A few weeks back I wrote a post about hiring and what I look for in candidates in order to build a world class sales team. Consider this a companion piece on the other end of the spectrum, firing. Being in management you’ll hear the phrase “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” a ton. While I do believe there is truth to the adage, I also think there is value in doing exactly the opposite. Particularly in very fast growing companies. I’ll add the caveat that my commentary below will apply to quota performance, not blatant misbehavior or folks that mislead you in the interview process. Those instance should be dealt with swiftly. No shenanigans on my watch!
Taking “Fire Fast” at face value may lead you to fire potentially productive or even worse high potential/promise employees for the wrong reasons. I’ve seen it a few times myself. In some extreme examples I’ve seen sales reps fired after missing their number for a couple consecutive quarters then they go on to another company and within a short period of time become top performers at their new employers. If you have a legit hiring process, value every one of your employees. You brought them on for a reason, so dig in deep and make sure before you move them out.
My argument is pretty straightforward. If you have an extremely high bar for hiring and truly are hiring slow with lots of consensus on the hire decision, your quality of people shouldn’t be in question. (If you end up having to “fire fast” often it probably means there is a flaw in your process.) So, when folks aren’t hitting there numbers, don’t move too quickly to put them on plan or fire them outright for non performance. I encourage you to take the time to really figure out what the underlying issues could be and take a long view of your greatest assets. Things to consider:
– How much of the lack of performance is truly out of the person’s control?
– How are they doing compared to peers in other metrics besides quota achievement? Things like opportunity creation, calls, quantity of deals closed, average deal size, average days to close
– How much pipeline did they have compared to others as they began the previous closing quarters?
– Take a wide view of the business and understand the organizational needs in the future.
This last bullet is potentially the most critical. As you scale a business from 50 to 100 to 200 to 500 to 1,000 people, your organization will need to change dramatically. This means that new segments will need to be created, new roles will emerge and new projects will need tackling. Below are 2 examples I saw of how taking a slower approach to firing was a very good thing for my organization.
1) In one instance I had a sales rep on board for about 12 months that had missed quota for 5 consecutive months after having hit ramped quotas previously. Our team had been given very high growth expectations and many peers were succeeding. Having someone continuously behind didn’t look good. Within the org we began to get pressure to put folks in this category on performance plans and in some cases were moving them out of the business. I personally believed in this person and they exhibited all the characteristics of their peers that were being successful against quota. I spent the time to dig into a ton of metrics to validate/invalidate my gut feel. I found all the numbers you’d typically look for were on par. Activities, demos, discovery calls, opportunity creation etc were all above average. I also sat on calls and found the rep to be running great meetings, exhibiting solid product knowledge and building great rapport with prospects. He asked awesome questions and gathered legit intel. After deeper digging I finally came across something interesting. It turned out that most of his peers had been on board for an extra quarter or more and entering each previous quarter they had 2-3 times more pipeline than he did to start the period. They also held customer lists with 3X more Total Account Value. (Unfortunately this information was hard to see at first because we had recently built new territories, created new segments, had new CRM fields and had also recently carved previous teams into new roles) What I discovered taught me a great lesson about ramped quotas, the importance of Total Account Value on our business as well as the value of understanding pipeline coverage for folks as they enter a selling period. With the data I uncovered, I was able to slow down the push to put him on plan and he eventually ended up being one of top performers. This rep is now one of the top 5 people I would hire again given the opportunity.
2) I once had a rep that had been on board for about 10 months and had only hit quota in 2 of the 9 she was on quota. She had a great work ethic, had a thirst for receiving coaching and handled constructive feedback better than most, In fact she constantly asked: “How can I improve?” After a careful review of metrics, I discovered that she was closing more transactions per month than her peer group and was able to close deals in a better than average period of time. Fortunately I was plugged into the long term goals of the company and was well educated by my superiors that we were about to segment the teams into 2 new groups. One team would focus on smaller companies with a fast paced deal flow and another that would deal with larger companies that tended to need more value selling and a longer sale cycle. I was able to convince folks internally that she would be an asset for the transactional team based on her success in closing a high volume of deals and was able to keep her onboard when the segmentation occurred. After the segmentation was announced, she transitioned to the new team and began to hit her stride. She ended up making president’s club the following year and was widely regarded as one of the most helpful in onboarding new reps to her team. I learned another valuable lesson here. Be plugged into the organizational needs and strategy while understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team. In this instance I was able to serve both the company and the person to find the best fit.
The moral of the story is simple. Trust in your hiring instincts and fight for the folks you believe deserve it. As your company grows there will be many opportunities to re-position your employees for success. Don’t be afraid to let the data and personal intuition guide you in creating value for all. Just because someone is not currently at the top of the leader board doesn’t mean they can’t be valuable to you as you grow!