How To Fire A Salesperson Without Creating A Stink

There is nothing more critical than being able to hire and fire as a sales leader. Building teams is all about hiring, coaching and unfortunately, sometimes firing.

Firing is the most uncomfortable of the 3. Firing is hard. I’ve seen people get fired in more ways than you could imagine and it’s usually not pretty.  It’s done so poorly, the manager is dreading it, the sales person is blindsided, and it leaves a stink on the entire team for days and sometimes weeks.

Getting firing right means being able to do it without creating a stink in the process.  It means making it a seamless, non-event.  Believe it or not, this is possible. It just takes finesse and a process.

The way to fire someone without a stink is to never actually have to fire them. It’s to get to a place where you BOTH agree it’s not working and it’s in everyones best interest to move on. This is done by coaching people up or out.

I learned this phrase a long-time ago and it has been part of my leadership tool bag for years. It goes like this; if you have an employee you think is on the bubble, someone whose ability you question, start engaging them early. Start engaging them before there is a “real” problem. Establish regularly scheduled coaching sessions where you evaluate the employees performance. During the coaching sessions target where the employee is struggling and focus on measurable improvement. If the employee can make improvements and grow, give them more responsibility and support. Keep coaching them up. However, if they aren’t making improvements and they aren’t meeting expectations, convey the failure clearly and reemphasize the importance of meeting the expectations for the next meeting. Each week, as expectations are not met, let the employee know they aren’t meeting expectations and ask them how they feel about their performance and how they feel about not achieving the results they are responsible for. The key here is to move away from telling them what you think and move towards getting them to share what they think. It’s to get the employee to share how they feel about their inability to deliver and what they feel they need to do going forward based on the fact their not getting the results.

The key is to create an environment where they take ownership, not just you.

As more deals slip. As the pipeline shrinks. As quota is missed, the employee will know exactly where they are and what is coming. They will know because they had been talking with you since the first monthly quota was missed, not the 3rd. They will know because the two of you had talked as the pipeline was shrinking. They will know because, you will have told him the deal he was betting on to make quota wasn’t going to close and it didn’t. He will know the job isn’t for him because he wasn’t allowed to hide. Everything has been in the open. You and he addressed his failures as they happened. They weren’t allowed to be become “anomalies” and excuses.  Every failure, missed expectation, failed goal was on the table as it happened, not in a closet piling up, only to be brought out in a giant heep at a later date.

They key to firing a sales person is to let their failures do the firing for you. It’s to let each failure settle in, bringing them closer to the end in a slow roll.  It’s not to stuff all the failures into a closet until the closet is so full it’s bursting at the seems that you have to rip it open letting all the crap fly out. When that happens, firing someone stinks. It’s not good for anyone.

Don’t put the failures in a closet. Give each failure to the sales person as it happens. Overtime, THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME OR MAYBE EVEN SHORTER than if you stuffed it all in a closet, the salesperson will break under the weight and by then, you will both know it’s time and a gracious exit happens all by itself.

Firing a sales person is NOT an event. Treating it that way creates a stink. Firing is a process. Do it right and not only will it not stink. It may just smell fresh and clean.


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