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Experienced sales managers can quickly realize when a new sales rep isn’t going to work out. The signs are clear – they can’t hit their numbers consistently, have a negative attitude, or can’t connect easily with customers on the phone. Letting someone go is always a tough decision, but one that every manager must make at one point. So, what is the best way to manage someone off of your sales team?

There are different ways to handle each rep, according to why they are being let go and what difficulties make them a bad fit for the team. Here are my suggestions for off-boarding a sales rep to help you better handle a tough situation and avoid an acrimonious ending.

The Underperformer

I set quotas for my team of Sales Development Reps (SDRs) in terms of dials per day and opportunities-sourced per month. If I notice that one of the reps isn’t hitting the mark week to week, I’ll sit him down, talk about the problem and offer suggestions to improve performance. Some companies give underperforming reps 30 days on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) – a very clearly articulated set of activities and outcomes that, if achieved, will earn the employee the right to keep their job. Every company is different, but at InsightSquared, if an SDR isn’t pulling weight after three months on the job and significant sales coaching, it’s time to move on.

This is one of the easier conversations you can have as a manager in this unpleasant situation. The employee knows he’s not performing because I’ve talked to him openly a few times before. It won’t be a shock when he comes into the room and the VP of Operations is there – it’s simply time to say goodbye. If you think the person was a good employee outside of their performance and you believe they could succeed elsewhere, don’t hesitate to give them a reference for their next job and wish them luck.

The Attitude Problem

A sales rep with a negative attitude is a much tougher situation to manage. This employee may be a great performing rep, but they’re not at all pleasant to work with. You may have a rep who gets angry easily, complains constantly about the responsibilities of the job, or is rude to prospects on the phone or in email. If somebody has a bad attitude, but they’re still producing, there’s a hidden cost to keeping them around. Their negative attitude can rub off on your entire team, bring down the tone of the office, and can even hurt your sales numbers.

Bad attitudes or unpleasant office behavior comes in many different forms, but whatever the issue, I will talk to the rep about it honestly and explain the problem I’m seeing. The key in this situation is communication – you need to document the issue and give a warning that if the problem behavior continues, they will be let go. That way, if the rep doesn’t change their attitude and it’s time to act, they won’t be blindsided by your decision.

The Bad Culture Fit

Culture fit is a less tangible problem and more difficult to diagnose. Every sales team is a different animal, and only you can tell when someone doesn’t work well with the overall team. Some companies don’t care if you work from home, or show up at 11 am, or whatever you do – as long as you make your numbers. But that’s not true at our company. At InsightSquared, we created a culture where people recognize they have a hard job and know they will work long hours, but they’re going to do it with a smile on their face because they’re working with people they like being around.

A rep who is a bad culture fit could be a great person or even an effective rep, but they just might not fit with the culture you’ve created. I usually try to screen for this at the interview, by being extremely transparent and clear about my expectations for the job. I tell people they will be making 60 calls a day for at least one year, and if they’re not willing to do that, then this isn’t the job for them. That way, I won’t end up with employees who burn out or get anxious for a promotion when they’re not ready yet. If you do have a sales rep that doesn’t fit well with your team culture, it’s in their best interest to move quickly and let them find a new job where they do fit in.

Having “The Conversation”

When the time comes to have that difficult conversation, make sure that an HR representative is in the room with the appropriate paper work. It’s best for everyone if you keep your conversation as short as possible. Since you will be delivering bad news to someone, they will naturally want to know why. I try to say little on this matter in the moment, and offer instead to have a conversation with them in 1-2 weeks when things have cooled down a little. I then excuse myself and let HR handle the rest. As a courtesy to the employee, we’ll pack up their desk and mail them any personal stuff – we want them to save face and not be seen cleaning out their desk after just being let go. This makes the process as painless as possible.


Each time you have to off-board a sales rep, it will be a different situation with unique challenges. But if you are able to be honest, give plenty of warning, and clearly explain the reasons to the rep, hopefully you can end their time with the company on good terms.


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