The harsh reality of being in management is that along with the buzz you get giving someone a job and a chance to earn their living and work at something they (hopefully) enjoy, there will be times when you have to fire the very same individual and in sales unfortunately this invariably happens more often than in other company functions.

Whatever the reason for the termination of their employment, here are six ways NOT to fire a sales rep and yes, these are all examples I have experienced personally or recently heard about either from salespeople or from sales managers.

Here are 6 things to avoid doing when terminating a salesperson:

1. Send a termination message by text

It’s bad enough when you have to let someone go by phone either because they are remote and travel to their location is not feasible or because you are stuck somewhere and are forced to make a change on short notice, but via SMS? Our recruiters spoke to someone that was relieved of their duties this way and while I appreciate that no one likes to deliver a termination message live,  there may be legal issues with not providing a full and complete termination notice and it is certainly more human to have a call or meeting so you can address any questions the departing sales rep might have.

2. Neglect to be upfront as to why you are firing them

While saying too much could give them ammunition to fire back at you in a court challenge to their dismissal, telling them false reasons, even if it is to make everyone feel better about the firing, is wrong. It will only come back and haunt you. Whenever I have had communicate a termination, I have always couched the message in such a way that they leave accepting they were not suited for that role, but are still worthwhile individuals. Keep in mind that their ego is going to be bruised and they have to find a new job. Furthermore, if they give their new employer spurious reasons why they were fired and, when checked, the new boss discovers a different story, then that won’t help the departed staff member at all.

3. Try to make things lighter

You are doing something that is not pleasant, for you or them so don’t try to make it into something it isn’t. Now is not the time to try to boost their confidence with compliments that will likely seem insincere. You are changing their life’s course. They now have to find new employment and figure out how they are paying next month’s bills. Also don’t offer more help than you can give. You can be as helpful and supportive, but ultimately you are parting ways so there is no point in offering them more support than you are actually in a position to provide. Strike the right balance.

4. Tell them they are fired before securing company assets

This could be your price list, client list or some other proprietary information. Letting them go back to their work-station and log on to the company network might not be the wisest of moves. Except for a couple of times, I have always had a departing sales rep surrender company assets such as lap tops, mobile phones, cars and product information at the time of the dismissal. Even if there is no perceived security threat, it is an emotional experience for everyone and always best to err on the side of safety and in any event, it is always easier to retrieve everything in the moment.  In some cases, you will want to walk the person out of the office and as ‘Big Brother’ as it may look to other staff, having security or a more senior executive accompany them as they clear out their things makes good sense. How it is done is the key to everyone retaining their dignity and morale. The alternative, losing perhaps millions of dollars of company assets just to not ruffle the feathers of the dismissed employee often impacts unfairly on everyone else’s job security. Your call.

5. Forget “administrivia”

Upon termination, a departing employee will want to know what termination pay they will be entitled to and any trailing commissions. You need to have these answers and you will want to make sure you are clear on these prior to the termination meeting so you know what commitments you are taken on as a result of the dismissal.

6. Fail to be sympathetic

It is a big deal, most likely the biggest thing they have had to deal with in their time with the company. It will impact their life and the lives of their loved ones after you tell them they are fired. Over the years, I have had dismissed employees break down or express anger. As I said it is an emotional experience, so give them a moment to absorb and process the news.

Firing someone is never fun, but it can be done with dignity and respect for all concerned and move on to bigger and better things for all concerned. If you handle it well.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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