Published Sunday May 23rd, 2009 – Union Leader NH Sunday News
There comes a time when everyone in a sales management or leadership position must make the decision to terminate a sales person for not meeting the performance expectations of the company.
I have always found this particular topic intriguing, as the decision making process that is used varies greatly in the world of sales management.
For some companies, there is a very short window in which sales people must prove themselves worthy of continuing their selling career with the company. For others, they have a more structured process where terminating an employee is the absolute last resort.
For most companies, the truth is somewhere in the middle. They recognize the reality that tough decisions must be made and they have an established process to help guide them through the decision making process.
There are countless reasons why companies choose to terminate sales people and some of the reasons are no brainers. Most companies have a zero tolerance policy for those who choose to lie, cheat and steal and rightfully so. There is no place for unethical behavior in a professional business environment and I support cutting ties with sales people who fit this description.
But how about terminating someone based on their performance or should I say lack of performance? This is where it gets tricky and the gray areas pop up.
If someone isn’t meeting the sales performance expectations of the company, is that grounds for termination? It’s unfortunate to say, but in many companies the answer is yes. If you aren’t meeting your sales goals, your sales career at that company will likely be cut short.
The problem with this concept is the assumptions and other factors that often go into making the decision to terminate someone based solely on performance. The reality is, lack of professional development, coaching and mentoring has a major impact on the likelihood a sales person will succeed long term in their role and is often the root cause of sales people failing.
Take for example the company who hires new sales people, trains them for a day and then throws them out into a pool of sharks to either sink or swim on their own. They get very little direction other than the constant barrages of communication about what they need to do and the numbers they have to hit. Sound familiar? It’s sad to say, but this is a reality for many sales teams.
These challenges span across all tenures and it’s not just the new sales people. It includes the veterans and seasoned sales people who may also run into struggles and challenges related to their performance.
Making the decision to terminate an employee based on their performance is a decision that should be taken very seriously. Throughout the course of my sales management and leadership career, I have stuck to a few sound principles that I have found to work extremely well in assisting me in the termination decision making process.
The Core Belief
I start with a core belief that I strongly believe is critical for every sales manager, leader and executive to adopt. You never terminate an employee based on performance until you have done everything in your power to help that individual succeed. Ask yourself “Have I done everything I possibly can to help this person?” before you make the decision to terminate. If you can’t answer “yes”, it’s time to take a look in the mirror.
Who Is Working Harder?
Another good rule of thumb to follow is to make an assessment as to who is putting in more effort. If the manager is working harder and putting in more effort to help the sales person succeed than the sales person is themselves, you have a serious problem and swift action is required.
Performance Improvement Plans
If you come to the point where you are ready to terminate someone based on their performance, it shouldn’t be a surprise to them. There should be a well documented history of coaching conversations, action plans and most importantly plans that detail the support and resources the person was given to help them turn their performance around.
I have written about this in past columns, but it’s worthy of a mention here. If someone isn’t willing to accept feedback and guidance and make the necessary adjustments to their selling efforts, you are likely fighting an up hill battle. On the flip side, if someone is hungry, driven to succeed and open to feedback, under the right leader, they can be groomed and coached and have a better chance of succeeding in sales.
It goes without saying that there will always be situations where terminating someone based on their performance makes complete and total sense. Sales is not for everyone and some people learn that the hard way. I have found that the vast majority of terminations could easily have been avoided had the sales person been given the appropriate amount of coaching, support and resources. How many top performing sales people do you know that have struggled at some point in their career? The last time I looked, it was every one of them.
Thompson founded Catch 22 Solutions in Manchester (www.catch22solutions.com) and hosts the Business Advantage Show on Tuesday mornings on WKXL 1450AM (wkxl1450.com)