From sales hire to sales fire: 5 tips for firing a salesperson

By Graham Collins
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From sales hire to sales fire: 5 tips for firing a salesperson

This is a touchy subject and one that no one likes to talk about. Ideally, if you follow my advice on interviewing salespeople you won’t be in this predicament very often. But no matter how careful you are with your sales interviewing and sales hiring, you’ll end up with a bad hire from time to time. Or, even worse, a good sales hire who has gone downhill.

Let me start by saying there are a lot of laws around firing people. No part of this blog should be construed as legal advice. Ensure you know all the laws in your area before firing someone. Also, as you’ll see below, I’m not one for euphemisms. So don’t expect any “letting go”, “moving on”, etc. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show compassion and sympathy for someone being fired. It’s a gut-wrenching experience all around, so the more you can ease the pain by following these steps, the better off everyone will be.

Understand that firing someone is a failing of yours

As a manager, if you have to terminate someone you hired it is a failing on your end. You either didn’t provide them with the sales training they needed to be successful, didn’t explain to them well enough what it takes to be successful, or shouldn’t have hired them in the first place. This isn’t an excuse and doesn’t mean you SHOULDN’T fire them. Instead, it allows you to learn from the experience and find ways to improve your sales management skills. After every time you do fire someone, you should do an exercise where you review where the failings were and how you can prevent them in the future.

Never surprise them

A trope in movies is when our protagonist is called into their boss’s office only to be fired without warning and for seemingly no reason. This happens in real life too and is one of the least professional things that a sales manager can do. Someone who is fired should be given fair warning and the opportunity to improve well before it actually happens. In sales, this is fairly simple: if they’re struggling they should be put on a Performance Improvement Plan (often called a PIP) with clear, measurable goals. This Performance Improvement Plan should also explain the outcome if they don’t achieve the goals laid out.

Be direct, don’t sugar-coat it

“Unfortunately, I have some bad news: we have to terminate your employment at COMPANY.” Those should be the first words out of your mouth when firing someone. Not “it’s been great working with you but…” Don’t lead with “so this is hard to say, and it’s not something I want to have to do…” Get to the point, you can give them reassurances and explain all the reasons why (which they should know) afterward. If you lead out with these mealy-mouthed excuses, you’re prolonging the point and building the suspense. It also gives them false hope that this is simply a reprimand and not an ultimatum.

Time it correctly

No one wants to get fired and then have to walk out onto the floor surrounded by their peers to clean out their desk. It’s humiliating and demoralizing for the team. Try to plan it around a team-wide meeting, the end of the day, or a time when no one will be at their desks.

Be transparent with everyone

This is twofold. First, make it clear to the person being fired exactly why they will no longer be working for you. They should know all the reasons because it will allow them to focus on improving those things to prevent this from happening again. Secondly (and again, being aware of employment laws) you should inform your team that the person no longer works on the team and that they are welcome to discuss with you 1 on 1. If you hold off or let people guess as to what happened, rumors will begin flying.

Again, this is an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved, but if you handle it professionally and with compassion, everyone should walk away respecting the process. I’ve even had people come back to me months after firing them thanking me because they were able to find a new job that aligned with their skill sets better.

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