It’s Only Common Sense: When It’s Time to Give It Up


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Sometimes, you have to give up on an almost good salesperson.

How often has this happened to you? You have made one of your salespeople your personal project. You know that he can do it; he has in the past. You know that given a bit more time, she will turn things around. Maybe if you give that person some more of your personal time his numbers will come back up. She’s just going through some bad times she’ll be back. Or you think, "I’ve invested four years in this person. I can’t just give up on that investment now.”

Does this sounds familiar to you? If you are exactly at this point with one of your salespeople, ask yourself: "Is it really worth it?" Then ask yourself how much time are you spending on this person. Not just the time you are interacting with the person, but all of the time you spend thinking about this person and how you can “fix” him.

Sooner or later, you are going to have to make a decision. Sooner or later you are going to have to let that person go. This is not a pleasant subject or one that is easy to face, but it is a fact of life that sooner or later every sales manager has to let one of the veterans go, one of the sales people who is almost good.

It is much harder to make a decision on someone who is almost good, someone who seems to be just around the corner from success, than it is to let go of someone who is just awful. Bums are bums; they are easy to let go of, and in many cases it is a pleasure to send them on their way. But the almost good salespeople? Well, that’s another story altogether.

The first thing you have to ask yourself is if in fact they were really ever that good. Can you remember a time when they did the job, they brought in the business and they made their numbers? Are you sure, or is your thinking skewed because they are such nice people and you like them so much that you want them to succeed?

Many years ago, I took over a new position as director of sales and marketing. I inherited one of these almost good, was-good-once salespeople. The president of the company when hiring me had told me that this person was a problem, but that he would be gone when I took over the position. But unfortunately when I started the job that person was still there. I was told that with my talents they thought I might be able to “turn him around.” Yeah, right. Well, being young and cocky and having the optimism, not to mention ego, of a young upstart manager, I believed them. I was sure that I could turn this guy around. After all, they told me he had been great once, the best sales guy they ever had but after 27 years with the company, he had lost a step.

So, I jumped in with both feet. I made him my project and I did everything I could to turn him into the great salesperson I was told he once was. But to make a long story short, after about 10 months, despite all of my efforts, he was going nowhere. Not only was he getting worse, he was now my problem, and that same guy who had hired me was on my back pressuring me about the guy.

So I decided to fire him. Now back then firing a guy who had been with the company almost 28 years was a big deal, as it should be. So, after careful preparation and accompanied by our HR manager, I flew out to do the deed. While on the plane the HR manager and I started going over this guy’s folder in preparation for the termination. And you know what we found out? The guy had never been any good! His folder was filled with warnings and write-ups going back to his first year with the company. He had been on thin ice from the very beginning. He was a problem that had been handed down from one manager to another for almost three decades.

There was something else about this guy that bothered me. He was probably the saddest person and most discouraged person I had ever met. Our company had not done him any favors keeping him in this job, a job he could not possibly succeed at for so many years. To us, he had been an inconvenience, a bother, a problem but not much more than that. But for him? Well, I think that the company had ruined his life. He was now too old to start doing anything else, it was too late for him to ever feel successful at anything else.

This is the story I think about when I advise my clients to proverbially fish or cut bait when it comes to an almost good salesperson. Give her a chance to get better, but have a time limit. Make sure that you lay out a plan of action and a definite end goal that spells either a firm success or termination. Always be honest and always let the person know where he stands. And most importantly, make sure that you give the person a fair shake, but also be prepared to end it if she can’t cut it and get back on track. Not a pleasant thing, but in the end that’s the reality of being a good sales manager. It’s only common sense.

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