When I ran my own company and spent my own money, a non-producer didn’t last long. If a guy can’t sell, he was not only a drain on resources but he was also wasting whatever opportunities were assigned to him. Guys who thought they could outsmart established selling systems not only tend to fail in the long-run, they ruined the territory for whoever has to come in and mop up the mess. They look for short-cuts and try to work the system instead of simply buckling down and grinding out the calls that need to be made.
When you run your own show, every sales lead is the potential difference between survival and profitability. A poor sales rep is an anchor and is cut the moment their bullshit starts to outweigh whatever value they bring in.
So why is it in larger companies, a non-producer can linger for months and years before you can get rid of him? How long do you allow a guy to under-perform before the opportunity costs becomes obvious?
Here are 3 red flags that have guided me when dealing with sales guys who believed their own bullshit.
1. They are always bragging about their past sales. I get it. You were awesome once. You once won best rep for the month of July in 1986. But you have no career consistency. The sales are hit or miss and there was never a system of success to build on. When I asked you how you did it and what your system was, you wink and tell me “Because I’m awesome.” You had no system so you depended on luck and lay downs and you often made your year on the strength of one or two larger deals that could have gone either way. Here’s the thing. Your past does not equal your future and it’s your future that’s important to me. It’s not what you did but you’re going to do. RED FLAG: A series of sales jobs without traction in any of them.
2. They are not accountable. They don’t do what they say they’ll do. If I assign pointless things that keeps them away from their core work of prospecting and pitching, that’s my fault. But if I tell them I want a minimal level of activity and they agree to it but ignore it, that’s their fault. If this is a trend and I don’t call out their s__t, I’m to blame. My mentor once said to me when I started managing years ago, “If your guys are great, it’s because they are great to begin with. You just need to guide them. If your guys suck, it’s because you allowed them to suck. It’s because you allowed them to suck without consequence.” RED FLAG: A constant stream of excuses and the classic “Our products/prices/process suck” manifesto made by the mediocre.
3. They don’t do the work. Selling is quite possibly the most enjoyable profession around. You get to connect with people and you get to see where you can help them. In return, you get money. But to get to the people who might buy your stuff, you have to put the work in. You have to prospect to find them and know your stuff to close them. Sales guys always claim “Just stick me in front of a guy and I’ll sell him something.” Here’s the thing; 90% of your selling career is finding the right guy to talk to. Bad sales reps simply don’t do the work to prospect nor do they take the time to devise a system to track their own success and failures. They don’t make the calls. They don’t network. Hell, they might not even like selling but somehow they’re in the career (which by the way, happens a lot…). They react rather than make stuff happen. A sale to them is like something that falls out of the sky and they will brag the hell out of it. A good sales guy who puts in the work knows exactly where the sales will line up because he put them there. He’s just grinding away with the understanding that the only thing he can truly control is his activity. RED FLAG: The guy is constantly trying to find short cuts that ensures he does as little work as possible. More importantly, he has no idea what’s in his sales pipeline and how the stuff got there.
Bad sales reps are like a cancer. They will be the first to complain and they will seek others in the office to share their misery. A sales leader who stays his hand because of compassion is only cutting his own.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with both strong and weak sales leaders in my career. And I’ve paid attention enough to see what works.
My job is to create teams of over-achievers that will do well without me. As the cliche goes, my job is to teach them to fish so they can feed themselves.
I don’t create dependent teams with complicated systems to keep me employed.
I create self-reliant teams with simple systems to make me more employable.