You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and you’ve got to know when to fold ‘em. Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.
Firing salespeople is one of toughest sales management challenges. In many cases we’ll go to extraordinary lengths to avoid letting a salesperson go. We’ll put up with incredible amounts of crap, even downright insubordination, before we even think of pulling the plug. Over the years I’ve heard excuses like:
- We’re good friends … I can’t fire her
- He’s got lots of industry experience
- She knows all the customers really well
- I won’t be able to replace him
- She’s been with the company forever
- It’s our busy time of the year. Maybe after the holidays … after Easter … after Labor Day … after the first of the year.
- I can’t deal with it right now
- Hiring someone new is a pain
- She’ll sue me
- I’ll give him another chance
- He’ll change
I don’t believe in “churning and burning” salespeople, or any other employee for that matter. However, in reality there comes a time when you have to cut your losses. When a salesperson is no longer cutting it, and you’ve done everything in your power to help him succeed, you have to terminate him. Your primary responsibility is what’s best for the company. You can’t let any individual interfere with that responsibility, so you have to do what’s right for the entire company, not any individual salesperson.
The number of people who tell me about the positive feedback they get from other employees when they terminate a problem employee is amazing. Those other employees, the ones who have been doing their jobs diligently day after day, didn’t understand why it took so long. They were negatively impacted by what they saw as a double standard: “Look at what she gets away with. If I did that I’d get fired on the spot.”
Replacing salespeople is time consuming and expensive. It can also be emotionally draining. Make sure you do all the following before you fire someone:
- Do the math on what it costs every month to retain a problem salesperson. Factor in salary and benefits, commission, cost of the manager’s time spent with that salesperson, lost sales, cost of demotivating factors on other employees, etc. Don’t forget your stress level. That will put things in perspective.
- Ask yourself if this person’s goals are in line with where your company is going. Does this salesperson want to continue selling your 1990 style widget and ignore the products that the company is betting its future on?
- Make sure you have done everything you can to help your salesperson succeed. Have you clearly communicated your expectations to them? Have you provided them with the training, coaching and supervision that they needed? Have you worked with them in the field? Have you debriefed their sales calls? Have you provided them with constant and real appraisals of their performance? Do they know exactly where they stand and what is expected of them? Do you constantly track their activities and behavior?
- Has the salesperson done what you asked of them and in the time frame that you specified or have you gotten more excuses?
- Have you eliminated any confusion about what will happen if they fail to take the agreed on actions? Is your salesperson crystal clear about the consequences?
Once you have taken all the necessary steps you have to take action. No more screwing around. If the person has shown significant improvement put him on probation. Any regression and he’s history. If you’re not satisfied with his improvement, fire him and move on.
In my many years of sales management I have fired many salespeople. I remember every one of them. Regardless of the reason, none of them were easy. The reality is that firing is part of the sales manager’s job. Having a process makes it a little easier.
Oliver Connolly coaches and mentors a limited number of sales managers and VPs of Sales every year. For more information please go to www.clevelstrategic.com