

– Tim’s take on digital transformation in sales
– What is “life content” and why you should be posting it on LinkedIn
– The biggest social selling trends in 2022
– Why being yourself is the most important thing when it comes to social selling successfully
– What’s more important when social selling – quality vs quantity

LIVE Event: The Great Sales Debate – Quality Vs. Quantity

Sometimes the recipe for a good discussion is to simply pick an important topic, invite a few experienced people who disagree with each other, and then sit back and listen… ….so that’s exactly what we’re doing!

We are excited to announce our latest live event series of 2022: The Great Sales Debate. Watch as we bring together some of the top sales and revenue leaders from around the world, to argue their cases in controversial sales and marketing disputes.

The first topic of the series is: QUALITY Vs. QUANTITY of activity in outbound sales Everybody has an opinion, most have chosen a side – and our first panellists of the series are no exception!

They have tried and tested in their field, they have their favourite and they’re ready to battle it out.


Benjamin Dennehy – “The UK’s Most Hated Sales Trainer®

Dale Dupree – Founder & CSO at The Sales Rebellion

Mark Ackers – Sales Director at Allego

Sitting in the middle is your host, Owen Richards, Founder & CEO of Air Marketing, who aims to challenge the viewpoints of our panellists and encourage a healthy debate, with tangible takeaways for everybody tuning in.

There will also be the opportunity to give your own opinions and ask questions throughout the event. Simply register for free, send us your question in advance or ask us live.

Who is it for?


Sales Leaders

Revenue Leaders

Sales Managers

Sales Development Representatives