When It’s Time to Let an Underperforming Sales Rep Go

With a New Year underway, companies are facing new sales quotas, a changing industry landscape, and much more. We’ve talked before in the Advisor about how to mentor and coach underperformers in sales. Often, increasing results is a matter of developing clearer goals, creating a roadmap to improvement, and keeping coaching specific and actionable. However, there comes a time when every sales manager or director faces a tough challenge—is now the time to let underperforming sales reps go?

In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that 78% of high-performing sales organizations fire reps who don’t deliver results within 1 year. Here are some things to consider when determining if it’s time to fire a sales rep who is not delivering.

You’ve explored issues around focus and stress. Sales is largely a mentally driven field. It’s tough to deal with rejection day after day and still come in ready to deliver excellent results. Performance problems may indicate challenges with mental focus, emotional focus, and levels of stress. If you’ve assessed these and taken steps to reduce stress, such as providing coaching or reducing quotas, and your sales rep still fails to deliver, it may be time to replace him or her.

Specific guidance for change hasn’t been implemented. Often, when you’re coaching sales reps to improve performance, your feedback becomes very granular. For example, a sales rep who becomes distracted early in the day may leave the critical sales calls for the end of the day. As a manager, you’ve likely worked with your sales rep on how to structure his or her day for maximum results. If he or she is failing to implement your direct guidance and plans, it’s very possible that it’s time to let him or her go.

There are client management issues. A sales rep can have strong skills he or she brings to the table. Quotas are met, and lucrative new prospects are identified. However, if a sales rep doesn’t understand the fundamentals of client management or behaves poorly in client interaction, it’s time to let him or her go. I recently heard the story of a sales rep who reeled in a major meeting and then derailed the conversation by getting angry at a senior decision maker who was asking tough but level questions about the product. Inappropriate or unsettling behavior in the client management cycle or in sales interactions should always be addressed swiftly.

They’re not the right fit for the role. During the hiring process, managers do their best to find talent that thrives. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s a misalignment. For example, a successful sales rep who dealt largely with small-business clients might not make the transition to enterprise. Or, a sales rep’s pace may be the wrong fit for a high-volume role, but he or she might thrive in a slower, account-based management context. When a person’s strengths, skills, or interest don’t align with the position, and there’s not a clear trajectory to offer him or her a better-fitting role in the organization, it may be time to let him or her go.

You’ve exhausted all your management tools. Often, sales managers have an array of tools at their disposal. They analyze the environment for connected factors that impact success. They create and implement performance management plans. They meet sales reps on a weekly or daily basis and offer targeted coaching. They tap into HR resources, training budgets, and their personal repertoire to think of ways to help a promising rep succeed. Yet, at the end of the day, sometimes a sales rep just can’t deliver. If you’ve exhausted your management tools or find yourself exhausted by the process of managing a team member who isn’t getting results, it may be time to terminate the relationship.

Always have a discussion with your internal HR rep, manager, or labor attorney to make sure you handle letting someone go the right way. Ensure that your documentation and reasoning is clear, that you have the power to let the person go, and that you’re handling the termination in a legally appropriate and interpersonally respectful way. Knowing when to let someone go and how to handle the process is one of the tough but necessary parts of being a sales manager.