5 Signs It’s Time to Fire a Sales Rep

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Is it time to fire a sales rep? We’ve all made bad hires. And we’ve all made wrong assumptions about team members. So second-guessing ourselves on whether or not to cut bait on an underperforming rep is only natural – especially in today’s war for talent.

It’s only in hindsight we realize we should have done it long ago. When the team mood shoots up, other performance rises, or we hear a few nightmare stories we kick ourselves for not acting on sooner.

But on the reverse, we don’t lose that number when we lose the headcount. Is SOMEbody better than NObody?

I’ve got to go with no. Sure, calls are getting made and a few wins in the pipe, but what could a top-performing rep do with those leads or accounts? How many messes are being made below the surface with the leads, the existing customers, and especially the team. When I hear relief from the team members “left behind” is when I feel the worst about not cutting bait. After all, culture is created by the behavior we accept, not the goals we set or even the high performers.

Here are 5 signs that you’re prolonging the inevitable and need to fire a sales rep:

1. There’s more than a performance issue

When someone isn’t going to make it, there’s typically evidence in more than one place. Call volume is an issue, but they’ve also been late a few times. Close percent isn’t great, and neither is their attitude. Check for behavioral and cultural issues in addition to sales performance. They may not be a clear-cut write-up, but they’re your evidence to double down performance managing the quantifiable issues.

2. There’s a lack of ownership

A friend of mine recently cut bait and replaced someone on their team. When I asked how onboarding the new hire was going I heard, “Well, they’re an adult, so that helps.” This was a (possibly less than eloquent albeit true) summary of what many of us have felt before. If you could be replaced by a $15 /hour babysitter, it’s a sign. If it takes more than one conversation to get something fixed all the way to completion, you’re dealing with a lack of ownership. Could be on a deal, could be about getting to work on time. Maybe it will hit you when you hear your third, fourth, or fifth excuse. The key is to recognize it early, call it out, and get them on your list.

3. One stat rises and another falls

Talk time is up, but dials are down. Quotes are up, but penetration is down. They just can’t seem to get it all going in the right direction at the same time. It’s a great clue they’re either over-employed or don’t care the right amount to give this their full effort. Try to aggregate your performance management here so they can’t sneak by with a “different” offense. Your write-up (or whatever you use) should indicate ALL measures within goal, not one specifically. Don’t waste months chasing different tails!

4. Cover-ups

The very first time you find something in the gray area, something hidden, a half-truth or half-baked answer, you have your sign. Why? Because if you see one (or a half) now, I guarantee you’re going to find 5-10x more when they leave. Look for a customer complaint, a team member’s eye roll, a deal called back by finance, an unexplainable call time or a customer CRM note. If it raises a yellow flag, do yourself the favor of turning that flag red and saving time. 

5. Hiding

Having trouble getting a meeting nailed down? See 1:1 meetings being rescheduled or long delays in getting back to you? You’ve got a hider! Hiders know something is wrong and they’re avoiding the conflict for as long as possible. Folks who are working hard and giving you their best are responsive. Employees carrying some guilt and shame don’t speak up, don’t make eye contact, and avoid 1:1 time with you. If your time together has been pushed more than once, there’s your sign (anyone else hearing Jeff Foxworthy every time I say that??). Please note that hiding may also mean going quiet. When Gallup studies engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged employees, the ones that cost you the most (actively disengaged) are actually NOT the voice of discontent or detractors in meetings. They’re the quiet ones who have decided speaking up isn’t worth their effort. Look for voices you haven’t heard in a while and check in privately here.

So you’ve come this far and you have 1 solid or perhaps 2-3 “maybe” signs that it’s time to fire a sales rep. What do you do? Address them immediately. When it lingers, it festers and the rest of your team suffers. If you have a performance management system, use it strictly. Talk with HR about making the timeline as short as possible. The key is very clear actions and deadlines to whatever expectations you have.

In addition, see what you can do to coach them up or out sooner. Plenty of employees welcome the opportunity to admit they don’t love the job, but they don’t want to let you down. Together you can decide what might be a better fit and how you can help them get there. Just last month an employee I helped coach out (and helped land the next gig) came into town and stayed with my family. We continue to like and respect each other because we addressed the growing lack of fit, clear expectations on what we needed going forward, and mutually decided on a timeframe to part ways. That’s a win-win.

It probably doesn’t feel that easy right now, but I’m willing to bet it’s because you’re second-guessing yourself on taking action. Re-read my signs above, and if your yellow flag goes even halfway up on more than one, schedule a conversation. Ask how they’re liking their job, how they think they’re performing, and if they see themselves here long term. Share your feedback with specific examples and clear go-forward expectations. It doesn’t have to be contentious, instead, expect it to be a great air-clearing meeting of the minds where you both feel better afterward.

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