6 Questions to Ask Before Terminating an Underperforming Sales Rep

Got a salesperson who's failing to achieve sales goals? You've tried everything to correct the situation--training, begging, threats, performance improvement plans, mentorship, etc. Still, your rep is not meeting your expectations.

Before making the decision to terminate a salesperson, ask yourself these six questions:

1. Has the person produced results in the past?
If your salesperson delivered acceptable sales for you in the past, then chances are she can replicate that success. She may have a specific issue affecting her now, and it should be identified and resolved so she can get back on track. Look for clues as to what she did previously when she was succeeding, and identify any changes in activity, behaviors, or attitude.

2. Is he experiencing any personal problems?
Many times a problem at home can derail a salesperson for a period of time. You need to know if this is a temporary setback or a potentially permanent one. Consider using an in-depth sales assessment to measure your salesperson's mental and emotional focus, as well as capacity to manage stress. This can open up a dialogue about external factors that are impeding performance.

3. Are there any recent changes inside the organization?
Mergers, acquisitions, new management, changes in pay plans, corporate restructuring, and changing territories can all have a major impact on the performance of your sales team members. If you know major change is on the way, prepare your sales team for it to mitigate fluctuations in sales performance. If the change has already occurred, use your available resources to help support them through the transition. Many top performers have been terminated as an organization maneuvered through a corporate restructuring.

4. Is she the right fit for this sales role?
Not all sales roles are the same. Demonstrating a "sales personality" and having sales experience does not mean someone is right for a particular sales role. If the person is in a hunting sales role, she might be better suited for inbound sales, account management, or major account sales. Ask yourself these questions to determine if she is better suited for a different sales role:

  • Does she exhibit traits of a good closer, but fails to develop an adequate pipeline?
  • Does she tend to invest a lot of time servicing existing customers?
  • Does she succeed at product knowledge and consultative selling, and prefer to work on bigger deals?

5. Is he coached or managed properly?
Failure to hire, manage, coach, or lead sales reps properly are primary reasons for underperformance. Sales leaders are the coaches of their sales team. Here are a few coaching questions to consider:

  • Are you consistently observing reps selling on the phone or in the field?
  • Are you conducting sales-rep-focused sales meetings?
  • Are you engaged in sales skill development during your one-on-one sessions?
  • Are you more interested in quota than quality and quantity of activity?

Too many salespeople have been terminated owing to a lack of effective sales coaching by their sales manager. Thus a potential sales champion is let go, and both of you suffer the loss.

6. Is she better suited for a different role in the organization?
In many cases, underperforming salespeople can be shifted to other roles in the organization. They might be great candidates for different departments. Focus on identifying their strengths and sources of motivation, such as their desire to support others (customer service), drive to have and articulate product knowledge (training), aptitude for research or aesthetics (marketing), or processes and systems (operations).

Ask and answer these six questions prior to terminating an underperforming salesperson. There are many other factors to consider before letting someone go, but be sure that you haven't overlooked these specific issues that could affect performance and lead you to a decision that may adversely affect you both.

By Barrett Riddleberger