Firing a Salesperson for Poor Performance? Don’t Make it a Surprise.


Despite your best sales management and sales training efforts, you might end up firing a salesperson for poor performance. It won’t be easy for you or the employee, but two things make it worse: delaying the inevitable, and blindsiding the salesperson without an earlier discussion of how to correct the problem(s). Here’s why firing a salesperson without warning can send shockwaves throughout your organization:

Simply put, firing a salesperson – without helping them understand performance shortcomings and providing time to correct them – carries considerable cost for your organization and even your customers. On the other hand, proper warning creates opportunities for trust and excellence.

First, let’s consider the costs:

The Cost to Your Conscience

Few people like to share bad news. Because of this, we tend to avoid conflicts. No doubt, it is unpleasant to tell a salesperson their performance is lacking. But it can be even worse to let a salesperson go because poor performance continued without them being aware you were unsatisfied. Ultimately, your reluctance to share bad news steals opportunities for corrective action and possible success. How does that feel?

The Cost to Your Reputation

When a salesperson is blindsided, it reflects poorly on you. It paints you as the kind of leader who doesn’t provide feedback, guidance and opportunities for growth and success. And this can damage your reputation and your career. Good sales management demands good sales leadership. Period.

The Cost to Your Culture

Likewise, when firing a salesperson without warning becomes the norm, your remaining sales team members will wonder if they, too, are on shaky ground. Always waiting for the “other shoe to drop” could lead them to seek firmer footing in a more supportive organization.

The Cost to Your Customers

It’s likely your customer base and prospect pipeline will be impacted by the termination as well. Introducing a new salesperson creates change that could be uncomfortable for customers and prospects alike. If such turnover becomes frequent – as it very well could if you continue to blindside poor performers – your chances to land new customers or retain current ones will surely suffer.

The Cost to Your Bottom Line

Carrying an underperforming salesperson likely costs less than recruiting, training and onboarding a new salesperson into your organization. That’s not to say you should keep a bad salesperson when it is clear they can’t succeed, but you must consider all the costs – internal and external – when weighing options.

On the Other Hand…

Firing a salesperson might indeed be necessary at times, but it is also possible that poor performers can become top producers given early feedback, oversight, adequate sales training, and opportunity. In any event, it is respectful, professional and humane to give the subpar salesperson the chance to understand and correct deficiencies.

Indeed, by being forthright early on, you accomplish a lot, including the following:

  • Establishing trust and confidence in your leadership style
  • Strengthening and inspiring your sales team culture through respectful and timely communication
  • Avoiding disruption of your pipeline and customer base by fostering a sales team that promises reliability and continuity
  • Avoiding significant costs by optimizing salesperson performance rather than engaging in constant turnover

The Bottom Line:

Firing a salesperson due to poor performance should never come as a surprise to the salesperson. In many cases, you can avoid termination if you do the following:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Verbalize both praise and criticism when warranted
  • Document and manage a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) when necessary

At Sales Xceleration, our licensed Advisors are professional sales consultants who provide proven sales leadership. As Outsourced VPs of Sales, they can implement proven sales management and sales training methods to optimize salesperson performance. Click here to find your nearest Sales Xceleration Advisor or call us at 844.874.7253.