The biggest mistake sales leaders make is hiring the wrong people. The next biggest mistake is failing to move those people out ethically but quickly. I share this with you based on painful personal experience in leading teams for multinationals for decades. I tolerated too much for too long from people who never really belonged in my teams. According to Luigi Prestinenzi, co-founder at Sales IQ, “The behaviour you tolerate is the culture you create.” He is right.
The best leaders hold people to account with a culture of personal ownership of intelligent execution of the input metrics that create success, along with professionalism in their role. Rather than seeking to ‘manage by results’, forecast in one hand and blow-torch in the other, we must instead manage the activities that contribute to sales objectives that create results. As an example: More revenue (result) comes from stronger qualified pipeline coverage (objective) which comes from intelligent time-blocked outbound sessions (activity). But if people in your team make more excuses than prospecting calls, you need to act.
The wrong people in teams can destroy productivity and they damage your own brand and momentum. Think about it, if you hire the wrong sales person into a team and they carry a four-million-dollar or Euro target, I would argue that their failure will cost you at least two million dollars or Euros in lost revenue plus 9 to 18 months of lost productivity in managing them out and on-boarding their replacement. But also think about the wasted time and energy and the damage to your credibility, not just with your boss but also with customers and partners. They inevitably turn toxic and poison others and the result is low morale, less team productivity and damaged personal brand for you as the leader.
Hiring the wrong person into a senior leadership team is an epic fail… holding on to them is an even bigger mistake because it always turns toxic.
How do you objectively make the decision concerning who should stay and who should go? I see business leaders agonise over this, and they usually do so for the right reasons. They ask whether they’ve provided the right levels of support and they feel a sense of obligation to their employees… and so they should. All leaders need a mirror as the first diagnostic tool when evaluating what is going wrong or how things can be improved.
Once you are certain that you have fulfilled your responsibilities in providing solid product/market fit, a viable territory, and adequate levels of support for their success; Here’s a simple formula for making the tough decision, I call it my ‘Rule of 24’. If you respond negatively about a sales employee in two of any of these four questions, the person just needs to go. Manage them out as fast as you can. The four factors are these: performance, competence, commitment and cultural fit.
- Performance: Are they consistently achieving their targets and also meeting their administrative requirements with things like CRM?
- Competence: Are they capable of executing successfully? Can they write and do they have the gravitas and intelligence required to carry conversations at the right level?
- Commitment: Are they working hard and doing everything needed to create sustained success by going that extra mile with effective inputs to build and progress a pipeline?
- Cultural fit: Do they have a friendly, positive attitude and do they demonstrate consistent behavioural alignment with both yours and the team’s values?
Never fire someone for performance reasons alone; at least one of those other factors must also be in place. If they are competent and committed, and if they are working hard, and they are a force for good within your team and organisation; then you should turn yourself inside out to help them hit their numbers and be successful. Financial results are easy to measure, but commitment and cultural fit issues are difficult. You can’t train them into someone and they are difficult to externally influence, and that’s because they stem from deep within. Attitudes and values come from hard-wired beliefs and a lifetime of behaviour.
If someone is a poor fit, or not a force for good within the team, and also just not diligently making an effort, then they need to go, even if they’re scraping by with their numbers. Conversely, be patient with the performance of people if all three factors are there with the person.
Never fire someone based on stack ranking alone; the boss and the employee are in a partnership for success. Numbers never lie but they also never tell the full story.
In summary, always ask yourself: “Am I delivering on my promise to provide an environment within which my people can be successful?” This includes a viable territory, training, resources, alignment, intrinsic value in what you actually offer the market, the right tools and support. Are you coaching, enabling and developing them? Do you believe in your people? Are you providing leadership rather than being a mere manager? Once you’ve passed your own ‘mirror test’, look at people through the lens of results plus the three Cs – competence, commitment and cultural fit. If any combination of two out of four are negative… the person needs to managed-out of your team… do it fast. Every week you wait is costing you more than you know.