Thursday, September 23, 2010

Losing Your Job

I like to take on tough topics and I can't think of anything tougher than having to let a salesperson go.  I'll use the word:  fired (hard to even type).  Every Sales Manager faces the inevitable fact that sooner or later he'll have to fire somebody.  In fact, after a bit of Google research, almost 75% of salespeople don't stick.  That's a pretty horrible ratio:  25% retention rate over a five year period.  As a matter of fact, this retention rate is higher than any other category of employee.  Why is this?  I'm going to go out way on the limb here and postulate the most probable reasons:

  1. Sales success is hard.  There's no other way to say it.  People who clock in and out each day, without having to sell something can't begin to understand the complexity of sales success.  For most industries, sales excellence involves about a dozen skill sets, incredible time management and a specific personality type.  There's lots of average sales people, but very few real sales performers. 
  2. Salespeople are typically impatient, especially in today's "instant gratification" world.  Building a successful book of business takes time and patience.  During this waiting-period, salespeople suffer from bouts of depression from lost sales and a feeling that they're just not contributing enough to their company.  This is aggravated by desire to succeed.  You have a formula for stress.
  3. Sales expectations are sometimes misaligned.  For example, during the hiring process, sometimes salespeople do not fully understand the level of effort and type of effort required for success.  A good salesperson really digs deep to understand the parameters of success and should interview other salespeople that are designated to be "successful" at that employer's company.  Many of the people I've let go over the past 20 years simply failed to understand the expectations.  If they had, they probably wouldn't have accepted the job.
While every termination is different (since every person is different), there are some general guidelines for both salespeople AND sales managers.  The first thing to recognize, is that there is a typical ramping period for any salesperson.  This period usually involves a bit of a roller-coaster both from a sales activity perspective AND an emotional perspective.  Good sales managers need to be supportive of this ramping period and provide good feedback, encouragement and coaching.  Every industry is different in terms of the ramping period (mine takes over a year).

If a salesperson is failing to perform, it should be no surprise to anyone.  If you're not having weekly 1-on-1's with your sales manager - start doing it today.  The biggest mistake ever is to fail to communicate.  If you're meeting regularly together, both of you know when things are good and things are bad.  The sooner you both take action in a down-slump, the more likely you both are to benefit.  If there's a problem, it can usually be linked back to sales activity, skills or attitude.  Good salespeople should track their sales activity using a CRM tool (see my previous blog on CRM tools).  This way, if there's a problem, you can identify where it's occurring in the sales cycle. 

If things don't improve with good coaching, the salesperson needs to be put on a Performance Improvement Plan (see my previous blog on these too).  Remember that the sales manager is just as responsible for working this out as the salesperson.  If nothing helps, even the best sales managers in the world will face having to terminate a salesperson.  My advice here is:  do it sooner than later (benefits both parties); be professional and honest (this is about performance); no surprises.

More than once, I've run into ex-salespeople who worked for me and they were happy in their new lives.  Maybe they're still selling, maybe not.  We've got a job to do.  Do it ethically and to your best ability.  The rest depends on you.  Good luck.

1 comment:

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