Let’s be honest. At least a third of your sales people probably need to go… now.

Why are you holding on to them? Are you scared of their relationships with key clients? Do you feel guilty that you haven’t given them all of the tools, training and attention that they needed to be successful? Is the process of hiring new salespeople so painful you would rather hold on to these people than go look for new ones? All of the above and more?

Never show fear to animals, children or sales people- they can sense weakness and they will take advantage of it.

Let’s get rid of the fears first:

You have more power than you think – Remember “Jerry Maguire?” Jerry gets terminated and tries to take all of his clients with him- and almost none go. Why? Sales people and you have a distorted picture of the power in the relationship they have with customers. Just like Jerry’s boss, you pound the phones, you preserve the accounts, take over the relationships and move on. If you don’t know the key relationships with your company’s key accounts, fix that. Regardless of how good the sales rep is, you’re the CEO and you need to know your company’s key account contacts personally.

Forget about fault – You can not own the issues of success and failure with your sales person. Your fault, their fault, no one’s fault- bottom-line is that they are not hitting their production goals- and I don’t care what your wannabe-a-social-worker human resources person says, we don’t “owe it to them” to give them one more chance. If you weren’t good at developing them in the past, you won’t be any better in the future. If our company let them down, we’ll do it again- this just isn’t the place for them to be successful. Let them go bloom in someone else’s garden.

Affection follows performance – Love your producers, loathe the rest. After an appropriate and defined on boarding period in which you invest heavily in a new sales person, your time and attention should follow the winners. We are not the mission, we aren’t trying to save everyone. Create a great place with great products and services. Bring on good people, launch them well and then let them run. If they don’t hit their marks according to schedule, part ways.

When is the right time, when do you know that the appropriate step is separation?

  1. Milestones and Minefields – From now on, when you hire a new sales person, I want you to draw up an expectations agreement. It’s rather straightforward- Specify what you want by what dates. Break it out into 3 month, 6 month and 12 month milestones. Usually, I like revenue numbers from current clients that they will be managing, new revenue that they are responsible for generating, and some target clients we want to land. Mutually agree upon it and review it at those dates. I don’t know of any CEOs in the thousands I have spoken with who lays out a performance expectation agreement with numbers for the first year, which is crazy because it is the most important year in knowing what that person’s future performance will look like.
  2. 2 Quarters in Both Directions – After a sales person has been with you a year, review the last 2 quarters and the next 2 quarters on a quarterly basis. It’s a rolling review and keeps the sights on recent performance and near-term performance. Don’t evaluate performance as an “end of the year” event. Don’t evaluate each year with a “clean slate.” Run this rolling evaluation quarterly and you will know what the real performance of your sales person is.
  3. Don’t Be Sold – There is a reason that I advocate an objective sales process- it’s measurable. Sometimes the highest close ratio that sales people have is internally, with you. Convincing you that deals which are dead are just about to land, that their pipeline is robust and that the big one is coming in. Whose word are you taking….oh, that’s right…someone paid to be persuasive and convincing. Let the numbers do the talking and you won’t go wrong.

I rarely find people who parted with a sales rep who felt like they did it too soon. We usually hold onto people out of hope and fear. Hope that they will get lucky and something will land, fear that if you get rid of them, you have to go through the risky process of finding a new one. I get it. But the real fact is that managing them to the numbers and according to the process takes away a lot of the uncertainty. As to the fears- get over it, you probably need to turn over 20-35% of your sales people every 12-18 months. Get used to that idea, build a plan for active recruiting and work it into your leadership and management process.

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