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When It's Time To Let A Salesperson Go

Tips to ease the often difficult situation of firing an employee with sagging sales

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If you own a business and recruit a sales force, sooner or later, you'll have to ask an employee to leave. Though it's never any fun, following certain guidelines can make firing less painful. Try using these tips the next time you have to say adios:

  • Create and enforce a performance agreement. A performance agreement is a document introduced during the hiring process that clearly states your expectations. It should include routing-how many times a week the salesperson must call on prospects in his or her territory. Using a performance agreement from the beginning gives the salesperson a clear road map for achieving territorial quotas. This way, there's never a question about what's required. A performance agreement takes the mystery and shock out of firing someone. You can confront a nonperformer with the question, "Do you believe you're living up to our agreement?" Usually, the nonperformer will either quit or ask you for a second chance. If he or she doesn't respond as indicated, ask, "What action do you think is appropriate: termination or a second chance to build your business?" An honest salesperson will tell you the truth.
  • Be accountable to each salesperson and his or her individual performance agreement. Some business owners believe the responsibility for fulfilling a performance agreement rests on the shoulders of the salesperson. But you can't just ask someone to sign a performance agreement and then call that person into your office a year later and say, "Well, it looks like you aren't cutting it. You're fired." You have to keep a close watch on their activities and their attitudes. Offer support to struggling salespeople along the way. There's nothing so unfair as firing someone who has felt lost or overwhelmed from the beginning. Peace of mind comes from knowing you lived up to your end of the agreement. You gave that person your all, but it simply didn't work out.
  • Stay aware and avoid denial. How do you know the difference between an individual who has lost his or her motivation temporarily and someone who needs to be let go? When you stay in close contact with your employees from the beginning, it's easy to distinguish a temporary lack of motivation from a need for a career change. Missed quotas, lies, tardiness and the inability to learn from mistakes-when these signs show up, your choice is obvious.
  • Say goodbye with respect. Don't turn the dismissal into a personal attack, and don't prolong the misery by trying to explain where the individual went wrong.

Choose your words carefully. You might offer some encouragement with a statement like: "Take time to do an inventory of your strengths and interests, and seek employment that aligns with what you discover about yourself." You can even use a personal story if it's appropriate.