I don’t enjoy writing on this topic any more than you enjoy reading about it because the thought of anyone losing their job for any reason upsets my stomach. It is a highly disruptive and stressful moment in someone’s life where desperation, anxiety, and low self-esteem have a tight grip. But sometimes it’s just not meant to be for whatever the reason. The good news is that if you have to fire a salesperson, it usually doesn’t come as a surprise because it is almost always performed base and great salespeople rarely get fired.
When I talk about firing a salesperson, I mean someone who is really trying their best but things just aren’t working out. Issues of gross misconduct and disobeying company policy are another matter altogether. If a salesperson is not meeting performance expectations then it should not be a secret to anyone, least of all the salesperson. If it is a surprise, then much of the blame should be on management for not doing a better job of communicating and developing the salesperson. Either way, the moment of truth is here and you need some help with a difficult conversation.
- Direct, honest, and swift – Don’t drag someone through what is going to be difficult for everyone involved. Get right to the point. Firing someone in normal circumstances should take less than 10 minutes.
- Address the performance, not the person – As much as you may want to, do not make comments about the salesperson’s attitude, behaviors, and personality traits. This can be misleading, upsetting, and perhaps get you in hot water with HR. Make it about the performance only. The reason someone is not meeting their sales goals at this point really doesn’t matter and entertaining these conversations will almost certainly cause you more trouble.
- Stick to the message – No feelings, just facts. When someone gets fired, they are understandably emotional and they will use aspects of anger, pity, or empathy to take you off your script. Don’t take the bait. Stick to the message.
- Provide instructions – Don’t forget to cover the need-to-knows about termination including final paychecks, leftover vacation days, company property and health insurance options. If possible, it would be good to offer a letter of recommendation to help the salesperson transition to their next job.
- Take a different direction – If you’re really in a tight spot with delivering your message of termination and you don’t have sufficient performance data to support your decision, then you can use your reasoning as “we are taking a different direction with position”. Explain nothing else beyond that lest you create more problems. Every question that comes after that is answered with, we are just taking a different direction. We don’t have other information to share at this time.” It’s kind of a catch-all for difficult firings that leaves the fired salesperson without leverage and no legal risk exposure to you.