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When Do You Let Your New Rep Go?

by Karen Jackson  | 4 Comments

Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept an underperforming salesperson for too long. Someone you hired that joined the company with all the promise in the world, whose resume was first rate, track-record verifiable, references stellar. Their attitude was excellent, they showed up on time, appeared loyal, and were enjoyable to have around. But then they didn’t perform, and the months turned to quarters. And you kept hoping and wringing your hands simultaneously. There was gnashing of the teeth; passive-aggressive behavior kicked-in as you got angry, but none of that improved performance. Yet you kept them nonetheless, waiting for the proverbial corner to be turned, believing it would happen soon. And the sales person assured you it would, but it didn’t. Yet, there they were, still on the payroll.

If you’re in the majority who has experienced this debacle (or witnessed it in your organization) see if you can answer this question: “Why did I wait so long to let them go?”

The three answers I hear most frequently from sales managers are:

  • They always seemed to have a deal on the table so I just had to give them a little more time to close
  • The idea of starting the hiring process over again was exhausting
  • I couldn’t afford to have their territory uncovered

Pushed to think about it more deeply, most managers agree that the true reason they hung on so long was they didn’t really know how to measure the salesperson’s success. Were they really making progress? Did their promises hold water? Was the deal really imminent? And in the absence of good measurements, the decision became subjective instead of objective, dangerous ground for making hiring and firing decisions. So the rep stayed in the seat, and it cost the company. Not just in rep compensation (please don’t tell me you reduced comp as a solution), but in opportunity cost, wasted resources throughout the organization and less obvious, but equally damaging, team morale. (I’ll say more in a future post on the team impact when others see you keeping an underperformer. Hint: reduced morale and respect for the leader.)

With short, transactional sales cycles it’s easy to measure rep performance based on revenue. But in the B2B space, particularly in complex, enterprise environments, the sales cycle can take 18 months or more before booking revenue. Using revenue as the sole measure in that scenario is foolish. There must be a way to determine within 60 – 90 days of hire whether a rep can be successful in your company or not.

So, what’s the solution? It’s not magic; it’s process and metrics. It’s creating certainty instead of wishful thinking. Here’s where to start:

  • Identify your sales process, creating quantifiable milestones for each stage
  • Create measurable productivity goals, tied to your process, for the first 90 days of employment
  • Create a coaching program for the new rep with measurable activities each week

Note that each item has a measurement in it. The first, identifying sales process, ensures you know the KPI’s of your sales cycle. The second ties the rep directly to those KPI’s. The third identifies specific weekly activity metrics, but just as important, ensures you are training and having what I like to refer to as “sales conversations,” meaning conversations around strategies and tactics that advance the sale.

These are not babysitting techniques, and they’re not just for newbie sales reps, though obviously the complexity of the metrics will adjust to the experience of the rep.  These are realistic, quantifiable activities that you know, if followed, will result in closing a sale. By identifying the appropriate measurements, you can define an accountability framework for the new salesperson. Once established, you create certainty both for the rep and for yourself. It will become easy to identify whether the individual is doing what they said they would do, where they need support, what problems they are experiencing, what obstacles block their path, what training they require. Whether they’ll make it.

Follow this strategy and you’ll never again retain an underperforming salesperson.

Please weigh in. Have you ever kept a salesperson on board too long? What lessons did you learn? What measures did you install to ensure it doesn’t happen again?


| Categories: B2B Sales Strategy, hiring, Leadership, Sales
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4 Comments to When Do You Let Your New Rep Go?

  1. Brian Curry
    October 9, 2012 10:44 am


    You are dead-on with both the issue, which any VP Sales has had and the solution. When in doubt about a reps performance early on, is to put these steps into a 90-day written plan where at the end of the 90 days, if certain objectives have not been met, the employee will be terminated. It seems cold (and it is) but it puts the employee and manager on notice for an end date. I have seen reps perform well under this pressure and others that crumble. The latter will sometimes ask out so they don’t have to go through this process, which is better for everyone. So you’ll keep the people that step up and potentially move out the unproductive ones quicker.

    • Karen Jackson
      October 9, 2012 3:05 pm

      Brian, thanks for weighing in. I don’t think putting specific objectives in place is cold; I think it’s much colder to throw a rep out in the market and say “go sell something” which is effectively what many sales managers do. Chances of success are diminished and the sales person has a hard time knowing how well they are doing against a nebulous set of expectations. If the objectives are reasonable and specific to accomplishing the broader goal (revenue), it creates an opportunity for very positive things to happen: strategizing, coaching, motivating and skills development.

  2. Marty Aronow
    October 12, 2012 4:12 pm

    Great article. I don’t think anyone who has managed salespeople can honestly say that don’t carry the scars of holding on too long. The managers who have succeeded have learned and adopted many of the things you mentioned. It may sound trite or “old school” but the statement is true – If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. I learned early on that if the sales person’s activity level was good, they said the right things, met with the right people and were mentored, success would follow. The plan for a new salesperson’s first 90 days is absolutely critical. If sales managers don’t plan, monitor & mentor, success usually becomes wishful thinking.

    • Karen Jackson
      October 15, 2012 6:11 pm

      Thanks for your comment Marty. We all bear those scars; the important part is learning from them. That includes creating objective measures. Subjective measures can be overlaid, but when used alone, the decision whether to keep a sales person vs. terminate them tends to be based on emotion vs. fact. The other important piece about objective measures is that they provide the sales manager an opportunity to diagnose problems and work with the salesperson to resolve.

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