Should I Train or Fire an Underperforming Sales Rep? | Sales Management Training

Should I Train or Fire My Underperforming Sales Rep? | Sales Management Training

Sales Management Training

In my consultations with sales management and company directors, I am frequently asked whether to train or fire sales reps who are not meeting sales targets. This is a HEAVY question! On the one hand, some consultants will improve greatly with training. On the other, some will never perform well, even with the best sales tools and guidance. Whatever the answer, we must not forget that we are dealing with a person and their family’s livelihood. If we are to do business with a clear conscience, the interests of both your company and this salesperson must be held in balance. To make a thoughtful decision, here are two fields of questioning you can ask yourself:

Have I been providing the right guidance and support?

Great sales management means personal responsibility for the results of the people they lead. Before writing the rep off for a lack of performance, consider what actions and strategies you can use to help them be more effective. Some additional questions you may consider include:

  • Have I been meeting with them often enough to provide support, but not so frequently to make them feel stifled?
  • How can I help them to set clear micro-goals and create strategies to meet them?
  • Have I helped them to see how meeting company goals will meet their personal goals?

These questions will help to identify areas that you can proactively work on before considering corrective actions.

Is the problem with their attitudes or skills?

As the sales management saying goes, you should “Hire for attitude, train for skill.”1 Skills are easy to impart, but attitudes require much more effort to change. If attitudes are the problem, there may be a stronger case for helping the individual find a more fulfilling career path. Some points you may consider include:

  • Does the rep tend to blame external factors for their lack of performance, or do they accept responsibility? (This is known in psychology as explanatory style, and is often used as a tool for hiring decisions)
  • Are they open to and do they act on constructive feedback?
  • Do they believe in the value of the product and its impact on their clients?

This set of questions will assist in deciding whether or not training will be a worthwhile investment.

Take Action

It’s a tough sales management decision, but if after going through this exercise you decide to let the sales rep go, I’d like to implore you to do it lovingly and constructively. Think of the situation as helping the individual to find a more fulfilling career. If there are no hard feelings, you may consider providing practical assistance such as being their reference or connecting them to someone in your network.

If you feel sales training is the better pathway, be sure to identify what skill areas they need to work on most. This will enable you to communicate the gaps to the trainer. You may even consider asking the rep to purchase a book (let them invest in themselves!) to specifically address their skill gap. There are mountains of sales literature that cover every step of the sales process.


1 Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill; Bill Taylor 2011

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