The Right Way to Fire a Salesperson
Two short words that carry terrible weight and power. To most sales managers, they’re also the hardest words to say.
Being a good sales manager means having the ability to hire well, coach effectively and (unfortunately) fire efficiently when it is the best move for the team.
Of those three, firing is clearly the most difficult. When done poorly it may leave lingering effects on the morale of your entire sales team.
Luckily there are ways you can terminate someone’s employment without trauma. We want to explain how you can manage the entire process to make it as painless as possible for yourself, the person who is being let go, and the rest of your sales team.
2 problems you will face when terminating a salesperson
The main problem that many sales managers have to face up to when deciding to terminate a team member’s employment is their own feelings of failure that accompany the realization that things just aren’t working out. If you’re the one doing the hiring, this feeling can be even stronger. How could you get it so wrong?
You’ve also most likely invested lots of time and effort into training, mentoring and guiding your employee. It may feel like firing him or her means you’re simply wasting all that effort. It is important to understand that this is not the case.
Your job as a sales manager is to get the best out of your team and serve the company’s needs. This means you can’t afford to carry a team member who doesn’t perform or, even worse, is destroying the morale of the rest of the sales force.
You’re making a tough decision that happens to be the right one.
The second major problem many managers struggle to deal with is the real and human reaction of simply wanting to avoid unpleasantness.
Termination conversations are often emotional. The salesperson involved may respond angrily, looking for blame or lashing out at others. They also see this as an opportunity to let their manager know exactly what they think of him or her, which can be brutal. Unfortunately this is fairly unavoidable. Like so many things in sales management – this is outside of your control.
Many people compromise management because they have trouble dealing with the confrontational side of the job and end up letting issues fester rather than dealing with them head on.
You can mitigate both of these issues through preparation, planning and professionalism.
Firing someone will never be pleasant, but following our guidelines will make it bearable and leave you in a position of strength, where the rest of the team realize that you’ve made the right decision in the interests of all parties and that it took guts to do so.
Here is a list of steps you need to take to make sure the firing leaves everyone involved with their dignity intact, the company safe from legal repercussions and you, as sales manager, with the respect of the rest of your team.
Helpful Resource: Smashing Stress to Achieve Sales Goals – Stress and pressure is real. You can’t pretend this is not a factor. Attack these emotional challenges head on. This article will help you detect the triggers of stress and give you some tactics to manage your emotions during such a difficult experience.
Develop a transparent process that begins well before termination
There is a temptation to use the sticking-plaster technique when firing someone. You probably just want to do it quickly and vigorously.
While this may be easy on the person doing the firing, it will be an absolute morale killer for the rest of your team. The feeling that you could be blindsided at any time and asked to leave does not sit well with most people.
When you reach the point where you have to fire someone, they should be very aware of what is happening.
The person in the firing line should have had many meetings before the axe falls where attempts were made to help them manage their failure. Your salesperson should have received written warnings, been placed on review or on probation, received proactive management to help them overcome issues and been given sufficient chance to rectify the problem before dismissal is considered.
Most of all – they should be made aware that dismissal is coming and that it is a likely outcome if no change occurs.
If you’ve done all of this correctly and according to a clearly defined company structure and process – most employees will agree to leave by mutual consent rather forcing you to terminate. You will in effect be letting their failures do the firing for you.
Helpful Resource: 5 Ways to Help a Salesperson Rebound Fast – this guide will show you how to plan for failure and help you to drive salespeople to improve after poor performance to avoid this termination conversation.
Handle any administrative issues early
Make sure you are thoroughly prepared to answer all the person’s questions – at least the reasonable ones.
- What is their notice period?
- How and when do they get paid any money owed them?
- What happens to their leave allowance?
- What about their pension or other benefits?
You don’t want to leave any administrative issues unresolved, so make sure you know the answers.
Most countries will also have clearly defined labor laws dictating how and why you can fire someone. Make sure you follow these laws at every step of the process, or your company might end up at the sharp end of some serious financial penalties.
If a written letter of dismissal is required, have it ready and signed. If you need three written warnings before you can dismiss someone, make sure these are documented, filed and accessible.
Get help from HR or legal
This ties in deeply with the last point above. If your company has an HR manager or department, you need to involve them at every step of any termination process. Make sure a HR representative attends all meetings. They will guide you during the process of managing a person towards dismissal.
HR will generally understand the specifics of relevant labor laws and the paperwork needed to protect all parties involved. They can also serve as mediators during the entire process to make sure fairness prevails over any emotional reactions you might be driven towards.
Keep the meeting clear and direct
Dismissing someone will be an emotionally wrenching experience for both parties. If you’ve prepared for the moment and managed the process well, you can (and should) keep your dismissal statement short and to the point.
This is not the time to go over every little failure and disappointment involved, nor should you start tossing around accusations and blame.
Whatever you do – don’t be vague. Your language and message need to be totally clear.
Do not leave the impression the decision is open to discussion.
Remember, this is not your fault. The termination is not personal, so avoid apologizing. If you’ve given this person every possible opportunity to turn their situation around, supported them and supplied them with the tools to succeed and things have still not worked out – you are probably doing them a favor in the long run.
Many managers have had to fire people who they may like on a personal level, and this can be particularly difficult.
Even though you may be entirely empathetic to their circumstances, avoid negotiations or arguments at this stage of the process. Make it clear you are not there to be drawn into a discussion.
Show that you care and be considerate
Facing up to the reality of being fired can be humiliating.
Don’t make it any more painful than necessary for the salesperson your are terminating. They may not be right for the job, but you need to remind yourself of how painful this experience can be.
If things have simply not worked out due to a team culture or skills issue, you may actually want to help them land on their feet. Look at what they did do well and offer to write a reference or recommend them for another role.
The timing of the meeting is also important. Ideally you want to do this at the very end of the day so that they can leave immediately afterward rather than have to deal with a whole day’s work and their colleagues’ questions afterwards.
If your company allows for this sort of flexibility, try and make their exit as easy and painless as possible. Can you waive their notice period? Maybe it would be easier on them to work out their final stretch remotely?
Even in cases where this person has really ticked you off and made your life hell over a long period of time, you need to be the bigger person at this point in time, as the way you handle their dismissal will be noted by the rest of your team.
Talk to the rest of your team
Dismissals have an impact beyond just the person who is fired. They may be a very popular person amongst their colleagues and well liked in the office despite their poor performance. While it is highly unlikely, their colleagues may also not have been aware that there were any issues.
You need to be fully prepared to handle the questions and concerns of your entire team as well of the terminated salesperson.
You want to be honest and straightforward to nip any potential gossip or rumors in the bud, but bear in mind that you also owe the person who has been fired any confidentiality that they are entitled to. Don’t throw around blame or badmouth them in front of the rest of your team. Every single employee will be imagining themselves on the other side of the conversation and the way you handle it will reflect on how they can expect to be treated in the same situation.
Make sure you can clearly convey the transition plan and how the dismissal will affect team structure and workload.
Some simple questions you’ll need to answer:
- Who takes over the departing member’s clients?
- Whose job is it to let the clients know and what is the message?
- Is there a clearly defined handover process in place?
It also pays to create the opportunity for them to have one-on-one discussions with you. People are often reluctant to voice their fears or concerns in front of colleagues.
This is a delicate time in the life of a sales team and you need to keep their morale as high as possible.
Helpful Resource: 9 Morale Boosters to Pull Your Sales Team Out of a Slump – your team will be affected by the termination of a team member. Unfortunately, sales will not wait. You need to be proactive and help your team recover quickly to keep hitting targets.
Take the time to reflect and learn before rehiring
You will most likely need to replace the person who has been dismissed.
Go over what went wrong with the previous incumbent so that you can be sure to safeguard against repeating the same mistakes. Make sure you know how to spot the qualities you want in your next salesperson (and the qualities you’ve learned to avoid).
You can also use this as a great opportunity to improve the overall balance of your sales team by hiring to fill skills gaps. It’s also a great time to revisit your onboarding and training process.
(BONUS ADVICE: If you have an HR team and the situation allows, formulate a template for an exit interview. The departing staff member may have some good insights into why they failed and this is information that may prove very valuable in the future.)
Resource: 8 Steps to Finding the Perfect Salesperson for Your Team – try to learn from your experience and develop a structured process you can replicate each time you hire to avoid the same situation in the future. This article shows you the practical steps you can use to get the best possible cultural and commercial fit for the business.
Panna on vaja! (Remember to put)
We have a favorite motto here at Pipedrive.
You’ll hear ‘Panna on vaja’ recited as a mantra by all of our teams.
It’s a much loved Estonian saying that translates directly as ‘it is necessary to put’.
Not so sexy, huh. But the message is perfect in this situation.
Simply, just do the job. Get in there and get the task done.
Firing people is unlikely to be enjoyable (although there’s always that one guy).
But if you manage this process correctly, you’ll generate respect and acceptance from all stakeholders involved so you can move on quickly and continue growing your business.