When It's Time To Let A Salesperson Go

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

If you own a business and recruit a sales force, sooner orlater, you'll have to ask an employee to leave. Though it'snever any fun, following certain guidelines can make firing lesspainful. Try using these tips the next time you have to sayadios:

  • Create and enforce a performance agreement. Aperformance agreement is a document introduced during the hiringprocess that clearly states your expectations. It should includerouting-how many times a week the salesperson must call onprospects in his or her territory. Using a performance agreementfrom the beginning gives the salesperson a clear road map forachieving territorial quotas. This way, there's never aquestion about what's required. A performance agreement takesthe mystery and shock out of firing someone. You can confront anonperformer with the question, "Do you believe you'reliving up to our agreement?" Usually, the nonperformer willeither quit or ask you for a second chance. If he or shedoesn't respond as indicated, ask, "What action do youthink is appropriate: termination or a second chance to build yourbusiness?" An honest salesperson will tell you the truth.
  • Be accountable to each salesperson and his or her individualperformance agreement. Some business owners believe theresponsibility for fulfilling a performance agreement rests on theshoulders of the salesperson. But you can't just ask someone tosign a performance agreement and then call that person into youroffice a year later and say, "Well, it looks like youaren't cutting it. You're fired." You have to keep aclose watch on their activities and their attitudes. Offer supportto struggling salespeople along the way. There's nothing sounfair as firing someone who has felt lost or overwhelmed from thebeginning. Peace of mind comes from knowing you lived up to yourend of the agreement. You gave that person your all, but it simplydidn't work out.
  • Stay aware and avoid denial. How do you know thedifference between an individual who has lost his or her motivationtemporarily and someone who needs to be let go? When you stay inclose contact with your employees from the beginning, it's easyto distinguish a temporary lack of motivation from a need for acareer change. Missed quotas, lies, tardiness and the inability tolearn from mistakes-when these signs show up, your choice isobvious.
  • Say goodbye with respect. Don't turn the dismissalinto a personal attack, and don't prolong the misery by tryingto explain where the individual went wrong.

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

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