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Sales - 7 min READ

When Is It Time to Fire a Sales Rep?

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Author photo: Loni Klara

Loni Klara

No one wants to be the person to tell someone they’ve just lost their job. But sometimes, ripping off the Band-Aid is the only thing you can do to heal a wound.

According to a Harvard Business School study, quickly parting ways with a toxic hire can save you up to $12,500 in the long run.

As a sales manager, it falls on you to identify which one of your sales reps is causing the most damage to your team and let them go. But how can you tell when a sales rep is just struggling with performance, versus showing signs that they’re unwilling (or unable) to improve?

After all, you’ve hired these salespeople to build a great team, which means they must have some promising qualities. If your sales reps need more coaching and guidance, it’s your job to provide it.

But when this training falls on deaf ears, you’re in trouble. What makes it even trickier is that bad sales reps might perform well and hit all their targets and still cause more harm than good.

To help you tell the difference between a sales rep who needs coaching and a sales rep who needs to be let go, we’ve made a list of the five signs you need to watch out for in your sales reps.

1. They affect others with their negative attitude.

Sure, people have disagreements from time to time. It’s inevitable when you’re working on a team. As a sales manager, you can sense when there’s tension between two people, whether it’s healthy competition or jealousy

The trouble starts when this is a constant state and not a one-off event. Going beyond simple personal differences, these sales reps tend to infuse a dose of negativity into the very heart of the culture itself.

Whether intentionally or not, they create friction rather than encourage others to work together as a team. Although they may be on the right side of an argument, their attitude is righteous, not humble. Plus, they can be downright rude to people they dislike or disagree with.

Research from the University of Florida shows that rude behavior is highly contagious and tends to breed similar rudeness from others, regardless of whether they’re simply exposed to the behavior or are the targets themselves.

When your salespeople are constantly exposed to bad behavior within the team, even the best performers can be negatively affected. It doesn’t matter if the sales rep is hitting all their quotas or even if they’re a top performer.

Having the wrong attitude will bring down team morale and lead to other consequences like higher turnover rates and decreased overall performance. If you’ve got someone like this on your team, it’s time to sit down and talk to them frankly.

2. Hitting quotas is their only goal.

On the surface, these sales reps seem great. They show a concern for hitting their sales targets and deliver more often than not. So why would this be problematic

Because they’re only interested in doing just enough to get by. Doing the bare minimum is what they do best. Like students who study just enough to get a passing grade, unmotivated sales reps can behave in a similar way.

You can use your CRM to track how your reps pace towards their goals each month. Look out for trends in reps that consistently hit their quota, but never exceed it.

When General Charles C. Krulak was training new recruits for the Marine Corps in the ‘90s, he realized that they “lacked any sense of direction or drive” and that they only knew how to do the bare minimum.

After doing a bit of research, he found that interior locus of control played a huge part in the marines’ success. Developed by Julian Rotter in 1954, this concept is defined as:

The degree to which persons expect that a reinforcement or an outcome of their behavior is contingent on their own behavior or personal characteristics.

In short, people with a high internal locus of control are more action-oriented because they believe their actions determine the outcome of their life. After applying this concept to the new training course, Krulak saw a 20% increase in retention rates among recruits.

The good news is, sales reps who are solely focused on the minimum acceptable performance are not always a lost cause. Like the marines, further coaching can drastically improve results.

Encouraging them to take ownership of their work and linking specific outcomes to their individual actions can change the way they view work and increase initiative.

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3. The internet is their best friend.

Here’s a funny idea. Obviously, a good salesperson makes good use of the web. It helps them do their job by allowing them to access CRM software, find and respond to leads, and more

But research from sales strategist and bestselling author Marc Wayshak reveals that spending too much time browsing the web is a telling sign that a sales rep is wasting time.

When asked which wasteful activity took up most of valuable their time, 24% of top-performing salespeople said driving, compared to 24% of low-performing reps who mentioned browsing the web.

This shows a big gap in the mindset between motivated and unmotivated salespeople. While underperformers don’t think time spent traveling to meet customers is a big issue, the highest performers are aware that reducing this time would improve their performance.

It also suggests that top performers generally spend more time meeting customers, while their low-performing colleagues spend that time browsing the internet.

When managing your sales team, pay attention to how much time your reps are spending actually interacting with customers. It can give you a hint as to who’s more productive and committed to the job.

4. They’re too full of confidence.

If you’re in sales, you need confidence. No one’s going to buy a product from you if you sound less than sure about it

Still, too much of it is just as much of a killer as a lack of confidence.

Overly confident people can overestimate their performance and be unaware of their weaknesses. It’s a real double whammy.

Studies show that overconfidence leads to a gap between actual results and individual analysis. This is especially dangerous for sales, because so much of it involves projections and the ability to gauge performance.

When your sales reps are so confident in themselves that they fail to see the correct picture, it’s a problem that can’t be improved without outside interference.

So if you see someone talking the talk, but suspect their actions don’t match their proclamations, it’s a good time to give them a thorough performance review. Give them the opportunity to see their own blind spots.

If that fails, it might be time to say goodbye.

5. They’re a fan of a single sales process.

We know how important it is to have a well-defined sales process. But these things aren’t written in stone

Sales is a fluid business. Times change, markets change, and customers change. The ability to adapt to these changes is the single most important factor for survival.

Maybe your sales reps come from a company that uses a different sales process. That doesn’t mean they can’t adjust to the one you’ve crafted for your team.

Everyone should be free to exercise their own tactics, but when a sales rep is too stuck on one particular way of working, it doesn’t bode well for anyone.

You don’t want a sales rep challenging your every suggestion, or showing an inability to learn new strategies. When someone’s too closed off for coaching, there’s no room for growth.

Before firing your salespeople, consider this.

We’d like to stress that in most cases, one of these traits alone will probably not be enough to fire someone

At the very least, consider working with your sales rep to come up with a performance improvement plan (PIP). This way, you can see if they’re willing to work on their weaknesses or if they’re offended at the idea.

Think about the qualities that made you hire them in the first place. Are there ways you can nurture those traits while focusing on other areas?

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and managing a great sales team requires balancing everyone’s individual talents to produce a cohesive, functioning unit.

But after all this, if you feel that you’ve given your sales rep every opportunity to address your concerns with no visible improvements, take a deep breath and rip off the Band-Aid.

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