THE BLOG
12/13/2012 06:13 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2013

Firing Your Sales Force -- Redefining Greatness

Recently I fired a great salesperson. If you are a leader of a business that is fueled by salespeople, only then can you feel my pain. For most businesses, your sales team is like a self-fueling engine that keeps the rest of the organization going. Your fuel is your customers and the revenue they generate that allows the organization to keep pumping out product or service. Without great salespeople, there is no fuel, and for many of us, there is no business without them.

If great salespeople are so absolutely vital to any great organization, why would I go and cut out a chunk of my engine by firing someone who clearly had the ability to sell? It's all about re-defining greatness. The sales business has come a long way in the past century. Fifty years ago it was not uncommon to have salespeople visiting your front stoop to sell you anything from vacuums to encyclopedias. If you were the owner of the vacuum company, it was likely very easy to judge the success of your sales force. If they could sell vacuums, they were keepers, if they could not, you would re-introduce them to the workforce. It was easy to judge talent back then because the only benchmark for determining whether your salespeople were good was their ability to sell.

Greatness in sales has been redefined by our smartphones, social networks, and other technology. Fifty years ago, you were remarkable if you could simply sell. Today, sales ability is a minimum standard, and is not quite good enough for companies seeking greatness. What makes for an amazing salesperson today?

1. Empathy: The number one trait of a really good salesperson is their ability to put themselves in the shoes of others. A salesperson with this trait is appreciated by your consumer because they get where the customer is coming from. As well, these types of salespeople are also a breath of fresh air for organizational leaders because those that can empathize understand that the company needs to make a profit too. These are your salespeople who are not trying to renegotiate their compensation every time they bring in a good-sized piece of business for your firm. On the other hand, when you have a salesperson with the inability to empathize, you will hear about it. In our new world of technology, word travels quickly which means a poor salesperson can create major waves in a vast ocean pretty quickly. Sometimes it's just a matter of sending out a tweet to the world. Before technology, there was six degrees between me and Kevin Bacon. Today, if I really want to get a hold of Kevin Bacon, I'm pretty sure I could, even if just by a tweet. The double edge of all the new and great technology in the world is that you have instant access to everyone, while so does your consumer.

2. Honesty: I would bet that it was a rare occasion when the leader of the door-to-door vacuum company heard complaints about a dishonest salesperson fifty years ago. It wasn't that easy for a customer to communicate with a business owner back then. This meant that the leader of the company was in the dark when it came to any unscrupulous salespeople. The business owner was in the dark and so too were other potential consumers. Back then people didn't communicate with this huge network of all the people they have ever met on a daily basis, like we do on Facebook today. Technology is great for weeding out all the dishonest salespeople in today's new world of business. If you have a salesperson that has cheated someone, you'll find out through a Google or Topsy alert when the disgruntled customer writes a blog about it. Unfortunately, by that point, the entire world has found out about your dishonest salesperson too.

3. Nice: This, by the way, is the reason I fired my salesperson. She could sell, that's for sure. She would have been a prized salesperson for any organization in times past. If you have a salesperson that is unable to be nice to others, you don't need them. Niceness trickles through an organization. When you have one salesperson that is always angry, moody, and carries a chip on their shoulder, it costs your organization big bucks. I'm not talking about someone who occasionally has a bad day. I'm talking about that person that never has anything nice to say, complains constantly to you and to their co-workers, and is just generally unhappy. You know who I'm talking about. It is that one salesperson that you say to yourself, "How does this person do any business?" This person is a cancer in your organization, regardless of how much money he or she brings in. For every customer she closes, she probably loses five others. She is also a drain on your productivity and that of your other team members. If you have tried to fix the problem by talking and it just doesn't seem to work, do your company a big favor and get rid of her. What this says to your other team members, to your customers, and to the world is, "You are worth more to me than another sale."

I know how hard it is to cut a great salesperson from your ranks, so for me, it came down to re-defining greatness. When you step back, and re-define what great is for your company and your sales force, you end up trimming some fat from your business while at the same time empowering the rest of your team to live up to the new and improved standard.